Nonprofits

From Hillary to Charidy: An Interview with Roxanna Ayers, ESQ – New Fundraising Specialist at Charidy

At Charidy, we bring you a team of dedicated and passionate individuals, with the experience, education, and understanding to make your fundraising and marketing endeavors a success. True visionaries and ambassadors for social change; men and women who live and breathe the burning desire to create positive change in the world.

We are excited to introduce Roxanna, our newest team member, who has chosen Charidy as the next chapter in her long and fruitful career of changing lives.

 

How did you get involved in political campaigns?

I’ve always had a passion for what’s going on in our country, for politics. And while I was in college, I loved being involved and getting students to vote, and I wanted to find a way to parlay that into something related to my academic studies, which is how I ended up as an intern at then Senator Hillary Clinton’s office.

At first, it was intimidating as a college senior meeting with these massive personalities, but just being in a room with them and seeing how fundraising works on that level, and what a really cohesive network could look like—it was inspiring.

 

Why did you choose to pursue Law?

After leaving college, Law seemed like the best way to have an impact on issues that mattered. At the same time, I loved campaigning and fundraising, so I took a year off before starting at Loyola and decided to get my feet wet with a few campaigns in California.

At that time everything was archaic, from the way people were campaigning to who was able to campaign. A regular person just wasn’t allowed into the system. It was unfortunate because there are many effective people who care about the community, and who can and should be running for office, but our system has a lot of prohibitive structures in place to keep that from happening. Unless you were well connected, it wasn’t going to happen.

That’s what drove me to create my own political consulting firm during my second year of law school.

 

What are you most proud of from your time running your own firm?

We worked with a lot of minorities and women. We helped the first African American woman get elected to a city council outside of LA and another woman elected to the Assembly in a district in which a woman never held office.

These were people who were very active in the community and who wanted to run, but lacked either the organization or the support. Together, we had to come up creative methods for fundraising and marketing.

 

How did you implement creative marketing strategies?

We did something called “Fix the Sidewalk,” which raised money for a cause the community could rally behind. Sidewalks in LA are a death trap. But there’s a program that will pay for half the sidewalk in front of your property to be repaired, if you supply the remaining funds.

The problem is a lot of neighborhoods don’t have the money to throw down. We had a woman running in an economically depressed area, so we decided that 50 cents of every dollar raised for this campaign would be donated to repair the sidewalks of one street.

And the idea was why should we fundraise for nonsense, let’s take the money we raise and put it to work now. This was key, because it demonstrated a commitment to making a difference even BEFORE getting elected.

 

What caused your shift from political campaigns to fundraising for NPO’s?

I finished law school at the end of a heavy campaign cycle. Despite everything, I still felt I wasn’t making the impact I could be making. And I realized if I wanted to use these skills to make an impact, then I should work in Nonprofit and raise money for great causes. This led me to working as a fundraiser at a women’s shelter in Miami.

But what I soon found out was that working inside a nonprofit is completely different than working as a consultant.

 

What were some of the challenges you faced?

To really understand, close your eyes and imagine a woman and her young child at your doorstep, begging to sleep anywhere, even on the floor, but you have to turn them away because the shelter is at capacity.

And then you get in your car, drive home, where you have a warm bed and all the creature comforts you take for granted, while this woman and her child have nowhere to go. Knowing this, you still have to focus on fun, creative ways to engage donors, while all you want to do is scream, “I have a woman here who has nowhere to sleep, YOU need to do something!”

But you just can’t do that.

The final straw was the Gala. We’re talking a dinner where the minimum price for a seat was thousands of dollars. So much money went to renting the space, hiring caterers, and flying out a well-known artist for the event.

And I kept thinking, why are we exhausting so many resources just to end up raising only 10% of what we spent?

 

And that led you to seek out more effective methods of fundraising?

Yes, I was approached by another fundraising platform, created initially to accept donations, but eventually held matching campaigns of its own.

The company wasn’t open for very long. We had a small staff and limited resources. It was like LA campaigns all over again—calling people, showing up at their offices, trying to show them how we can do more with what they have.

It was a real learning experience.

 

What did you learn from your time there?

I learned that good communication is crucial. And it’s not just email vs. Whatsapp. It’s being able to identify what’s at the heart of this person’s cause, and how it can be incorporated in both my message to them and the way we shape a campaign.

One of the biggest mistakes people in the industry make is to look up an organization’s website and stop there. What many don’t realize is that this person probably didn’t write the website—it might not be their language or even the images they like, but updating the website was such a huge step and expense for them, by G-d they’re going to tell you to visit it.

But this is not how you’re going to build a connection with your client.

 

How do you build that connection?

You have to find out what makes this person tick. Look up who’s on staff and go on their personal social media pages. Let them do the talking. You have to get past the rehearsed rhetoric and get to what really matters, to the core of that person, and why they chose this cause.

Because what you might find out is that this is their tenth director of development job. And it’s a mistake to come at someone by trying to connect with them by where they are at now professionally.

Turnover is very common—boards change, they demand new people, and also people get frustrated or burned out at one organization, and they go someplace new. So while they might feel deeply for their current organization, this might not be the cause they’re really motivated by when they make their private donations.

 

What’s your advice to NPO’s looking to grow and be more creative with fundraising?

Get ahead of the curve.

Many people we work with at Charidy say, “I’m coming to you because my board says I need to do a campaign.” Don’t be that person. Don’t wait for your board to tell you to do your job. Be an initiator. There can be a lot of apprehension when approaching your board with a new, interesting idea. Don’t be afraid to be shot down. Use it as fuel to come back stronger next time. And like any good idea, keep pushing. Eventually everyone catches up.

Five years ago, NPO’s wouldn’t touch Facebook. But today, every NPO has a Facebook page.

 

You’ve had quite the journey, from Hillary to Charidy. You finally feel like you’re getting that return on your investment?

Absolutely. I feel like I’ve finally found the perfect balance of consulting, running campaigns, making an impact, and implementing fast, inexpensive solutions for NPO’s to raise funds.

Every campaign teaches you something. It’s a moment to connect deeply, to understand what drives individuals (and the masses) to rally behind one mission.

I’m in my happy place.