"Accidental Fundraiser" Creates Tech Tool with Greater Purpose
Terri Shoemaker never thought she’d make millions. And when she did dream about winning the lottery, or having the next big idea, she thought about her own bank account.
Terri had no idea that those dreams would come true. But instead of the money coming to her, it would go to help feed hungry people and rescue pets.
Charity kills the video star, births unexpected career
Terri’s first experience with nonprofits was stocking the shelves of a food pantry and leading a holiday can drive. She also loved animals.
Not knowing exactly what she wanted to be when she grew up, Terri earned a degree in Communication from Ohio University. She was inspired by a college professor who described video production as “Team Art,” and so Terri began what she thought would be a long career as a video producer.
Then one day, Terri got a phone call. A friend worked at a food bank and wanted Terri’s help with a video project.
The catch? The nonprofit had no video budget!
Terri secured donations of videotape (this was in the analog days), equipment, and editing time from friends to finish the project.
During the shoot, Terri got to know the food bank. And they got to know her. That led to her first nonprofit job – running an after-school feeding program for kids at risk of hunger. And she has worked in nonprofits ever since.
Career move worth millions … to nonprofits
Terri’s much better at poking fun at herself than bragging. But her business partners at Abeja Solutions aren’t as shy about endorsing their fundraising guru.
Here are just a few of Terri’s career accomplishments:
Terri increased annual revenue from $3 million to $12 million at one nonprofit. She created programs for monthly and online giving, telemarketing and major gifts.
At an animal welfare organization, she raised tens of millions of dollars and made sure donors – especially those who gave smaller donations – were honored for their giving and asked to participate emotionally with the charity.
In times of disaster, like after 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, Terri was there, asking people to help and helping them give effectively.
Terri teaches others about fundraising, as a college professor in grant and proposal writing and by freely answering the questions of anyone who asks.
The NonProfit Times and the Chronicle of Philanthropy have featured Terri’s campaigns, and she speaks at regional, national and international events on fundraising.
In 2012, Terri accepted a job at a national animal welfare group in Phoenix. It was there that she met her future partners at Abeja Solutions and dreamt up Beezable, a tool that makes direct mail as easy as sending an email.
Direct mail lives on
If there’s one thing Terri’s learned from her long nonprofit career, it’s this: If you think direct mail is dead – think again.
“It’s still such an effective fundraising tool, and it hasn’t gone away or faded into the background,” she says. “Rumors of its eminent demise are just that, rumors. And we’ve been saying that since about 1999.”
Why? Terri says just stop and think about your home’s mailbox. When was the last time you got a letter from someone or something you liked? Good direct mail stands out in today’s cluttered digital landscape.
Now compare that to your email box. Where would you rather receive a message from someone who is talking to you about how you can change the world?
Terri has raised millions of dollars through direct mail. But direct mail isn’t easy for most nonprofits to pull off, especially with a solo fundraiser.
“In so many ways, good direct mail is ‘Team Art,’” says Terri. “A fundraiser must coordinate the efforts of a writer, designer, printer and mailing house, among others. Not to mention the data side of things.”
Her experience inspired her to give back by creating Beezable to simplify direct mail fundraising.
Beezable offers much-needed middle ground
Small to mid-sized nonprofits are stuck in a way. Either they have to create direct mail campaigns completely in-house with limited staff, or they have to hire specialty contractors and firms.
Neither option is ideal. You either maintain control over the look and feel, but likely lose time, or you try to fast track it with a full-service firm that may not be able to cater to small and medium-sized organizations.
“Direct mail shouldn’t be as hard as it is,” says Terri.
The middle ground option just didn’t exist. Terri and her partners at Abeja set out to change that.
“We were stunned this wasn’t already in the marketplace,” Terri says. “As a fundraiser, I need to work efficiently so my program coworkers can keep vital programs on track. I don’t need to be obsessing over every little detail of a mailing instead of calling a donor, or 4 or 5, to thank them.”
Building better donor relationships
With Beezable, fundraisers like Terri 1) choose a template, 2) add text, images, and data, 3) view a proof and 4) place their order.
In days, their professionally-printed mail packages arrive in donor mailboxes.
“The biggest thing Beezable does is take its users from, ‘This seems absolutely impossible’ to ‘I can do this,’” says Terri.
As the team’s fundraising expert, Terri ensures that the site is easy for fundraisers to use, and mailing elements follow best practices. That helps fundraisers produce appeals that perform, producing much-needed unrestricted funds.
“A lot of tech companies are focusing on the code, background, new releases – and not really thinking about what their tech is enabling for the world,” says Terri. “What problems are they solving?”
“Because we’re nonprofit folks, it’s not really about the tech at all for us,” she says. “Beezable is about answering the bigger questions of how nonprofits can connect with donors, how often, and how to make mail a part of that.”
To see if Beezable is right for you, contact firstname.lastname@example.org