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Katie leads the marketing and branding for DonorsChoose.org, engaging over 2.5 million donors and teachers in supporting public school classrooms.

Prior to joining DonorsChoose.org, Katie launched a customer acquisition business at Red Ventures, a company ranked on the Inc. 500 list as one of the nation’s top 20 fastest growing companies. She also conducted market research studies for commercial, non-profit and political clients.

Katie earned her M.B.A. from the Darden School at the University of Virginia, where the faculty awarded her the Hyde Fellowship for her contributions to the school. She is an alumni of Leadership Charlotte and was named to Charlotte Business Journal's "40 Under 40".

You can follow her on Twitter: @katiebisbee

She will be live on Apr 13 from 930 AM PT for one and a half hours during which time she will answer as many questions as possible.

  • LS

    Logan Stoneman

    over 2 years ago #

    Hey Katie - what a treat to have you here on the AMA!!!

    I saw DonorsChoose on the Colbert Show recently. First off, CONGRATS! Second, how do you leverage broadcast television opportunities like this one? What did you do before the show to prepare or, if you were not aware of it before it aired, how did you leverage the exposure post-show?

    Thanks!

    • KB

      Katie Bisbee

      over 2 years ago #

      Hi Logan!

      I'm so excited you heard about DonorsChoose.org through Stephen Colbert! We feel so fortunate to have him as our champion.

      The first thing we do to prepare for large television opportunities is tell our CTO that it's going to happen, so they can monitor site traffic. They were watching that Late Show with Stephen Colbert bit very closely. :)

      Then, we frequently tell our base of over a quarter million teachers about the TV piece in advance, because they love seeing media unfold. And we do a lot to engage folks over social media while the media hit is happening.

      We usually wait until the next day to email our donors about it, so we can include a link to the segment (we always ask the producers for a web story to accompany the TV story!).

      Then, when we acquire donors through an event like that, we mark their acquisition channel in our database. We have a lot of Colbert-acquired donors!

      6 Share
      • AA

        Anuj Adhiya

        over 2 years ago #

        Can you talk more about assigning donors to the channel they were acquired from? How manual/automated is this process? What tools do you use?

      • KB

        Katie Bisbee

        over 2 years ago #

        @AnujAdhiya We assign Reference Codes to all sorts of things - our email marketing, social media, etc. We also track where people land on our site - whether they came to support a specific teacher, whether they redeemed a gift card, whether they gave to a specific fundraiser.

        We keep that all in our database. And then we arm all of our staff with Looker (THE BEST analytics tool!), so they can dive in and pull whatever business analytics they need.

      • LS

        Logan Stoneman

        over 2 years ago #

        Thanks @katiebisbee !

  • CW

    Calder Wong

    over 2 years ago #

    Hi Katie,

    Thank you for doing an AMA! My question revolves around DonorsChoose.org's API and 3rd party integrations. My team and I have had the pleasure of working with and building on the DonorsChoose API and have been blown away at how nice it is to work with.

    As a CMO, how do you view 3rd party integration partners as part of your strategic roadmap for growth, if at all?

    Thanks,
    Calder ("CJ")

    • KB

      Katie Bisbee

      over 2 years ago #

      Hi Calder,

      That's so awesome that you've worked on our API! Would love to hear how it went and what you built.

      Our API, and our 3rd party integration partners, are definitely a huge part of our strategic roadmap for growth.

      About half of the $100 million we will deliver to classrooms this year comes from our corporate partnerships. And the API lets our partners customize their campaigns in a scalable way. We still have a small staff, so and we wouldn't have the bandwidth to create a bunch of custom campaigns.

      Also, our API lets the partners build the campaigns within their own branding, which they love.

      You can see examples of API integrations here: http://data.donorschoose.org/showcase/

      Two of my favorites are:
      - SONIC Drive-In: http://data.donorschoose.org/showcase/sonic/
      - Chevron Fuel Your School: http://data.donorschoose.org/showcase/chevron-api/

      • AA

        Anuj Adhiya

        over 2 years ago #

        Love those examples!
        So was the decision to go down the API route a direct result of the constraint of not having the bandwidth to create custom campaigns for partners?
        Would love to hear more about what led to the API being identified as an important component of the overall growth strategy.

      • CW

        Calder Wong

        over 2 years ago #

        @katiebisbee Wow! I didn't realize the partnerships accounted for that much of the revenue generated for classrooms. That's really interesting.

        I would love to show you what we're building using the API. It's sort of an API on top of your API that enables small-to-medium sized e-commerce stores to offer DonorsChoose.org donation incentives on product purchases and social media actions. (Think "ebates for classrooms"). In theory, this should drive awareness for DonorsChoose.org, and enable a new systemic funding source that is incremental to discretionary income.

    • KB

      Katie Bisbee

      over 2 years ago #

      @AnujAdhiya Our CTO has a great story about why he decided to build the API. It was not a strategic decision at the beginning - we just kind of thought if we built it, people would come. And that wasn't the case!

      When we realized the API could be a solution to customizing campaigns for partners, we started using it a lot more. Now, creating custom campaigns is the main way we use the API.

  • PL

    Payton Lee

    over 2 years ago #

    Hi Katie,

    Can you tell me what's on the road map for DonorsChoose in terms of there value proposition, and how the vision impacts the marketing efforts in the company?

    Thanks,

    Payton

    • KB

      Katie Bisbee

      over 2 years ago #

      Hi Payton,

      Our organization's main goal is to reach 100% of our country's highest poverty schools. As of today, we are 67% of the way there!

      We focus our marketing on both sides of our marketplace that it will take to achieve that goal: our teachers (we have a Teacher Success team housed on our Marketing Team) and our donors / partners.

      We make sure to hire a combination of business folks, and also former teachers, to make sure we're always working with the teacher point of view in mind!

      • KB

        Katie Bisbee

        over 2 years ago #

        @AnujAdhiya You are a rock star with your questions. :)

        Back in the day, when we were opening to public schools across the country, it was harder to get teachers on board than it was to get dollars to classrooms. Hard to believe, right? That's because there is no easy way to get into the 13,000+ school districts in our country all at once. We had to start by working with the largest school districts that were most open to a entrepreneurial new idea (Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Raleigh, Charlotte, Philadelphia, Baltimore, etc.), sign them up, and then use their participation to convince smaller or less entrepreneurial districts to get on board.

        Today, we spend a lot less time recruiting teachers (when they hear about our site, they come and use it!), and more time recruiting donors and partners to support those projects. If I had to guess, it'll stay that way for awhile.

      • AA

        Anuj Adhiya

        over 2 years ago #

        I'm so glad you described yourself as a marketplace. When DonorsChoose first started, did it also face the chicken and egg issue of one side being harder to bring on without the other? If yes, which was the harder side to get on board first and how was this chicken-egg issue solved for at that time?

        And whichever was the harder side in the early days - is that still the case today as well?

  • MC

    Mary Coward

    over 2 years ago #

    Hi Katie! When I first started using DonorsChoose, I think you were based in Charlotte. Are there any plans to open/reopen a southern office? How many employees does DonorsChoose.og have now? How many volunteers work with DonorsChoose.org on a regular basis?

    • KB

      Katie Bisbee

      over 2 years ago #

      Hi Mary, you have a good memory!

      We have 80 full-time staff these days (and we are on track to deliver $100 million in supplies to classrooms this year). Most of us are based in New York, and we have a small office in San Francisco. We also have a few staff who we love, and when they moved for family reasons, we kept them on board. Those folks are in Denver and Indianapolis.

      While we don't have plans to open a southern office, our staff frequently travels below the Maxon-Dixon line. Our Founder & CEO, Charles Best, was just in Winston-Salem last week!

      We have over 200 volunteers who work with DonorsChoose.org on a regular basis, helping us screen classroom projects, assemble student thank-you projects for donors, do research etc. We are so fortunate to have them!

  • RT

    Raul Tiru

    over 2 years ago #

    Hi Katie,

    I love the fact that people from different corners do AMA’s on GrowthHackers.com.

    I had the opportunity to ask one of my heroes, Marshal van Alstyne, a question during an AMA and now you.

    DonorsChoose.org is one of the example platforms I use to get inspired while building my own Social Enterprise platform. I also love Open Ideo, Climate Co Lab, Khan Academy, edX and Guaana.

    Sorry for the long intro, here’s the question.

    Do you see DonorsChoose as a real platform instead of a traditional pipe business and do you apply strategies to reach platform scale rather than only using traditional marketing strategies?

    If you do utilize the power of the platform, I would love to hear which tactics worked exceptionally well for you

    At www.raultiru.com, we bring Marketers and Designers together to give advice to World-Changing Organizations on how they could improve. We’ve just started a new project with www.guaana.com, a platform that’s revolutionizing the way ideas in the science field are born. The pieces of advice that we give are mainly based on the platform business model principle. I would love to learn more from a great platform like DonorsChoose.

    Thank you so much for your time and I really hope my question is not too confusing.

    • KB

      Katie Bisbee

      over 2 years ago #

      Hi Raul,

      Thanks for all of the background. Your work and organization sound awesome!

      We see DonorsChoose.org as a platform that makes it really easy to give to public school classrooms. Before we were founded in 2000, there really wasn't a way to give to classrooms, outside of buying cookies at bake sales.

      We've done surveys, and 70% of our donors say that giving on DonorsChoose.org is the first time they've given to public education. That shows us that we're bringing new folks to the table.

      When Charles Best founded our organization, he also never dreamed that crowdfunding would become a movement like it has (Kickstarter, etc.).

      You may want to check out this Fast Company cover story about our organization from March 2014:

      "Beyond School Supplies: How DonorsChoose is Crowdsourcing Real Education Reform"
      http://www.fastcompany.com/3025597/donorschoose-hot-for-teachers

      • KB

        Katie Bisbee

        over 2 years ago #

        @Raul_Tiru Thank you for such a kind note. Of course you can add advice to your advisory report. And I hope to take you up on your offer of support in the future! :)

      • RT

        Raul Tiru

        over 2 years ago #

        Such a great share. This will defenitly help, a lot! I also love your responses to many of the questions here. I hope you don't mind that I've already added one piece to advice to the advisory report to Guaana.
        http://www.raultiru.com/guaana (I'll be adding more if you don't mind).

        I'm so lucky to have you with us today. Thank you so much once again. If you'd like our help to back any campaign for DonorsChoose, please let us know. You'll have our full support!

      • RT

        Raul Tiru

        over 2 years ago #

        I'll be keeping a close eye for DonorsChoose.org. If you forget to ask for support, I'll be sure to give a shout. At the moment we're supporting Oxfam's Behind the Brands initiative and the Rainforest Alliance. Looking forward to partnering up with DonorsChoose.org too :)

      • RT

        Raul Tiru

        over 2 years ago #

        BTW. Another great teacher from the Bronx that's making a difference since years: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lcSL2yN39JM Great TedTalk :)

  • ES

    Edward Stephens

    over 2 years ago #

    Hi Katie,

    So great to have you on here and thank you so much for committing the time.

    1) What is your formula for conducting market research and how has that differed across commercial, non-profit and political clients. Have the varying budgets changed how innovative you are?

    2) What has the key to retaining engagement for Donors Choose and how are you identifying and attracting new donors?

    3) What are your personal career aspirations and do you think it will be hard to do the same job for a company that doesn't carry the same morale compass as Donors Choose?

    Thank you again!

    • KB

      Katie Bisbee

      over 2 years ago #

      Edward, I love your questions! I bet you're really good at hiring folks, based on the range of things you ask. :)

      To answer the question about RESEARCH first:

      My first job out of college was doing market research. Back then, we had a large phone bank, and we did most of our research by phone calls. Today, most market research is done on the web (obviously!). It allows you to do research MUCH cheaper, so it allows you to do a lot more.

      At DonorsChoose.org, we do tons of research on both sides of our marketplace (so, to teachers and donors):
      - Annual surveys
      - Usability testing
      - NPS questions
      - Phone interviews

      One of our core values is User-focus, and I think we do a great job of living that!

    • KB

      Katie Bisbee

      over 2 years ago #

      To answer your question about ATTRACTING/ACQUIRING new donors, a few key things work:
      - Arming our donors and teachers with social sharing tools
      - Giving teachers matching funds, if they want to reach out to their friends and family
      - Marketing partnerships that help us raise awareness
      - Media/PR
      - Corporate partnerships, where the corporate partners share our story with employees and customers. (You can see a bunch of case studies here: http://www.donorschoose.org/about/partnership_center.html?key=Partnership-Center-Corporate)

      For your question on RETENTION, see this comment:
      http://growthhackers.com/amas/live-apr-12-ama-with-katie-bisbee-chief-marketing-officer-at-donorschoose-org#comment-50504

    • KB

      Katie Bisbee

      over 2 years ago #

      To answer your question about CAREER ASPIRATIONS... As a fairly Type A person with an MBA, I should be able to quickly tell you what my next 5 career moves are. BUT, I love what I do so much (I feel like I hit the lottery with my job and my organization), that I can't imagine leaving!

      The social impact we have is definitely something that keeps me here. AND, the fact that we run our business like an entrepreneurial tech start-up, even though we're 16 years old. We test and learn, try new things, and every day is different.

      As a marketer, that's where heart is - getting to test and learn!

      • AA

        Anuj Adhiya

        over 2 years ago #

        I'm so glad you mentioned testing and learning - that's at the heart of what this community is all about :).

        Can you talk more about your testing process?
        How do you determine what you will test (first)? Who all are involved? How do you collaborate around executing tests? What tools(s) do you'll use to document tests and make seeing progress easy? What do you use as your knowledge base?

  • AA

    Anuj Adhiya

    over 2 years ago #

    Hey Katie!
    So cool to have you on!

    I have a couple questions that I'll ask separately.

    It's clearly great when you have the likes of Colbert get behind a cause and stimulate excitement and giving around it.
    When this happens, though, do you find that the Power Law takes effect, ie causes that become "hot" continue to garner the larger slice of attention at the expense of others?
    What happens to all the cases that don't have that "unfair advantage"?
    How do they get heard and what tactics does DonorsChoose employ to ensure all causes get equal exposure?

    • KB

      Katie Bisbee

      over 2 years ago #

      Hi Anuj,

      Thanks for asking this!

      If you're asking about us as a nonprofit organization, the exciting thing about our donor base is that 70% of them have told us that they are first-time givers to public education. So we think we're increasing the pie of people giving in general, as opposed to "stealing share" from other nonprofit orgs.

      If you're asking classroom projects on our site, and how people choose them, we leave that totally up to the donor! At this very minute, we have 23,880 classroom projects waiting for funding on our site. We let donors know which ones comes from our country's highest poverty schools. Other than that, we leave the choosing up to the donor!

      You can see our other impact stats here: http://www.donorschoose.org/about/impact.html

      And our list of projects waiting for funding here: http://www.donorschoose.org/donors/search.html

  • AA

    Anuj Adhiya

    over 2 years ago #

    Getting people to give to a cause they care about is obviously a win.
    But how do you get people to give again (and again) to similar causes they may care about?

    It's clearly harder to get newer people at the top of the funnel than it is to retain existing users but it seems that with something like giving, there may be a ceiling (mental or monetary) with how much people are able/willing to give.
    So how do you go about dealing with that challenge?

    • KB

      Katie Bisbee

      over 2 years ago #

      Hi Anuj,

      You're definitely touching on a big challenge for us.

      It's hard to get people to come back and keep giving discretionary income to help teachers and students, even if you are giving them an amazing philanthropic experience (the ability to choose where their money goes, transparency into how their money is being spent, and feedback from the classroom they supported).

      It's hard, because when people give, they don't get anything in return. I always say you don't get a pair of shoes in the mail, or a cool new gadget for your kitchen, when you make a donation to a classroom.

      So, the key ways to get donors to come back is:
      1) To inspire them with storytelling
      2) To make the ask personal and relevant

      I mentioned email marketing above. Email allows us to share a classroom that we think the donor will want to fund, and to include a story about that classroom. It's hugely helpful for retaining existing users.

    • KB

      Katie Bisbee

      over 2 years ago #

      @DylanLaCom In general, technology is a huge need in public school classrooms across the country, especially in high poverty schools. A lot of teachers and students are going completely without.

      I have loved seeing Makerbot 3-D printers used in classrooms - teachers are so creative with them. I've seen everything from classrooms printing musical instruments, to modeling the impact of natural disasters, to creating prosthetic limbs with 3-D printers.

  • DL

    Dylan La Com

    over 2 years ago #

    Katie - so great to have you here!

    Is there a new technology that you're particularly excited to see become used by classrooms? Either for students, teachers or other faculty.

    Thanks!

  • AA

    Anuj Adhiya

    over 2 years ago #

    What channels for acquiring donors are you finding that:
    a. Used to work great but don't anymore (and why)?
    b. You hadn't considered using earlier but are now leveraging more and more (and was it something specific that told you to try these channels out)?

  • AL

    Arsene Lavaux

    over 2 years ago #

    Bonjour Katie,

    Thank you for this AMA.

    What is the most gratifying part of your role at DonorsChoose?

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