Five Questions with Becky James-Hatter from Big Brothers Big Sisters of Eastern Missouri
At Atomicdust, we’re lucky to partner with brilliant business owners and marketing professionals. Our clients and partners span various industries — from healthcare, to restaurants, to professional services and consumer goods — and with each project, we learn as much from them as (we hope) they do from us.
This month, we talked to Becky James-Hatter, President and CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Eastern Missouri. We first got to know Becky last year when we worked together to launch Anew – an event space and test kitchen on the rooftop of the Big Brothers Big Sisters building on Grand. We designed the brand identity and website, but it was Becky’s vision and ambition that brought Anew to life.
How do you approach marketing? What’s your marketing philosophy?
The word marketing is interesting and sometimes complicated. It seems that everyone has a different definition. I try to keep it simple in our agency. Internally we define it as the getting and keeping of donors and volunteers. Those are the two resources we need to accomplish our mission.
In our agency, our marketing mindset and efforts all resolve around authentic relationships. We never chase something that doesn’t fit with our mission or brand. As much as we want to grow our resources it is still all about what is best for our Little Brothers and Little Sisters. Everything must be for and about them.
What has been your most successful or favorite marketing effort? Why do you think it was successful / a favorite?
I am not one to look back too hard on the efforts of the past, not because we can’t learn from them, but because we change so frequently and everything has to be placed in context. So, I look forward, always keeping the past in mind.
With that in mind, I am now most excited about Anew, our new development that includes a rooftop and test kitchen. I see it as a place, an idea and a playground. It is a glorious space with beautifully designed tables and I believe it will transform how to attract and steward volunteers and donors. I also see it as a wonderful way for us to build our brand. I think it will allow us to celebrate our community in ways that we have not be able to do in the past. We are excited about our developing calendar.
On the flip side, what is the biggest risk you’ve taken? What did you learn from it?
When you have been in your position for 23 years, there have been lots of lessons and failures… and I have learned from every stumble. In fact, I am one who likes to talk about them – they are far more interesting than my successes.
Over 15 years ago, there was a move to “school-based mentoring” – the notion was that volunteers would be paired with their Little Brothers and Little Sisters and meet them at schools. There was a lot about the idea that made sense. The national expectation was that the neediest children would be served, barriers to volunteerism would be reduced and the cost of service would be lower. We followed our national office and the research of the time, but within a couple of years we determined that the hopes and dreams for this program were flawed.
It doesn’t mean there wasn’t some value in the program for children, but it did solidify within me the understanding that all efforts must ensure that we build up the strengths and assets of children – not the institution.
Somedays it is easy to get confused.
What do you think is the most significant marketing challenge facing your industry today?
Raising money is a very clear challenge for every nonprofit organization, but for Big Brothers Big Sisters, our greatest challenge will always be volunteer recruitment. We are one of the few, if only, organizations that must recruit a volunteer for every child we serve. We are an agency that is committed to “endurance mentoring” because that is what our children (the poorest) in the region need. We are not an episodic or social media volunteer opportunity. Of course, you can and should use social media to stay in connected to your Little but it can’t replace the power of face-to-face relationships.
What is the most helpful business book or resource you’ve come across?
Oh, I have a ton to say about this, but if I had to choose it would be all things written by Peter Drucker and Jim Collins and my relationships with mentors. I don’t go through the day without my own mentors and Board of Directors.