About Aimee

I am a recent MBA graduate from the University of Notre Dame, Mendoza's College of Business. I also have an undergraduate degree in Business from Pepperdine University. Over the past six years I've consulted for companies of all sizes, from start-ups to huge multi-national corporations across many industries. My primary focus is business modeling, strategic planning, marketing, and digital strategy. This summer I am working for PEPY, a Cambodian NGO that focuses on improving education for local children.

Planning a Campaign

Peace Bird Necklace by Saomao

Peace Bird Necklace by Saomao ~ made from Khmer Rouge artillery casings…

Over here at PEPY in Cambodia, we have been wrapping up the planning stage of our Fundraising Campaign. The communications team has culled through the donor data, taken inventory of our email lists, done our research, updated our social media, chosen a fundraising platform, and are ready to roll out our new website & brand at the beginning of September. Most importantly, we have isolated our strongest supporters across the globe. They will be the roots of our network as we seek to reach a broader audience, make new friends and supporters.

The process of planning a successful crowd-funded campaign can be quite complicated, especially for a NGO, where resources are limited and the majority of the staff is unpaid volunteers. At all times we must focus on the primary objective: reaching new and old donors through channels that inspire them to engage, as well as make them feel comfortable. This requires deep insight into our existing and potential donors. What sort of engagement tools will work best to help them feel part of the campaign and greater organization? How can we get them excited about PEPY? How can we take event attendees, convert them into interested supporters, and connect with them year after year? Is the solution: QR Coded invitations or Facebook donation widgets? The possibilities are endless, but which ones are right for us?

At the same time we must account for a multitude of constraints: budget constraints, other scheduled obligations, large donor preferences, staff turnover or shortages, board member preferences, and technological limitations. All of these real-life challenges can get in the way of executing the perfect campaign. Fortunately we live in a time where most of these constraints can be addressed with creative solutions! Work can be crowd sourced at very low rates and there is a software solution for almost any business problem, at almost any budget. So really, the most important thing is that each constraint is recognized and addressed well before the campaign begins. Solutions exist! We just need to give ourselves enough time to find them.

Tamara taking an early morning stroll outside of Angkor Wat

Aside from the Campaign, everything is sailing along smoothly in Cambodia. My health has improved tremendously and I have made many new friends. Last week Tamara, my co-worker, friend, and fellow Notre Dame MBA, and I woke up early and biked out to Angkor Wat to do a photo shoot. That’s Tamara walking along the ancient stones from the Angkor empire. This week I walked around Siem Reap quite a bit, meditated at the Peace Café, and bought a peace bird necklace made from discarded artillery casings left over from the Khmer Rouge genocide. I also discovered several great restaurants. Anna introduced me to a great French restaurant, Boulangerie, that makes incredible, fresh salads. My new friend Heather took me to Il Forno, which serves pizza I can only compare to dinners I had in Rome. All and all it was a pretty restful and delicious week.

Next week I hope to work a bit more on some of the actual content for the campaign, including Campaign Videos – my favorite medium!

Donor Databasing

BioDiesel, PEPY, Kirlan, Communications Team

PEPY Mobile - Picture by Tamara

So I’ve been pretty ill these last few weeks. It is very hot & humid here in Siem Reap right now and even though I drink water with electrolytes all day long – I still seem to get symptoms of severe dehydration – really intense headaches, etc. The communications manager has been really understanding though and has agreed to let me work remotely from a hotel with AC for awhile – at least until my health improves – which so far it has. Yay!

I think it is always a little scary to get sick in a foreign environment – because it is so hard to isolate the exact cause. Is it some bug that is biting me? The water I’m drinking? Something I am eating? The heat? A pre-existing condition? But I’ve found that as long as I listen to my body and am gentle with myself – which sometimes means changing environments for a bit, I can usually keep myself healthy and happy.

Anyways, today the rest of the team is out near our new office location in Kralanh. I am back in Siem Reap culling through the Donor database.

Note to new Non-Profits: you may not realize the importance of keep good Donor records and segmenting your database based on Donor needs / preferences. But just like in ANY industry, not all stakeholders are created equally. Not all customers like to be treated the same. Not all Donors prefer the same level or type of stewardship. While we can’t please everyone all the time, in the information age, we can do our best to keep track and exceed our stakeholders expectations. This is especially true for Donors and Volunteers, who are essentially contributing to your cause without asking for very much in return. Make sure to recognize them, appreciate them, respect them, and try to understand them as best you can….

Of course for an organization that involves more than one or two people, this is a two part process: first you keep good records and data, second you do your best to interpret that data. So right now I am working in a lengthy excel spreadsheet and trying to infer insight into Donor behavior for the last three year and half years. Hmmmm?

On the very simplest level you want to know who your FUNDRAISERS are, apart from your Donors, although typically they are Donors as well. Your Fundraisers are the group of stakeholders who are highly committed to your cause and are willing to solicit funds from THEIR friends, family, and co-workers (who may not be aware of your organization at all.) They may be willing to throw or participate in events to raise money (think marathons, bike rides, etc..) They may even be willing to ask guests at their wedding or anniversary to donate to your cause (instead of bringing traditional gifts that they may not need or want anyways.) At the minimum, you should know this group well, because they are not only the roots of your network of Donors and future Donors – they are also the most likely source of future Fundraisers and Volunteers!

Donor Behavior, Donor Segmenting, Fundraisers, Fundraising

At the Donor level, what does it mean when someone donated a large sum once and then never donated again? Were they happy with the experience? Was it a favor to a friend? Did they have the funds to contribute one year, but then couldn’t afford to contribute the next? Did they change email or mailing addresses and thus haven’t heard from you since 2001? Hmmm? Obviously having a bit of database space, a field or two, in your internal records for explanations of phenomena like this will help your efforts.

Other pieces of data that might be useful include which Donors work at companies with employee matching donations. You may find some donations from companies in your database that are actually tied to a group of employees or even highly committed fundraisers. This is really useful information to know! Also, just some general demographic, psychographic information is always helpful. For instance, are your Donors soccer moms? 20 / 30-something techno-friendly urbanities? Families? Baby boomers? Retirees? Teachers? Liberians? Vegan Contortionists who have a strong preference for Modern Art? You get the idea. This kind of information will help you find new Donors that may be interested in your cause, as well as better determine what sort of stewardship and communications existing Donors might prefer.

Ok, that’s all for now, back to work….

Besos y Abrazos from the heart of Cambodia!


Life on the PEPY Communications Team

Last Friday my group (along with Tamara and some other folks from PEPY tours) squeezed into the back of the PEPY mobile, a large, open-air biodiesel truck. We drove about 57km out to the rural providences and Chanleas Dai, where all operations take place for PEPY programs.

For the first time I met with the rest of the, primarily Cambodian, PEPY staff. We gathered together to trade status updates and share important changes to PEPY programs. There was lots of translation from Khmer to English and back. We played games and ate a delicious lunch. My new friend Sopheak, introduced to an incredibly cute and friendly black cat. He doesn’t have a name though – so I decided to name him Midnight. I also spoke at length with Vuttha, one of our amazing Cambodian translators, about the recent opening of the first Cambodian stock exchange (CSX) and different investment opportunities across Cambodia and the globe. The more I get to know the PEPY team, the more I am learning about so many different things that I was never exposed to before. Overall this trip has left me feeling so blessed, which is a direct result of the people. I will write more about this later.

Siem Reap, PEPY

Siem Reap Night Out - Lovely Sopheak on the left...

Things on the communication team are progressing along nicely. Our website and rebranding strategy is being implemented, slowly but surely. We are quickly upgrading our social media strategy to better match the needs of our donors and other stakeholders. I have been particularly focused on integrating all of our disparate platforms: from payment processing, to fundraising, to social media, to content management systems, to email service providers, as well as analytics etc.

I hope that, by the time I leave, I will have developed a streamlined system where all data feeds seamlessly into only 2 or 3 platforms. That way the team only needs to engage with 2 or 3 user interfaces to update all content, make changes, and download any necessary reports. Platform integration is always a challenge for any small organization without an IT department, but I have found that efforts in this area result in the largest Return on Investment (ROI). Small business owners take note: maintainable digital systems are a critical component to the success of small organizations!

I’ve also gone to quite a few ex-patriot events around Siem Reap and met more interesting people from Europe, the UK, and the states. A couple of weekends ago, I went to a going away party for a newly admitted University of North Carolina MBA who was about to head back to the states. Here are some pictures from that night….

Siem Reap, PEPY

Siem Reap, Ex-Patriot Adventure.....

Business in Haiti

In my last post I alluded to some of the business ideas that our students had.  Today I want to highlight a couple of the ideas.

Let me first preface this by saying that there is a lot of opportunity  to do things here in Haiti. Much of the basic infrastructure we expect in the States, such as roads and our “always on” power grid, are either missing or very broken in Haiti.  Of course people being people, many workarounds have been found (such as buying SUVs to drive in the city) and some newer technologies have come in to take the place of what’s existent (such as solar installations).

Many of these ideas require lots of capital which is something that our entrepreneurs are generally in short supply of.  This means that their businesses need to be VERY compelling, or have plans to start small and scale.  Even then funding can be difficult.  To get a competitive rate loan from a bank in Haiti you need to be officially registered (usually as a Sole Proprietorship) and you have to already be running the business so as to show at least 1 quarter’s of financial statements (or be an individual with a track record of successful business or come from a family with money or a track record).  Of course you could always take out a micro-finance loan but who wants to pay rates in excess of 40% per year on a $2000 loan?  Not me and not our businesses.  So we have your traditional network of family/friends to beg money from or this bank loan process.  Thankfully EGI (our NGO host) has plans in the works to setup an investment fund but for now these are the options.  As you can imagine, you can’t start many capital-intensive operations when you need 3 months of real statements to get it off the ground.  With that in mind, let’s look at two of our entrepreneurs.

First up for the examples is Paul.  Paul is already running a small-scale enterprise from his home and wants to expand (we’ve noticed that our “best” students are generally of this same vein).  He has an extra room and wants to do something that will not only be profitable for him but also help his countrymen by building some valuable computer skills to high school students.  A true “win-win” (sorry Professor Tenbrunsel).  To do so he’ll need 20 computers, a screen, some teaching materials, and various furniture pieces.  Adding it all up he’s looking at about $5,000 to get this off the ground.  As part of the training we’ve given instruction on doing market research and putting together pro-forma financial statements.  Paul is a professional accountant so he knew much of this but he’s done a great job with his market research, determining how many schools are around him, determining the tuition, and talking with the principles to build relationships for not only his existing business but this new venture as well.   He’s built 3 different versions of his pro-formas for different numbers of classes and is doing a sensitivity analysis for price. All in all he’s on his way and the investment amount is reasonable, especially since he has some money he can put into it.  He can choose to start small with smaller classes and scale or start in just one building and then grow to have multiple locations.

Our second example is Illioto who often misses or falls asleep in class because in addition to taking our class he’s doing his residency for pediatric surgery. His idea is to create a clinic and an affordable insurance to enable uninsured children/students (2-14) to have access to medical care.  His idea is grand: a hospital capable of servicing 200 children at a time with 50+ doctors, 75+ nurses, etc… for a target market of 300,000 children in the Port Au Prince area. This won’t come cheap either at $275,000.  However he has an idea to solicit funds from the doctors for the clinic such that they would draw a smaller salary but be equity owners of the clinic.  Since doctors make reasonable money here in Haiti it’s reasonable to think that he could get the $5,500 per person needed to launch this.  Again, this model is replicable and allows him to expand to other locations. While he still has a lot of work to do in order to determine the costs of such an operation, we like this innovative funding model a lot.

So we have two ideas of vastly different scale but with the potential to find the necessary capital and to also expand outside of the initial idea.  Each has the potential to benefit both the entrepreneur and the country at large.  In fact all of the students are pursuing ideas to that end.  It’s just part of the EGI ethos.

Post MBA Summer in Cambodia

Aloha, from sweet (and often sticky) South East Asia. This summer I am working with the communications team for an NGO headquartered  in Siem Reap, located in the Northwestern region of Cambodia near the famous Angkor Wat Temples (pictured above.) This small organization focuses on improving education in the nearby rural commune of Chanleas Dai.

The government’s Ministry of Education Youth and Sport mandates and regulates curriculum throughout Cambodia, so PEPY finds that it can be be most effective working outside, but in conjunction with, traditional government schools. This is primarily done through community based programs, as well as supplemental education programs. Through these programs PEPY provides Chanleas Dai children with creative learning, computer science, and leadership education.

My job this summer is to develop a digital fundraising strategy to gain new donors through social media, crowdfunding platforms, and PEPY’s website and blog. Through this process PEPY is developing a new logo, new website, changing many of it web platforms, and revamping all of its digital communications. Our goal is to drive a lot of new traffic to PEPY’s website, raise awareness, and overall donations. Ultimately, these donations will contribute to PEPY’s 2012-2013 annual budget and supplement donations raised through grant writing and existing donor relations.

So far I have developed a map of PEPY’s existing digital resources and have begun to isolate the areas where I can make the most improvement. For instance, did you know that the majority of web conversation around Non-Profits happens on Social Media platforms – but primarily Linked In and YouTube?

Next time I’ll write a little more about my personal experiences in Cambodia and Cambodian Education in general. For now, it is enough to say that South East Asia has always been one of my favorite parts of the world. It is one of the friendliest, most hospitable places I have ever been…

Howdy from Haiti

Hello Everyone!

It’s hard to believe Aldo and I have already been here in Haiti for 4 weeks. We arrived on May 22nd into Port Au Prince from Miami and were picked up at the airport by two of our main contacts with EGI, Stephen and Patrick. EGI is the “Economic Growth Initiative”, a non profit focused on helping to develop entrepreneurs here in Haiti. Stephen is one of the founders and now sits on the board of the organization. Patrick is a local businessman who has invested a lot of his time into helping to build Haiti through business. It reminds me a lot of the things we learned in Business on the Frontlines, a unique course Notre Dame offers that highlights the challenges and opportunities of doing business in under-developed countries.

Our “job” here in Haiti has two aspects. The first is teaching a business-plan bootcamp to a group of EGI participants, many of whom graduated from a charter school here in Haiti that Patrick helps run. The charter school accepts promising students from poor families who have shown academic promise in the country’s standardized tests taken between elementary school and secondary school. At the school they learn 4 languages: French, creole, Spanish, and English. It’s quite an amazing thing.

The bootcamp is run 3 nights a week for 2 hours. Aldo and I take turns teaching core business concepts. Week 1 was Accounting, week 2 Finance, week 3 we hit Marketing and week 4 we talked about Operations. The students are very eager to learn and we have had very good in-class participation. Accompanying the teaching we’ve also had them give briefs on local business news and perform SWOT analysis on local businesses to get them used to evaluating things through a business lens. Where are the opportunities, how might this be a threat to my business idea, etc…

Every student came in with a business idea, some of which have morphed over the course of the class. Our secondary job role is to act as consultants to help the students evaluate their specific business ideas in a 1-on-1 setting as well as working with other local business people on occasion. Student business ideas include internet cafes, a computer literacy lab, a reforestation project and a couple of farming operations. We’ve also had a chance to talk to a couple of guys who are farming Tilapia on a massive scale. There’s a lot of opportunity there because they want someone else to do the distribution so we’ve talked about a franchisee model involving some of the students. Nothing is concrete at this point, but it’s good to have some critical discussions about the businesses and help the students things flesh out.

We’re using some online software called Pitch Then Plan that is good for helping to flesh out business ideas. The basic premise is to work on the pitch part first, so you understand exactly what you want to do. Once you understand that and you can talk about it coherently and cohesively, you do all the grunt work to pull the numbers that show your idea is viable. Our students will most likely get only as far as the pitch and we’ll help them start with their numbers but they’ll be well prepared to go out and do the necessary research.

“So how’s Haiti”, you’re probably wondering, I wasn’t sure what to expect when we arrived. You hear lots of awful things about Haiti and I didn’t want to believe them. Most of the rubble from the earthquake has been removed though much remains to be done to rebuild. It’s tough to tell what was already in bad shape before the quake and what’s gotten worse after. The country needs a lot of infrastructure work. The roads are quite bad, most of them unpaved and there’s little accomodation for sewer management so when it rains things just flood. Our electrical access is fairly constant but only because of a plethora of generators and batteries in the areas we visit. Haiti’s public utility company has troubles keeping the power on all the time. Actually the government seems to be one of the biggest problems here but then again where isn’t it. Despite the troubles people here seem to be happy and for the most part industrious. I see people sitting around but they are sitting in front of goods for sale and there are always people milling about. Safety is still a concern so we’ve spent a lot of time at the guest house we’ve been staying at in a region of the city known as Delmas.

Well this is probably enough for a first post. I’ll be writing more to help catch you up on some of the details of our trip. See you soon!