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Grand Opening of the Pickerington Thrift Store

I feel like since 2019 began, I’ve been spending the majority of my time focusing on our new Pickerington thrift store. I worked with our architecture firm and DaNite signs to map out where and what our branding and signage would look like inside the store. This involved helping to choose paint colors, designs and size of the signs, even to placement inside the store.

Now, we’ve announced that we’re opening our doors on March 29 and I’m overwhelmed by the response to our Facebook Event. I made the event and scheduled it to go live as soon as I finished our Instagram Live announcement.

Me leading our Instagram Live announcement

Nicole and I went to the store on March 12 to do Instagram Live at noon. With live videos, if something can go wrong, it will go wrong. You got to roll with it and recover. We realized our video hadn’t been recording for the 5-10 minutes I’d been walking around talking. Okay, take two. I held my phone, talked to the camera, and showed our followers around the thrift store. I always learn something when I do a live video, whether for Facebook or Instagram.

I ran an ad to promote event sign ups but didn’t expect it to take off like wildfire. I made the event ad on Friday and there were maybe 30 people interested. I check the event ad on Monday morning and there’s over 800 people Interested! Whoa. Now, on Wednesday (still 9 days from the opening) there’s 113 Going and 1.6K Interested!

This event went viral for us
I love reading the comments. People are tagging their friends and family members.
I’m working to respond to everyone who asks a question in the Event page.

2019

Two Years at VOA

Today’s my two year work anniversary at Volunteers of America Ohio & Indiana!

Reflecting back, I’ve grown a lot in this role. I went from writing social media posts in Excel that needed to be approved each week to leading social media campaigns and projects in a paid software. I made the decision to start using Instagram as a brand and have grown our followers from a mere 30 people to over 700! My manager Stephanie left in the spring of 2018. She helped me grow so much in this role. She supported and encouraged me to try new things. I definitely miss her sometimes.

Our Development & Communications team has elevated the Volunteers of America brand throughout the community. Last year, a record number of backpacks were donated to Operation Backpack and we merged with our Indiana affiliate. I helped rebrand our social media accounts and merge our websites together.

I’ve loved managing our social media strategy, creating content and interacting with our enthusiastic audience. We have followers who are wildly passionate about Volunteers of America, our mission and our thrift stores. One of my favorite parts of my jobs is messaging people who love VOA and thrift shopping just as much as I do.

I’m thankful for my time at VOA and how much I’ve learned and grown.

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2019, blog, blog post, blogpost, myblog, personal

An unforgettable Valentine’s Day

Nate surprised me with an unforgettable Valentine’s Day. I feel so loved.

He picked me up after work and we drove to campus. The whole drive, I was trying to guess what we were doing and where we were going. We parked at Chadwick Arboretum, where we had a picnic on our second date. Nate told me he had an evening planned walking down memory lane. I started to tear up; it was just so thoughtful. We strolled around the pond at Chadwick, talking about who we were back then and how we were both so nervous and unsure where the relationship would go.

I remember that after the picnic, almost three years ago, we went to the Chocolate Café. So, on our walk down memory lane, that’s where we went next! Okay, we weren’t the only ones with the idea to go to the Chocolate Café on Valentine’s Day but the wait wasn’t that bad. I ordered the lobster bisque soup and a Dirty Girl Scout martini. Nate ordered a dirty martini, the special sandwich which was pulled pork, mango and habanero with a side of cream of mushroom soup. I never get tired of talking to Nate. We always find new things to learn about each other. We talked about our babysitters when we were little. I liked babysitters because they’d ask me what I wanted to do and Nate said he’d just walk over to a friend’s house and didn’t really have babysitters.

Nate warned me that the last thing on our itinerary had a set start time but it was okay if we were late. What could it be? He told me we’d been there before, there’d be food available, and it would probably end around 10pm. I had no clue. We drove back home and parked. That’s when I connected the dots that we were going to a Blue Jackets game. I’d get to see my other Valentine, Cam Atkinson! It was so sweet of Nate to surprise me with hockey tickets. We got there at the end of first period. The guy next to us had a thick British accent and kept yelling very British things like “rough ‘em up, lads!” and “Come on, lads.” I got a tub of popcorn at the end of the second period and ate about half of it. The Blue Jackets weren’t playing their best and lost 0-3 to the New York Islanders. Oh well.

I still had a memorable and romantic evening. We came home and watched some old Pixar shorts that I had on DVD.       

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LinkedIn Paid Advertising

After merging with Indiana, Volunteers of America Ohio & Indiana has been growing at a rapid pace and we have a lot of job openings right now. To assist HR with finding qualified applicants for these positions, I ran a paid campaign on LinkedIn from 12/27 to 1/2/2019, targeting people in Evansville, Toledo, Fort Wayne, Bloomington, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Dayton, and Columbus with the listed job function of Community and Social Services. (These are the cities we are hiring in.)

For the Text Ads, since you could have multiple variations, I used this as an opportunity to do some A/B testing with the language, the links and the creative.

Three of the Text Ads took people to: https://www.voaohin.org/careers  and three of the ads took people directly to the job listing page. I used a Bitly link to shorten the job listings page.  The top two performing ads pointed visitors to https://www.voaohin.org/careers  

Sponsored Content on LinkedIn. I made the image and wrote the copy.

We ran 5 versions of Text ads on LinkedIn and it’s clear the one with “We’re Hiring” in the headline performed best.

The Text Ad variations. The top performing ad had over 20,000 impressions and 14 clicks.

I definitely want to do more paid advertising on LinkedIn to recruit applicants and to do more A/B Testing.

2019, email, work, work sample

January 2019 Donor Email Newsletter

I wrote and designed this donor email newsletter for January 2019. I was inspired by an email I got from the epic Lori Jacobwith. It caught my attention because she used my name in the subject line and addressed me like an old friend “Hi Debbie.” I honestly did a double take when I read this email, like does she know me? I think the lack of images and simplicity of the email stood out. Inside the email, it read like we were best friends and she was speaking directly to me.

The email that inspired me

My first draft of the donor email was more text-heavy and included a call-to-action for donors to become monthly donors.

First draft of the email.

I shared the email draft with my team and our Director of Development noted that we should just say thank you and not ask for money in this email. We did include a subtle “PS” asking readers to watch our Faces of Hope video.

After changing the email, when it was sent out, several Volunteers of America staff members responded saying how much they appreciated this email and how it made their day.

A great way to kick off the year, by taking time to appreciate.  Thanks & will share the inspiration with my crew!

Grove City thrift store manager
Subject line: Name – Thank you!
Hi Name,
At the end of the year, do you ever take a moment to reflect back on the year? Do you ask yourself if you made a positive difference in your community? 
Let me assure you that, yes, you made a difference in 2018. Your support of Volunteers of America Ohio & Indiana has led to so many amazing things.

Mothers found sobriety.
Families achieved well-being. 
Homeless veterans established housing. 
People were given second chances.
And they all thrive … because of you.  

Every day, I’m humbled to be surrounded by your kindness. On behalf of Volunteers of America Ohio & Indiana, I sincerely thank you for allowing us to be an extension of your heart and hands, helping people reach their full potential and for helping our community thrive. Many wishes for a happy and healthy New Year.  

John R. von Arx III
President & CEO 
Volunteers of America Ohio & Indiana

PS – Watch a snapshot of how you’ve changed lives in 2018.

Screenshot of the email, sent Monday, January 7, 2019 at 7 a.m.
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Listening in the background

I went to a Denison event this evening after work and was talking to a current student who was studying English and he asked me, “Do you still write for fun outside of work?” I thought about it and honestly answered, “No, but I’d like to.”

I think I felt compelled to sit down and type something out after that comment.

A couple weeks ago I got an email inviting me to a “Career Ready Boot Camp Networking event as an alumni of Denison.” Sure, why not? Just say yes, right? Something I’d learned at Denison and that has been reinforced since graduation and since learning about improv comedy.

I wasn’t entirely sure what I was getting myself into but was lured by the detail of free drinks and food. For the same reason, I’d gone to a Yelp Elite event last night at High Bank Distillery.

At both events, when I first arrived by myself and saw a crowd of people, I wanted to so badly turn around and run for my car. It’s terrifying showing up alone to places and seeing a crowd of happy people talking to one another. I tell myself that I just half to stay for 15 minutes. Then, if I still hate it after 15 minutes, I can leave.

This Denison event started out by all the alumni going around the room and introducing themselves to the students. I hate introductions and felt really shy in that room. It also became somewhat comical because alumni were going around saying things like “I work for the FBI,” “I’m a litigator,” “I’m a speech pathologist,” “I work for Facebook.” I pictured someone adding “I cured cancer.” “I worked for Obama.” I just could not imagine myself chiming in, “I do marketing for a non-profit.” I know, I know, I shouldn’t compare myself to others. I really do love what I do and I’m not ashamed of it. I think I get a bit insecure when comparing myself to other Denison alumni. The university puts so much pressure on you to be spectacular after you graduate, and if you’re not, then you’re never talked about or respected. It’s like you don’t exist or you’re a Denison failure. I felt this type of pressure in college and it rises up again at these Denison events.

The networking began (release the wolves!) and I felt lost. Here were these amazing alumni, well-dressed students who looked like they already had been accepted into law school, and me. I was in my snow boots (it was snowing outside!) and these tight business pants I’d gotten at the thrift store and convinced myself were a business professional. I took a deep breath, reminded myself I’d survived these types of things before and told myself I could do this.

I reached out (okay, followed awkwardly then when he turned around began talking) to a guy who looked just as awkward and out of place as me. We have something in common! I asked him what he was studying. He said English. Hey, we have another thing in common! I asked him what professors he had and he drew a blank. Okay, weird, but I’ll let it slide. I guess spring semester hasn’t even started yet. Another student joined our table and he studied Communication. Hey, English and Communications were my majors!

They told me they’d been on a full day of externships visiting Grange Insurance, Oologie (they couldn’t remember the ad agency’s name so I thought they went to Origo. Then they were talking about how the agency focused on higher education and I knew which agency they meant.) and another place they couldn’t remember. I was kind of jealous and proud of my alma mater for giving students this chance to see real workplaces in Columbus and meet current employees.

When I was a student I did a day-long externship at GSW, an agency that focused on pharmaceutical ads. That definitely influenced my career into marketing. I was fascinated by this company and wanted to work there or somewhere similar.

At the networking event, I migrated to another table (still nursing my CBC IPA beer) to chat with a young woman. She was an Education major. I asked her what her thoughts were on the teacher strike in LA. She didn’t know what I meant. At first I was mad at myself for making her feel awkward and ignorant but then I reasoned that this was an appropriate question. You should know and stay up to date with the issues going on in your industry across the nation (and listen to NPR religiously.) I remember when I was talking with a Dension alumni about working at a magazine she asked me what books I was reading. I was not expecting this question so flubbed my answer. Later, she told me that I should be prepared for this question if I want to pursue this career path. It makes sense.

I asked the student if she had studied abroad and she said yeah, she just got back from Copenhagen. Did you say Denmark!? My face lit up and I exclaimed I did too and I’m going back to Copenhagen in May and can’t wait. She was surprised I was still in contact with my host family. Heck yeah, I’m still Facebook friends with them and we still chat. She said she lived with a host family and had a great time too. We talked about our European travels and agreed the experience made us more independent and confident. She traveled alone to Amsterdam which I was so impressed by. I haven’t had the courage to travel alone yet.

Two other girls joined our huddle and I did my best to welcome them into the circle. I’ve been in their shoes where you slide into a group, listening and waiting to be acknowledged. I find myself becoming almost an unrecognizable best version of me where I’m overly friendly, smiling and wanting to make everyone comfortable. I’ve seen this part of myself come out at Women in Digital events.

My conversation with the three girls shifted away from academics and careers into the current party culture on campus. Apparently, there’s a party tent now? Students can’t party in their dorms anymore unless they register their party? Times are changin’. I liked learning how campus had changed since I left in 2014. Alumni are just regular people who want to hear how the campus has changed and stayed the same.

Someone at the front of the room tapped on the microphone and announced that the alumni would now go around the room and share what they observed of the student’s networking abilities and offer them a piece of advice. I looked to the ceiling, avoiding all eye contact. I’d skipped the introductions, maybe I could skip the recap. I’m usually not this much of a rebel but I think again I was just terrified by speaking to a whole room of people. What would I say? The other alumni went around and said valuable things like, “showing up here tonight is half the battle,” “say yes to projects at your first job,” “don’t make typos on your resume,” “email someone if they give you a business card,” etc. I nodded along and stayed quiet.

I liked talking to the students one-on-one but something about speaking in front of everyone and waiting for my turn just freaked me out. Writing about it now, I think back to my 9th grade English class with Mr. Shoemaker (who inspired me to study English in college.) We did this Socratic seminar as a test and you got points each time you spoke up and participated. I think we were discussing one of my favorite books, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. I couldn’t get a word in. I couldn’t chime in or make my point. I didn’t want to interrupt or be rude but there was never a pause or lull in the conversation.

After the class, Mr. Shoemaker asked to see me. “What happened today, Ms. Gillum?” I loved that he called everyone by their last name. It gave us high schoolers this level of respect that we didn’t deserve.
“I don’t know. I got nervous. I couldn’t find a way to speak up. I wrote down what I wanted to say and add to the conversation. But couldn’t find a pause in the discussion.” I showed him my notes, which were scribbles of the points I wanted to add and gathering my thoughts in order so I’d say something intelligent. He said he understood and that it was fine this time but next time I’d need to speak up more.

So many years later, at this college networking event, and in meetings, I find myself still listening and struggling to chime in and say what I need to say.

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Sparking Joy on Instagram

Like everyone else, I’ve been watching “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo” on Netflix. I was looking forward to the show since Netflix sent me a personalized email in December about the show and when it was premiering. Yes, Netflix, I was interested in a show about organization.

Nate, my boyfriend, teased me for watching a show about organization and cleaning. I can’t fault him. Rather than organize my own stuff, I’ll just watch someone else do it on TV.

I realized the concept of Tidying Up and donating what doesn’t bring you joy fits in perfectly with one of the goals of Volunteers of America: Get more donations to the thrift stores.

So, I hopped on the bandwagon and used this trend to my advantage on social media.

Originally when I made this post, the copy read, “Donate what does not bring you joy.” I remembered how in the show she always uses the phrase “sparks joy” so I changed the copy. Plus that shortened my text by one word.

I made the graphic and wrote the copy.

This post has an engagement rate of 10.7%. Our usual engagement rate is 6%

I was proud of myself for this post. It did really well on Instagram, getting over 54 likes and 6 comments. It was relevant and trendy.

I also made this post which so far has 19 likes on Instagram. I think it’s not doing as well as the first one because the design is more text heavy.

Our thrift stores have been seeing an increase in donations with everyone cleaning out their closets. I had some fun regramming this meme:

It made me laugh when I was searching #mariekondo on Instagram so I trusted my gut and posted it. If it makes me laugh, then others will laugh, right?

With our audience, humor always does well.

2018

Thank You email for Faces of Hope fundraising breakfast

Below is an email that I wrote and designed for Volunteers of America. The email was sent to those who attended our Faces of Hope fundraising breakfast a few weeks ago. This is the second thank you email that they received. We emailed them a few hours after the event to say thanks for coming.  I wanted donors to have clear steps of ways they can give back if they felt inspired. I also wanted to use donor centric uplifting language. I tried to keep the tone casual and friendly. 

Results:
It was sent to 89 people and 28 of those people opened it (34% open rate) and 2 people clicked on the email. 

Thank you email to donors who attended our fundraising breakfast. 

From: Becky 
Sent: Friday, November 30, 2018 12:04 PM
To: Debbie Gillum Debbie.Gillum@voago.org
Subject: Let’s keep the momentum going!

Dear Debbie,

You can keep the momentum going from the Faces of Hope breakfast.

• Because of you, Mike, a U.S. Navy Veteran, found a home to call his own and a meaningful job helping others.
• Because of you, Mike exemplified the restoration of hope, in this world that we share.
• And, because of you, countless others have found a home, a support system, and hope for a brighter future.

“You gave me shelter when I needed it. You gave me tools to help me turn my life around. And here you are today, giving more blessings.” – Mike
MikeBell.jpg
You are the best ambassador for our organization. Remember, there’s three easy ways you can make an impact:

Share Mike’s story with others to inspire positive change in our community.
Sign up to be a 2019 Table Captain. Contact me for information and a tool kit.
Come take a tour or host a tour for your friends and colleagues. Contact me to schedule a date and time convenient for you.
By the way, don’t forget to keep using that beautiful blue Volunteers of America Ohio & Indiana pen. But most of all, thank YOU for giving people in our community the opportunity to reach their full potential.

Debbie, because of your support our community is stronger. Thank you.

DONATE | GET INVOLVED

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© 2018 Volunteers of America – All Rights Reserved. 1776 E. Broad St., Columbus, Ohio 43203, 614-253-6100
We are designated tax-exempt under section 501(c)3 of the Internal Revenue Code.

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Giving Tuesday

Happy Giving Tuesday!   aka That-Day-Every-Nonprofit-Asks-or-Begs-For-Money

TL;DR: I was disappointed that we didn’t see more engagement on Giving Tuesday but now we have a new opportunity to do better with our upcoming End of Year giving campaign. 

I admit Giving Tuesday was a bit anti-climatic, what with all the hype starting, back in the summer. I subscribe to a lot of non profit marketing newsletters and I can’t count the number of emails and webinars claiming to spell out the perfect Giving Tuesday strategy. It’s like Black Friday for retailers.   (Side note to retailers: Cyber Tuesday is not a thing. Let us have this one day.) 
For this year, I admit we didn’t spend as much time as we could’ve strategizing about how to differentiate ourselves among the #GivingTuesday herd. We used a lot of the images that National (voa.org or Volunteers of America, versus the affiliate Volunteers of America Ohio & Indiana that I work at) provided to us. I made a couple of unique images for us in Canva.  I didn’t use the copy from National exactly because I felt it wasn’t uplifting, donor centric or on-brand for us. I wrote my own variations. 
I spent like half of Monday last week sitting down, and scheduling out in AgoraPulse all our Thanksgiving and Giving Tuesday social media posts. We’ve got two Twitters, two Instagrams, a Facebook page plus 9 thrift store Facebook pages- oh, and LinkedIn, so it’s a lot.  By the end, I was really proud of myself. I had laid out and scheduled in advance these important posts across all our channels. And, I did some boosting of posts and events on Instagram and Facebook as well as ran some Facebook Ads. We spent about $100. 
In my head, since I put so much time and effort into these posts and thought I did a great job, I naively expected to be overwhelmed with Likes, Comments, Shares and Messages saying “Wow this social media post changed my life!” (Just kidding on that last one. I’m not quite that delusional.)
Alas, it was pretty much crickets.  One woman did comment how she didn’t want to donate on Facebook and that she would donate “thru her nank.” I think she meant to say bank. Yeah, not the engagement I was hoping for.  

I told my boyfriend Nate about this on the phone today and saying it all out loud helped me realize that I can’t get bent out of shape over people not engaging or responding to my posts. That’s social media, ya’ll. That’s life. 
Keep in mind, these were mostly posts about giving, donating, fundraising. These were not the most hilarious, shareable, viral posts. 
Thinking more about it, we don’t typically do these hard-asks of “Donate Now!”  of our audience. I try to share meaningful and positive posts, celebrating our amazing supporters. I try to do the Jab, Jab, Punch method of sprinkling, or jabbing, helpful content and then here in November and December we do more punching with the Give Back posts. 

When one campaign ends, another begins. Giving Tuesday is out and now End of Year giving is in.  Okay, in an ideal world of butterflies and rainbows, I’d already have this campaign all figured out, but we merged our affiliate with Indiana this summer, I got a new boss, our team has grown and things have been hectic across the organization. All I can do is focus on the now. Today, I used a Creative Brief template that my old boss, Stephanie, came up with and that we used before. It’s helpful for me to use to spell out the

  • Goal
  • Objective
  • Tone
  • Creative
  • Deliverables
  • Look & Feel
  • Assets

 of the campaign.  I like to say that it helps me get my ducks in a row (this is my new favorite phrase. I just like picturing a bunch of scattered ducks and me herding them into a single file line.) 

On our nine thrift store Facebook pages, I shared this post to let folks know about Giving Tuesday and to ask them to donate online or on Facebook.