If there were to be crowned a Richard Simmons of nonprofit fundraising in the United States, ASPCA Senior Vice President of Development and Communications Jo Sullivan just might fill those sequined short-shorts.
She’s got the passion, that’s for sure. And the — ahem — dogged determination. And while organizations of this size have large development staffs and can’t attribute their success to one person, inspiration usually flows down from the top. Sullivan’s completely unbridled dedication to pets and the ASPCA’s mission to protect them and to speak for them in matters of health, adoption, training, care and legislation helps keep the organization at the cutting edge when it comes to both programming and fundraising.
And in an organization that, legend has it, began when Harry Bergh stopped on a New York City street to physically prevent a man from beating his horse, innovative operations have come to be the norm.
There’s the whole Internet thing, for example. According to Sullivan, the ASPCA was putting dedicated URLs on all of its direct mail as far back as 2001 — maybe not the first to do it, but darn close. Same in 2004 with DRTV, which she says her organization pioneered as a fundraising channel for animal-welfare agencies in the United States. Even its recent rebranding, which took the emphasis off of traditional animal-welfare imagery, was a step in a new direction.
“The ASPCA has been a place where technology and innovation have been welcomed, not shunned,” she explains. “Some charities shy away from it. But any opportunity to marry our ability to talk to people through whatever channel they want to talk to us, whether it’s phone, e-mail, television or whatever, we’re right there to maximize that channel.
“When Harry Bergh founded the ASPCA in 1866, it was the very first animal-welfare organization in this country. There just wasn’t anything for animals,” she adds. “So from the very beginning, we were there first. We have had some lulls where things just didn’t happen, but it’s kind of hard not to want to continue to lead the pack when you realize that your founder was the first person to raise a hand and say, ‘Animal abuse is not going to happen while I’m around.’”