Q-and-A With Award Winners
When people involved in the nonprofit sector share with one another, it’s a beautiful thing. This was apparent at the DMA Nonprofit Federation conference last month, where the energy and enthusiasm was palpable. And it happens all the time on the many nonprofit blogs out there — more of which are being created every day, or so it seems.
Inspired by all this sharing, we thought it would be cool to ask the winners of our 2007 Fundraising Professionals of the Year Awards to share some things about themselves: where they come from, geographically and professionally; where they want to be in the future; who inspires them; and examples of some challenges and accomplishments they’ve had.
Below are tidbits of information from five of our winners: Jo Sullivan, senior vice president of development and communications, ASPCA, and our Fundraising Professional of the Year (Organization); Marc Sirkin, chief marketing officer, International Rescue Committee, and one of our Top Men in Fundraising; Dixie Ost, director of direct marketing, Heifer International, and one of our Top Women in Fundraising; Chuck Longfield, chief executive officer, Target Analysis Group, winner of our Lifetime Achievement Award (Agency); and Kurt Aschermann, president/COO, Charity Partners, and former senior vice president and chief marketing and development office at Boys and Girls Clubs of American, another of our Top Men in Fundraising.
Where did you grow up? In a tiny town in south western Virginia called Martinsville
What is your fundraising experience? My career at the ASPCA. Prior to that, I had worked in marketing and advertising. I still consider myself more a marketer than fundraiser — I fell into fundraising because I wanted to do marketing for the ASPCA.
What is your education? B.A. from the University of North Carolina Greensboro
Who are your role models? My parents on a personal level and those legendary marketing people like Seth Godin and Al Ries from a professional perspective.
Why did you choose fundraising as a career? I really didn’t. I chose animals. It’s all I have ever wanted to do. I thought I would grow up to be Dr. Doolittle, but thankfully this opportunity came along first. I applied at the ASPCA for over a year before they hired me, and I am so grateful they did.
What are some future professional pursuits of yours? I would love — at some point — to work in international aid/relief. Human services side — something completely different than animals but as relevant and critical in our globally changing world.
What were your greatest fundraising challenges? Always looking for the next big channel and ensuring that the internal team — from the board down — is willing to accept the risk of opening a new door.
What is the fundraising accomplishment you are most proud of? Launching direct-response television for the ASPCA in 2003.
How would those close to you describe you? Energetic, driven and passionate about what I do.
Where did you grow up? Westchester County, NY
What is your fundraising experience? I raised a few thousand dollars for the MS Walk one year, then found myself working for the March of Dimes. I found that by applying my user interface design and e-commerce skills into building a cutting-edge fundraising systems, we could raise a lot of money online.
What is your education? B.S. in advertising from Florida State University and a Design & Production diploma from the Art Institute of Atlanta.
Who are your role models? Christopher Reeve for never, ever giving up. Anyone who overcomes adversity and obscurity by putting in the work to get to the top is a role model!
Why did you choose fundraising as a career? I didn’t! I started out wanting to be a creative director at an ad agency. I was working on my third technology start-up when I stumbled into the nonprofit sector six years ago and haven’t looked back since.
What are some future professional pursuits of yours? High-school teacher and baseball coach. Or a CEO. We’ll just have to see how it plays out.
What were your greatest fundraising challenges? Getting people to relax and try new things. Fundraisers seem to be stuck in this mode of doing what works and forgetting to stick their heads up every so often.
What is the fundraising accomplishment you are most proud of? When The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society hired me in 2004, they claimed they wanted to raise $40 million by 2007. My team and I managed to reach that number a full year early, blowing away even my own most aggressive projections.
How would those close to you describe you? If they were being really honest, they’d first call me a pain in the butt but would quickly qualify that statement by also calling me smart and willing to try new things. I hope that they’d say I’m focused and tenacious.
Where did you grow up? Hot Springs, Arkansas
What is your fundraising experience? The seven years I’ve worked as director of direct marketing for Heifer International is my first experience as a fundraiser. Prior to Heifer, I spent 15 years working as a marketer in the for-profit sector.
What is your education? B.S. in communications from Southern Illinois University
Who are your role models? My mom. She loves life no matter what comes her way. She is strong, smart and absolutely convinced that all things are possible to those who try. I get such a boost from her!
Why did you choose fundraising as a career? After spending years in Chicago working hard to successfully market various products and services, I found myself hungry to do something that really mattered.
What are some future professional pursuits of yours? Continuing to grow Heifer’s DM program into a more diversified and integrated fundraising program.
What were your greatest fundraising challenges? During the 9/11 crisis, our VP of marketing mandated that we would “stay the course” with regard to our fundraising strategy for the holidays. This felt very risky at the time. Nonetheless, it really worked out for us. I learned a lot from that experience.
What is the fundraising accomplishment you are most proud of? Meeting our fiscal year ’06 income goal in six months.
How would those close to you describe you? A happy person.
Where did you grow up? In a triple-decker in East Boston where my parents still live today!
What is your fundraising/consulting experience? My fundraising experience (where I ask people for money) is limited to a few capital campaigns for organizations I’m on the board of. However, for the past 30 years, I have had the privilege of working closely with many of the best fundraisers in the business, in my role as a software and analytics provider. I learned the basics of membership from Lo Hartnett at WGBH [Boston’s public broadcasting station] in 1979 but have had the opportunity to work with Jon Abbott and Roberta MacCarthy at WGBH, Ed Mills at U.S. Committee for UNICEF and later at WNET, Lee Weiner at the Anti-Defamation League, and the great teams of fundraisers at The Nature Conservancy, American Diabetes Association and so many other organizations.
In addition, through my annual donorCentrics benchmarking business, I have been privileged to have an inside view of the fundraising practices of 500 of the best-run nonprofits in the country, from Harvard and Princeton to American Cancer Society and The Nature Conservancy.
What is your education? B.A. in applied math and statistics from Harvard College, and an EdM from Harvard Graduate School of Education
Who are your role models? Jon Abbott, soon to be the general manager at WGBH, is an extraordinary visionary in public broadcasting. He was the primary impetus behind the development of Team Approach [a software application that enables nonprofit organizations to organize and manage a great deal of detailed constituent information.] Chris Dann of Drakes Bay Fundraising is another role model. I’ve known Chris for nearly 25 years; he is an incredible strategist and has great insights into philanthropy.
Why did you choose consulting for fundraising organizations as a career? I had the good fortune to build WGBH’s membership software system, at the ripe old age of 22, in 1979. After that I was hooked. What better way to spend a career than helping nonprofits be more effective at their missions?
What are some future professional pursuits of yours? On the business side, there remain a lot of opportunities to make software and information increasingly more accessible, and more actionable, to clients.
On the personal side, with the sale of my companies, Target Software and Target Analysis, to Blackbaud, I’m looking forward to using some of my new-found funds to focus on improving the state of public education. I attended the Boston public schools and am a passionate advocate for improving public schools.
What were your greatest challenges as a consultant? I have spent the better part of 30 years implementing enterprise-wide fundraising software systems. These systems are difficult to implement and usually require the merging of many databases and the breaking down of silos, the development of organization-wide business rules and the re-training of staff. Every implementation is a challenge, but the benefits for the nonprofit are extraordinary.
What is the professional accomplishment you are most proud of? The relationship that I have with my clients. I have always tried to be their partner and create win-win situations. My first 10 analytic clients are still doing business with me 15 years later. My first 10 software clients are still using my software 11 years later.
Where did you grow up? Ossining, New York
What is your fundraising/consulting experience? Been raising money since 1975 on and off, but really doing it professionally since 1987.
What is your education? B.S. in physical education
Who are your role models? [Journalist and Catholic activist] Dorothy Day, [German theologian] Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Nelson Mandela.
What are some future professional pursuits of yours? I’m done; this is it! After Charity Partners starts raising $1 billion a year for charity, I’m going to work for small nonprofits that serve the poor.
What were your greatest challenges as a consultant? Convincing organizations they have to change but not blow things up to do it.
What is the professional accomplishment you are most proud of? The re-organization of the board of Boys & Girls Clubs and Denzel Washington’s book.
How would those close to you describe you? Can’t print [that] in a family magazine … actually, I think they would say ‘What you see is what you get.’