Q-and-A With Jo Sullivan
As announced last week, Jo Black Sullivan, who has served at the ASPCA for a decade — most recently as executive vice president of external affairs — has accepted a position with CDR Fundraising Group as senior director of integrated marketing and manager of direct-response television.
The appointment marks an exciting new chapter for Sullivan, who also serves as a member of the FundRaising Success Editorial Advisory Board. We had a chance to catch up with her last week and to talk about what she'll be doing at CDR, keys to her successes at ASPCA and what she believes the future holds for the nonprofit sector.
FundRaising Success: This is an exciting new career change. Can you talk a little about some of the things you're going to be doing at CDR? What excites you the most about the new position?
Jo Sullivan: At CDR, I'll be working beside one of my industry heroes and mentors, Geoff Peters, as well as his amazing staff. I'm hoping to contribute with both the successes and failures the ASPCA has experienced in our 500 percent growth track over the past several years. We did a lot right and a lot wrong, and I am honored to be able to apply those learnings across CDR's impressive client groups. From Wounded Warrior Project to Toys for Tots and all the rest — these groups do such important and vital work. I am honored to be a small part of whatever Geoff and his team have already begun to do.
FS: What is one of the most memorable experiences or achievements you've had while working at the ASPCA?
JS: I can't count them all. It has truly been my honor to serve animals over the past decade. From watching from the foot of the Empire State Building as it went "Orange for Animals" to sitting across from Sarah McLachlan as she sang a cappella to a reluctant DRTV dog — they are all amazing. Standing in the middle of a Wal-Mart store seeing ASPCA product on shelves and knowing our brand successfully translated from cause to trusted pet partner — those things will always be with me.
In addition — the team of development and communications people we've assembled over the past 10 years is one of the best in the industry. I am going to miss them most. If I didn't directly hire, I was part of the recruitment for more than 80 percent — and that transcends "staff." They are my family, and I am proud of each and every single one of them.
FS: What do you think was a key to your success at the ASPCA — namely, growing revenue more than 500 percent and launching the DRTV campaigns?
JS: I think it was setting forth on a twofold vision: First, commitment to making monthly giving the cornerstone of our development portfolio and doing everything we could to ensure that happened. In 1999, we had 8,000 monthly donors. Today, we have more than 140,000. That commitment and dedication to growth in that segment changed the face of our fundraising.
Second, commitment to find relevance in every single pet-passionate person's life. This took us into consumer, retail and mainstream brands like Subaru and Wal-Mart. It was the most important channel to open and begin to elevate our brand to a household name.
FS: What do you see for the future of the nonprofit sector?
JS: Online, offline, between the lines! It's all about integration. The donor must not be in a silo — but elevated. Charities that tell their stories and build their need with true mass-market vision will survive. You can segment and analyze on the back end and make sure you have the customer service team you need to answer whatever that donor needs, but never forget to yell your story from the rooftops and put effort and excellence in all the channels you can open — donors will resonate and come with you.
FS: What advice can you share with others at nonprofits during these challenging times?
JS: Don't stop talking. Donors want to be able to give and support, and it may seem like the absolute right thing to "trim mailings," but fight that instinct. When times bounce back — and they will — you'll be well ahead of the curve since you won't have to "reintroduce" yourself to people who never wanted you to go away to begin with.