Women Are Now Driving Nonprofit Direct Response Marketing

As director of direct response marketing for the American Diabetes Association and a veteran fundraiser, Joanne Del Giorno hasn’t battled alone to gain respect and acceptance from the historically male-driven arena of direct response marketing. With a little help from many female mentors throughout her career she has worked to forge a multi-million dollar fundraising program while becoming one of the most prominent nonprofit marketers of either gender.

Del Giorno is quick to mention that she has been surrounded by a number of talented women during her career — an occurrence none too common in the days of direct response prior to the 1990s. What she does share is an unhesitating willingness to describe the most significant change in women’s authority from the perspective of someone who has influenced how women are perceived and what they can accomplish within the business.

"I can run a $35 million campaign — and do it out of my house," she explained over the sounds of her dog yapping at a Fed Ex delivery person in the background. "I’ve been around for 10 years — which isn’t the longest of the group — but I’ve had a lot of great mentors who are women."

The direct marketing business, particularly the fundraising portion of the industry, has always been more open to women than the for-profit world. Yet, it’s only been during the last decade that women have taken control of the of sector.

Within that group, there are industry leaders who stand above the crowd. The editors of The NonProfit Times selected 12 women who are truly the industry’s leaders.

The women were chosen for a combination of reasons. While all are first-rate direct marketers, some have raised the bar of excellence which others copy, others are constantly teaching and mentoring, and while others were the first in their field and continue setting industry standards.

The selected are: Aggie Alexander, senior vice president, national direct marketing, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital; Eilene M. (Dodee) Black

president and CEO, Atlantic List Company; Joanne DelGiorno, director, direct response marketing, American Diabetes Association; R. Rebecca Donatelli, chairman, Hockaday Donatelli Campaign Solutions; Lynn S. Edmonds executive vice president, L.W. Robbins; Phyllis Freedman, senior vice president, managing director, Epsilon; Margaret Guellich director, direct marketing, Catholic Relief Services, Lindy Litrides, senior vice president, relationship marketing Arthritis Foundation; Judith A. Maneval, president Sanky Perlowin Associates/Sanky Net; Jillaine Smith, senior associate, Benton Foundation; Carol Sue Sword, vice president of direct response and gifts in kind, Christian Appalachian Project, Joan Wheatley, senior director, donor development, Special Olympics.

"When you look at the people The NonProfit Times has selected, and what they are doing in the marketing area, you can see right there the power of women," said Margaret Guellich, director, direct marketing, Catholic Relief Services. "And we can’t say that for a lot of other industries."

As you look at the accompanying biographies of these 12 women, you’ll see their numerous accomplishments and learn how they have shaped the industry. While they are driving nonprofit direct response activity today, it’s important to note that women holding such prominent positions in the world of direct response fundraising has not always been commonplace.

A look to the past

Max Hart, director of fundraising for Disabled American Veterans in Cincinnati, harkened back 30 years ago when he attended his first Direct Marketing Association conference. The annual event attracts upper management executives, and can be used as one benchmark for women’s role in the industry. Hart recollected that women accounted for about 25 percent of attendees. On the other hand, he pointed to what he calls an "entrepreneurial spirit" in fundraising, and notes that while the percentage of women was low, many of the females in the industry held positions of importance, and many owned their own businesses.

"There probably was a glass ceiling at that time in the commercial world, but fundraising is somewhat of an entrepreneurial industry and females could start their own companies or could rise to levels of leadership within organizations. I don’t think these organizations were very progressive in their thinking as far as what females could achieve and therefore allowed women to progress to the maximum limits of their abilities and didn’t hold them back," said Hart.

The number of women in direct response fundraising has increased right along with their prominence and stature, said Hart, who is a former chair of the Direct Marketing Association’s (DMA) Nonprofit Council, now called the Nonprofit Federation.

Today, females constitute half or more of DMA conference attendees. More importantly, many have moved from attendee status to the podiums as respected speakers who share their expertise with their colleagues, both male and female.

Claude Grizzard Sr., chairman emeritus, Grizzard Agency in Atlanta, pointed to the recent DMA’s 11th Annual Nonprofit Washington Conference where 40 percent of speakers were women.

Hart and Grizzard both stressed that women probably wouldn’t have achieved such high levels of prominence in direct response fundraising if it weren’t for some of the earlier female leaders. "If the women who preceded those being honored by The NonProfit Times and others who are doing great things today hadn’t performed so well and achieved the levels of success that they had maybe many opportunities would not have been presented to others, except maybe the entrepreneurs," said Hart.

Yes, business in general, and even direct response fundraising, was primarily a "men’s club" for quite some time. Things began to change in the 1970s with the feminist movement, and continued to evolve as more women paid their dues, and attained leadership positions, said Phyllis Freedman, senior vice president, Epsilon. "A whole culture changed as women were being seen as professionals in ways that they never had before."

Like most people, R. Rebecca Donatelli, chairman, Hockaday Donatelli Campaign Solutions, in Alexandria, Va. had a career outside of the direct marketing world at one time. She founded a successful real estate and management business, and a bank. Being an entrepreneur, Donatelli explained, has helped her to control and shape her own destiny.

While all of the women selected as leaders by The NonProfit Times work in very different areas of the direct response fundraising industry, they share some common characteristics.

Being female is a surprising advantage

Many believe that women have an advantage and, ironically, that is their gender.

"Marketing generally, direct marketing specifically and fundraising particularly, is an art and a science," said Freedman. "But it’s probably a little more of an art than a science and requires a strong intuitive component. I think that women are better at that than men. And because the general audience for nonprofits tend to be women, they might have a little bit of an edge in being able to relate to their donors."

These women also seem to share a love of their professions, and retain a strong commitment to the core values of their organizations.

To be successful, said Guellich, director, direct marketing, Catholic Relief Services, "you need to be passionate about the mission of the organization you work for. Not just because it’s a job and you are making money, but because you care about the organization and what you are raising money for. You’ll find not just a great deal of satisfaction, but you’ll also wind up being extremely successful because [your passion] is going to come through all of your decisions."

For most, like Jillaine Smith, senior associate, Benton Foundation, their work has become truly personal. "I can’t imagine going to work for a corporate entity. [Working in the nonprofit sector] is too much a part of my life and who I am as a person. I am in it for the long haul."

The other big force for advancement for has been mentoring and networking. Many of these women clearly remember and appreciate people — male and female alike — who took the time to help them along their career path. And many of them continue mentoring others, whether it is in the workplace, on the academic level, or through organizations such as the Direct Marketing Education Foundation, or the DMA’s Nonprofit Federation.

"Mentoring, educating and being a resource for any marketer, male or female, doesn’t matter, is something all leaders who have been successful in the marketing arena need to commit to," said Guellich

Mentoring is not just a means of "repaying" those who have helped these women, and cultivating new direct response fundraisers, it is also a way to gather fresh insight.

"Young people today have more opportunities to study nonprofit management in both the undergraduate and graduate level, so individuals today with 10 to 15 years of experience are much younger than they ever were before," said Guellich. "Someone who is only 30 years old might have a wealth of experience versus older people who started working in fundraising later in their careers. You can’t be deceived by youth."

The real key to advancement in any industry, regardless of gender, is performance. Because success in direct marketing is often based on measurable actions, many women believe they have been able to progress to such high levels because they have demonstrated their abilities with concrete results for acquisition and retention programs, return on investment and the like.

Joanne DelGiorno, director, direct response marketing, American Diabetes Association, concurs with the concept. "As you grow in your career and gain more knowledge people see how you work and what you bring to the table-then you eliminate the whole gender issue. I essentially run a $35 million business, and that’s how I view my job."