Aging

AARP’s Kevin Donnellan Exclusive Ideagen Global Thought Leader Interview (Part II) with Ideagen’s George Sifakis

Kevin: I worked on Capitol Hill before coming to AARP. When I worked on the Hill, I
spent a lot of time focusing on aging issues. Congresswoman Geraldine Ferraro’s congressional district had one of the oldest aging populations in the country. We spent a lot of time working on aging issues. That’s where I got into aging issues. When I decided to leave the Hill, I was attracted to AARP because of their mission. I have to say, when I got here I thought, I’ll do this for a couple of years and then I’ll try something else. Here I am now, 30 years later, still at
AARP.

The main reason I’m here ... Well, there are actually two. One is, again, the mission of
the organization. It’s a fantastic mission. As I said earlier, I love what I do and I think
that’s important. I think you have to believe in what you do and want to get up and go
to work every day and feel like you’re making a difference, and I do.
Secondly, we have an absolutely fantastic staff here at AARP. Unbelievable
professionals who are all very much dedicated to the mission of the organization and
that makes this a great organization. That’s why I joined AARP. That’s why I was
inspired to join here, and it’s why I’ve been inspired to stay.

George: Kevin, that’s amazing. You know, 30 years later, that’s an inspiration at its best.

Kevin: The gentleman that hired me at the time, I said, “Two years. I’ll give you two years.”
Here I am, 30 years later.

George: That is incredible. A perfect segue again into, how did your role as the chief
communications officer at AARP prepare you to become the executive vice president
and now chief of staff. What key lessons and vantage points helped you to carry out
this successful mission?

Kevin: I think part of what prepared me actually, I guess, to be chief of staff for the
organization is I have worked in and managed many parts of the organization over my
30 years here. I have a very good perspective on the breadth of work, at least I think I
do, that AARP is engaged with. Then again, having been the chief communications
officer, there are certain skills and disciplines that are there that I think are very
successful for me in carrying out this role as well.

There really, I guess, three that come to mind. One is the need to integrate. When I
was our chief communications officer, the group that I helped build there was an
integrated communications team. Most of our communications and communications
related functions in the organization prior to that had been spread out all over the
organization and they weren’t terribly integrated. It was to really build the strong
integrated communications team and to bring it into the 21st century, which I think
we did and we’ve done fairly successfully. So integration’s a big part of that, getting all
sorts of folks to work together.

The other is to really focus on the mission. I am very much a mission-driven individual
and this is very much a mission-driven organization. Making sure that everything
we’re doing is about the mission ... If it’s not helping to drive the mission, questioning
why are we doing it? Should we be doing it? If not, how do we stop it?
The other piece of that, which sort of relates to that focus on the mission, but it’s also
message discipline. As any good communicator knows, you’ve got to be pretty
disciplined in your messages if you’re going to be successful in getting them out, being
clear so that people understand what it is you’re doing.

I think it’s those three skills, particularly that I bring that our helping me in this role
and hopefully making me successful in this role.

Abigail: Kevin, that’s an incredible perspective. I think it’s very interesting to hear how you’ve
worked in so many different parts of AARP. That leads me into my next question
which is, how does AARP effectively reach and positively affect the more than 37
million members?

Kevin: We reach our members through a variety of methods. First of all, we have world class
publications here, the AARP Magazine and the AARP Bulletin. They are truly award
winning publications that have enormous reach. AARP has upwards of 38 million
members and our publications go to all 38 million. According to the MRI numbers,
which is the industry standard for measuring readership, we have a little over 36
million readers of our publications, which is, at least I always find when I really step
back and think about that, somewhat mind-boggling. Those are two very effective
tools that we have to reach them.

We don’t limit with that. We obviously use a lot of social media and web and what
have you also to reach not only our members, but the broader population. We have a
membership, as I said, of a little over 38 million, but we serve the entire 50-plus
population. That’s who we view as the people we serve, is those 50-plus and frankly
and their families. We’re not limited just by our membership.

Our publications, our online work, and then we also do a tremendous amount in
community. AARP likes to view itself not so much as a national organization, but a
nationwide organization. By that we mean, we’re in every community across the
country and we have lots of active volunteers and staff in communities across the
country. We have offices in all of the states and a lot of the major cities across the
country so we do a lot of face-to-face with folks as well.

We reach them basically through the breadth of communication channels. We also
use direct mail and other venues like that. We have a pretty strong brand and we
have a pretty strong trust with our members. When we send them information
materials, they will often ... Not only do they read it, but they act on it.

07/28/2016 02:21 pm ET

Part I of the Exclusive Interview with AARP’s Kevin Donnellan with Ideagen’s George Sifakis

George: Welcome, welcome to Ideagen, Ideas Leader Radio. Today we have with us
Mr. Kevin Donnellan from AARP. Welcome, Kevin.

Kevin: Thank you, George. How are you?

George: Wonderful. Great to have you on Ideagen Radio.

Kevin: Delightful to be here.

George: Kevin is executive vice president and chief of staff for AARP. He provides the link
between the CEO and AARP’s Executive and Leadership Teams working to implement
the enterprise strategy, solve problems, and deal with sensitive issues before they are
brought to the chief executive.

Prior to becoming chief of staff, Kevin served 8 years as AARP’s chief communications
officer. Under his leadership, AARP has become a 21st century media conglomerate,
exploding the myth that Americans 50-plus are not wired into new communications
channels. In 2011, 12, and 13, he was named to the Influence 100, the world’s 100
most influential corporate communicators, by the Holmes Report. As chief of staff,
Kevin continues to provide leadership and management for all internal
communications, executive positioning, and public outreach functions in the
enterprise.

Before becoming CCO in 2006, Kevin served AARP in a number of roles in advocacy,
director of grassroots and elections, and legislative and public policy that proved
critical to the growth and success of the organization.

Kevin is a member of the Ad Council Advisory Committee on Public Issues and chairs
the group’s Committee on Community and Stewardship. He is a member of the
prestigious Arthur W. Page Society. He also serves on the advisory board of George
Mason University’s College of Health and Human Services. He is a former chair of the
board of directors of the Long-Term Care Campaign and represented AARP on the
Leadership Council of Aging Organizations.

Kevin came to AARP from Capitol Hill, where he was executive assistant to
Representative Geraldine Ferraro. He holds Bachelor’s of Arts and Master of Arts
degrees in government and politics from St. John’s University in New York.
Kevin, my gosh, what an amazing bio and what an incredible impact on this country
and the planet for your work at AARP.

Kevin: Thank you, George. It’s a great job and I love what I do.

George: Well, that’s a beautiful thing and it’s a great segue actually to describing for us and
our listeners, what is AARP’s unique mission?

Kevin: Our mission is to enhance the quality of life for all of us, regardless of age, as we age.
We do that by championing positive social change and, we hope, delivering good
value for folks through advocacy, information, and service. We were founded almost
60 years ago by a woman named Dr. Ethel Percy Andrus. She gave us the motto “to
serve, not to be served.” It is something we still to this day AARP very much lives by.
What we really see is a society in which everyone gets to live with dignity and purpose
and to fulfill their dreams and goals.

In fact, I just tweeted out this morning, relevant to something else we’re doing, a
quote from Dr. Andrus from the 1960s where she said, “This is a country where it’s
wonderful to be young. It also must become a country where it’s wonderful to be
old.”

That so much describes what it is that we’re doing. We’re really trying to make it a
country where that everyone, regardless of age, gets to fulfill their goals and dreams.
George: Kevin, what an incredible answer and perspective on such an important issue
regarding aging and our entire population and the way AARP is truly making an
impact with your leadership as well.

Today we have with us Abigail Weiland as well from Ideagen. Welcome,
Abigail.

Abigail: Hi. Thank you. Kevin, thank you for that perspective on AARP’s unique mission. I
would love to hear what inspired you specifically to join AARP.

Kevin: Sure. As you heard from the introduction George did at the top of the show, I worked
on Capitol Hill before coming to AARP. When I worked on the Hill, I spent a lot of time
focusing on aging issues, partly because the member of Congress who I worked with
represented one of the ... Her congressional district had one of the oldest aging
populations in the country. We spent a lot of time working on aging issues. That’s
where I got into aging issues. When I decided to leave the Hill, I was attracted to AARP
because of their mission. I have to say, when I got here I thought, I’ll do this for a
couple of years and then I’ll try something else. Here I am now, 30 years later, still at
AARP.

The main reason I’m here ... Well, there are actually two. One is, again, the mission of
the organization. It’s a fantastic mission. As I said earlier, I love what I do and I think
that’s important. I think you have to believe in what you do and want to get up and go
to work every day and feel like you’re making a difference, and I do.
Secondly, we have an absolutely fantastic staff here at AARP. Unbelievable
professionals who are all very much dedicated to the mission of the organization and
that makes this a great organization. That’s why I joined AARP. That’s why I was
inspired to join here, and it’s why I’ve been inspired to stay.

George: Kevin, that’s amazing. 30 years later, that’s inspiration at its best.

Kevin: The gentleman that hired me at the time, I said, “Two years. I’ll give you two years.”
Here I am, 30 years later.

05/10/2016 06:27 pm ET