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
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
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.
To be continued with Part III of the Exclusive Ideagen Interview Series.