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Carolyn Cavicchio, as President and CEO of the philanthropy division of Changing Our World, Inc., a leading philanthropic services firm, has advised major corporations on effective corporate philanthropy and CSR. She can be reached at

By Tom Watson on November 29, 2006No Comment


Ad Council CEO: Helping Americans Aspire to Give
By: Tom Watson, 11/29/06


Peggy Conlon is CEO of the Ad Council, which each year mobilizes more than $1.8 billion of advertising time and space, the creative services of over 50 major advertising agencies, and related financial support from hundreds of corporations, all in service of causes and nonprofits. Recently, the Ad Council announced its Generous Nation campaign, designed to make Americans more aware of philanthropy to inspire them to volunteer and to give.

Since Conlon joined the Ad Council in 1999, the organization has doubled the work produced on behalf of its public service advertising campaigns as well as its operating support. During this time, the Ad Council has secured contracts with many premier government and non profit organizations such as the American Red Cross, Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, Girl Scouts of the USA, National Urban League, The American Cancer Society, The Department of Homeland Security, The United States Army and many more.

Conlon has championed the organization’s important mission among various government agencies and has partnered with both the Clinton and Bush Administrations to use the power of public service advertising in order to improve some of the nation’s most pressing issues. She organized the Campaign for Freedom, created on behalf of the entire U.S. advertising industry, to address the critical issues resulting from the events of September 11th and to help Americans respond to the crisis. She also led the organization’s production and distribution of the PSAs featuring former Presidents Bush and Clinton in support of the Tsunami Relief Effort.

We sat down with Peggy recently to discuss the campaign and the importance of media in fundraising and philanthropy.

Q. You’ve been quoted as saying the Ad Council learned a lot in its work after Hurricane Katrina and that that experience brought you to launch the Generous Nation Campaign. What did you learn about American philanthropy during that time?

Conlon: The devastating events of the Tsunami and Hurricane Katrina brought us dramatic images of people who desperately needed our help. The tragedies revealed that when Americans see people in need, they respond.  We were inspired by the generosity and compassion of individuals who responded with complete and selfless giving in so many ways, and wondered how we could sustain that level of giving and volunteering after the compelling images faded from the news. 

Our new Generous Nation campaign seeks to inspire and motivate all Americans to get involved in philanthropy — not only in times of crisis — but more often during the course of their daily lives. Our hope is not only to turn non-givers into givers, but with 85% of American households currently giving, to turn givers into more frequent givers — people willing to take action by donating more of their time, more of their money and whatever it takes — to help those most in need.  
Q. The Generous Nation Campaign revolves around a website and much of what it aims to accomplish will be online. With the ever-growing influence of the Internet and new media companies, there is growing attention to a new brand of philanthropy involving media space but the model goes back quite a ways with the Ad Council. How does the Council’s long history influence what you’re trying to accomplish today and are the goals for public service advertising the same?

Conlon: Actually, while the website is a wonderful tool to direct people to non-profits, we believe that the largest impact for the Generous Nation campaign will be to cause Americans to stop when they are inspired to help others and think “I shouldn’t almost give, I should give right now.”  Many of the opportunities to help others can be informal acts of kindness.

For the first time in our 64-year history, the Ad Council completely funded its own PSA campaign, Generous Nation, that was created on behalf of the entire philanthropy community (including both Ad Council sponsors and other non-profit organizations). I think the goals of public service advertising have generally remained unchanged over the years.  We have always sought to inspire attitudinal and behavioral changes in an effort to create positive social change on behalf of critical issues facing our country.  Generous Nation continues this mission on a larger scale.

The poignant new campaign, as well as its website (, aims to stimulate giving and volunteering across all areas to benefit individuals and society. The website connects visitors to thousands of non-profit organizations, representing a breadth of causes, such as the American Red Cross, Big Brothers Big Sisters and Habitat for Humanity, where you can get involved to help others in any capacity that aligns with your interests.  
Q. To follow-up, how is the Ad Council adapting to the changing shape of “media philanthropy”? Are you seeking new partners, using new ad units, measuring results in different ways?

Conlon: We are always looking for new media partners and are very grateful for the media’s continued generous support of our public service advertising campaigns over the years.  All Ad Council campaigns are run and aired in advertising time and space that is entirely donated by individual media outlets.
We have changed our media outreach strategy in the last few years and began securing “upfront” commitments from top media companies to increase support for Ad Council campaigns. This strategy has been very successful with our campaigns receiving more than $1.8 billion in time and space from the media last year.
For example, early outreach that we conducted on behalf of Generous Nation resulted in commitments to support the PSAs from several media companies, including CBS Television Network, Cablevision and Rainbow Media, Comcast Spotlight, Discovery Networks, Fox Networks Group, Hearst-Argyle Television, Tribune Broadcasting and Superstation WGN and Turner Broadcasting System, Inc.
We measure the results of our campaigns by looking at pre and post-tracking studies, website visits and calls to our campaign’s toll-free numbers, requests for materials and relevant government/non-profit statistics.  
Q. Even in today’s wired world where every click is measured, the big names still receive much of the fundraising revenue. How important is branding to nonprofits today, and how can they continue to compete in such a brand-centric world?

Conlon: I think it is increasingly important for non-profits to develop and maintain a strong brand.  And they are doing so utilizing the same techniques that commercial brands use to build brands.
Q. Do you have any advice for smaller nonprofits and foundations do they still need to pay attention to their brands, for instance? Are media partnerships a viable route for them as well?

Conlon: It is very important to pay attention to your brand. Non-profits utilize many different strategies to get the resources they need to build their brands. Media partnerships are a good tool, although not the total solution. Larger organizations can afford to buy services and media. Organizations leverage their relationships with board members and supporters to gain counsel and services such as advertising, public relations, etc.
Q. Great brands are often aspirational in nature they show us what we’d like to be. Is the same true in modern philanthropy? And given your experience with inspiring giving and volunteerism, who do we aspire to be?

Conlon: We aspire to encourage all Americans to act on their best intentions more often during the course of their lives. That is at the heart of Generous Nation, and all of our campaigns that address critically important social issues.  We know that the majority of the country has an innate sense of giving.  However, often times, we contemplate how we can help others, but our lives get busy and we don’t take that extra step from “almost giving.” We aspire to connect all individuals with resources that will make it easy and gratifying for them to give in any way they can.

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