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Cover Story : Direct Marketer of the Year: Brian Cowart

A direct marketing career adds up to making a difference

October 2011 By Heather Fletcher
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It’s a phrase Brian Cowart probably says a lot: “I’m sorry I made you cry.”

It’s not that the senior vice president of national direct marketing for ALSAC/St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital is mean. It’s that Target Marketing magazine’s 2011 Direct Marketer of the Year is such an effective communicator about his organization—which works to cure children of cancer and other catastrophic diseases—that listeners’ tears just come naturally.

Cowart sat in his Memphis, Tenn. office, recalling when he realized that his organization’s fundraising efforts mattered to more than just its beneficiaries.

It was a man named Ira. He’d been donating monthly to save St. Jude’s children. “He was writing us to tell us that he was terminally ill from cancer and that he really was upset because he knew he was no longer going to be able to support our kids. ... And he was writing this letter to ask that we find someone to take his place.

So in January 2010, St. Jude sent letters to potential donors, telling them about Ira’s dying wish. “There was a total of maybe 10,000 people who said ‘yes,’ they would take Ira’s place in supporting the kids. And we went back and we shared with him how many people ... had actually taken up the mantle,” says Cowart, “and he was extremely touched. And he said he had no idea that his story would have that type of impact. And, soon thereafter, he passed away.”

Throat lump.

Cowart’s oratory skill is only part of what makes him stand out among direct marketers. He guides the fundraisers in the National Direct Marketing Division, which is the largest source of revenue and new donor support within St. Jude. Despite the recession, the division’s program has seen an 8 percent increase in the number of active donors giving through its various direct mail channels during the past two fiscal years. The organization, as a whole, realized fundraising revenues of $691.9 million in fiscal year 2010.

He has also helped persuade members of Congress to understand how proposed legislation may impact direct marketers—both during his tenure at St. Jude and his earlier experience as the director of direct marketing for CARE, a nonprofit humanitarian organization dedicated to fighting poverty.

 

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