Five minutes with…Jill Davis
CRO has appetite to end child hunger
Jill Davis is the chief revenue officer at Share Our Strength, a Washington, DC-based charity that’s addressing child hunger in the United States and around the world. She talks about her job as a CRO, which is a fairly new role in charities. She also discusses how Share Our Strength is helping hungry kids and families during the pandemic. We first met Jill when she attended the FIA Conference in February in Brisbane. This is one in an occasional series about fundraisers around the world.
Hi Jill! Tell us a bit about your career to date.
I have had the pleasure of working in the non-profit industry for more than 20 years supporting the missions of both global and US-based organisations, including St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation and today with Share Our Strength and our No Kid Hungry campaign.
You’re the chief revenue officer for Share Our Strength. What’s your day to day like?
Since March, our entire organisation has been working remotely. We expect to do so through at least the end of 2020, and maybe longer – so my days look quite different. Currently, I’m spending most of the day on video calls with our team members, partners and donors. It was an adjustment initially – we’re so used to connecting in person – and I’m proud of how nimble and flexible our team and organisation have become.
The CRO is a relatively new position in the C-Suite. How does it differ from sales, marketing and the chief financial officer’s role?
It’s a different role in our organisation than it is in the for-profit space. My role is focused on leading and integrating a comprehensive revenue-generating program that matches the bold ambitions of Share Our Strength by developing a holistic vision of all our revenue channels and integrating them for short and long-term growth.
What skills do you need to be a successful CRO in the charity world?
To me, it’s about inspiring and empowering a high-performing team, having a tenacious drive for growth, balancing analysis and the big picture, and having the ability to create and see the new and the different. Today, we’re innovating and strategising for an entirely new environment, so being nimble is king.
You’re also a member of the Share Our Strength executive team. How closely do you work with the CEO and on what issues? Is it great to have a seat at the table?
Being the chief revenue officer and member of our executive team for Share Our Strength is truly an honour. Our executive team comprises some of the most intelligent and creative leaders I have ever worked with – they challenge me every day to think differently, and I continue to learn so much from each of them.
We’re also looking at our mission and the programmatic need with such a critical cross-departmental lens. In my role, I report directly to our president and chief executive officer, and we work very collaboratively to establish the overarching strategy for all of our revenue verticals within the program.
Tell us about Share Our Strength. How massive is the child hunger issue in the USA?
No Kid Hungry is a national campaign run by Share Our Strength, a non-profit working to solve problems of hunger and poverty in the United States and around the world. After 25 years of successfully investing in local non-profits and helping to find the best approaches to eradicating poverty and hunger, Share Our Strength launched No Kid Hungry in 2010.
As a child hunger organisation, ending childhood hunger is our primary focus, though Share Our Strength continues to invest in and develop other campaigns.
We believe no child should go hungry in America. For years, the number of hungry children in the United States has been dropping, as the economy improved and No Kid Hungry and others helped schools adopt more effective meals programs. Before this pandemic hit, 1 in 7 kids in the US lived with hunger. But in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, 1 in 4 kids could face hunger this year.
Why? Because millions of children have lost the healthy school meals they depend on. And just as the outbreak has closed schools, it has also closed many businesses, leaving millions of Americans out of work and struggling to afford food for their children. These are families in need, many of them waiting in long lines for food.
No Kid Hungry has a plan to make sure children get the food they need, both during this crisis and in its aftermath. Through a combination of emergency grants, strategic assistance, advocacy and awareness, we’re equipping communities with the resources they need.
What about some of the innovative campaigns you work on?
Innovation and flexibility are critical to ending childhood hunger in America. One question unites every American family at this moment: whether and how their children will be going back to school this fall.
‘Back to school’ may look different this year, but one thing remains the same: kids in America are hungry and rely on the nutrition they receive from school meals to learn, grow and reach their full potential.
When schools closed in March, many turned on a dime to revamp their nutrition operations. There’s no single solution to feed our nation’s children through this crisis, but with a variety of resources and innovation, we will get through it.
Is Share Our Strength doing anything interesting in the digital or mobile campaign space?
Share Our Strength has a revenue innovation team which is doing some great work in the live stream community – both fundraising and generation awareness via digital influencers. We’re seeing other organisations having great success and audience growth in that channel as well.
You’ve had a big focus on partnerships in your career. What have been some of the most rewarding ones?
Great question and so hard to answer! I think the partnerships that I’ve enjoyed working on the most have been those who keep the mission in the centre of the collaboration and are willing to integrate the partnership into all of their audience channels – from the C-Suite to employees, to customers, vendors and beyond. That’s where you can make a transformational impact on your mission and their business.
Do you have any advice for managing corporate partnerships well?
As we have continued to get more sophisticated in our corporate partnerships, we look at our value proposition differently today. As experts in purpose-driven partnerships, we combine imagination and proven strategies to drive positive results for partners and end childhood hunger – permanently.
The key here is DRIVING POSITIVE RESULTS for both sides of the partnership. We want to be an authentic solution and asset aligned with our partner’s business objectives and not just as a partner for corporate social responsibility.
This means asking different questions of our partners and really listening to the challenges they face in their industries and then co-creating a completely customised partnership.
The pandemic is still raging in the USA. How is this affecting Share Our Strength’s programs? For example, usually Share Our Strength organises the No Kid Hungry campaign in September. How is the team adapting?
We have seen – and will continue to see – an unprecedented level of need in our work to feed kids during this pandemic and beyond. The pandemic has changed our programmatic focus as we’re really still in crisis response mode, given that schools across the country are still closed.
Because of our national reach and deep experience as advocates and grantmakers, No Kid Hungry was ready to respond as schools closed across the country. The good news is the way we’re connecting kids to meals today builds on the models we’ve advocated for years – mobile meals, grab and go, expansion of the supplemental nutritional assistance program (SNAP), etc.
Also, in the early months of the pandemic, headlines shared stories of growing hunger across the country, reflected in long lines at food banks and in school leaders scrambling to feed children who were missing free school meals. Donors responded with an outpouring of generosity, feeling the urgency to act – many understanding the critical role that school meals play in addressing childhood hunger for the first time.
In the years ahead, leadership and resources will be essential to ensuring that schools and organisations have the flexibility, resources and knowledge to address child hunger at scale. No Kid Hungry is uniquely positioned to help schools provide meals to children in all circumstances – while schools are closed, during the summer and when schools re-open.
We’re so grateful for the significant support we’ve received in the last few months, as it’s helped communities in all 50 states and Puerto Rico feed kids during this urgent time of need. Record unemployment and the economic challenges that millions of families face as well as other disruptions caused by COVID-19 also pose extraordinary challenges to feeding kids in need well beyond this summer. Kids urgently need our help, and we need all of the resources we can muster to overcome this moment. This means our marketing and awareness campaigns are more important than ever. This month, we’ve planning an exciting campaign to raise awareness of No Kid Hungry, as we do every year.
Pandemic aside, what are some of the biggest challenges facing non-profits in the USA today?
In my mind, it’s about where do you ‘place your bets.’ There are so many emerging channels to consider activating for revenue generation and brand awareness, and there has never been a time when authenticity is more critical. You don’t want to be everywhere, but there are so many great opportunities. The challenge and the fun are to find that perfect balance of getting your organisation in front of your priority audiences in an innovative way, ensuring that they take action and want to stand up for your cause with their own networks.
When you think about charitable giving in the future, what are you most excited about?
Even before the pandemic and this new fundraising environment, we saw a lot of movement towards digital and frictionless fundraising, and I see that trend only moving faster.
I’m also excited about the movement towards fundraising under ‘bigger tents’ as we look to have a collective impact on our mission and program work across the sector – strategic collaborative fundraising may become an expectation of some funders as we look at the future.
How important has mentoring been to you?
Mentoring has been so important for me personally. I’ve been fortunate throughout my
career to have a few exceptional mentors who have inspired my growth and encouraged me to identify my strengths and to leverage these strengths confidently. They have inspired me to embody the true meaning of leadership, which to me, is the ability to translate your vision into reality while motivating and empowering those around you. I also really enjoy being a mentor – I learn something in every conversation I have with someone I’m coaching too.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
I’ve always enjoyed new experiences – travel, sports, music, culture, cuisine. But today my spare time is about being with my husband at home and connecting with friends and family over FaceTime and Zoom. I think the silver lining to what we’re experiencing is prioritising the relationships that mean the most to us.