Winnett to helm Nashville CARES development arm

When Hartsville native John Winnett visited a host-committee event for Nashville CARES’ annual Dining Out for Life, little did he know it would wind up bringing him back to Middle Tennessee.

As vice president of development and marketing for the Boys & Girls Club in Kansas City, Winnett had been using his skills to help grow that entity in a regional market that covered multiple counties and locations. And so in a conversation with Nashville CARES CEO Joe Interrante, he became intrigued with how the organization was looking at expanding its outreach efforts.

“I found out that [CARES] was looking for a major-gifts officer, which was not of interest to me because I’d done that before earlier in my career, but in talking with Joe I found that the organization was looking for something much more comprehensive, someone who could work on major gifts but also on growth and strategy,” said Winnett, now the agency’s chief development and external affairs officer. “And things just happened from there.”

Since coming to Nashville CARES in mid-July, Winnett has been busy looking at how CARES has traditionally done its marketing in and around Middle Tennessee, and is putting plans together to diversity both those efforts and also the agency’s funding sources.

“We want to grow our donor segments so that they are truly diversified, not just in terms of gay men and lesbian women or straight men and women, but also by adding churches, civic organizations and other groups,” he said. “On the marketing side, we want to get the word out and continue to cane the perception that this is just a gay disease. We want to show how everyone is affected, and we can do that by a diverse marketing strategy. What works in downtown Nashville or Davidson County isn’t going to work in Wilson or Williamson counties, so we’re changing the focus of Nashville CARES so we can touch on everyone, and make everyone in Middle Tennessee realize that they are affected by HIV and AIDS whether they realize it or not.”

Much of the groundwork for this effort is in place thanks to a strong network of affiliated organizations, such as the HIV clinic at Vanderbilt University, but there’s still much to be done to create a broader overlay for the future.

“Nashville CARES has done a very good job of partnering with other organizations to offer comprehensive services,” Winnett said. “But there are more partnerships, more co-branding and co-marketing efforts, needed. People don’t understand how many services Nashville CARES has to offer; that’s the limitation. When I talk to someone about CARES, I get ‘Oh, you do testing.’ That’s all they know, and it’s because that’s what we’ve marketed. And that’s very vital, but they don’t know that we have a drug and alcohol treatment program for people affected with HIV and AIDS, medical referral care, food bags, food delivery, assistance to families who are coping with HIV-positive family members, a plethora of services and education. And that’s what we have to market as well.”

Nashville CARES also benefits from its major events, Dining Out for Life and the annual AIDS Walk, as well as Artrageous, which is a separate charitable organization but raises funds for and is closely intertwined with, CARES. These events will continue to serve as strong marketing and outreach efforts, but will be used more effectively to build an ongoing donor and volunteer base as well, Winnett said.

“Beginning in 2011, we are going to be more mission-focused with our events, so that people don’t just come out, attend the event and have fun, but also will be more exposed to what we do,” he said. “We want them to leave knowing more about Nashville CARES, the services we offer and the impact on the clients that we have. We want those special-event donors and attendees to become investors in Nashville CARES for the long term, to get them more involved.”

That focus will also extend to the volunteer coordination as well, as newcomers are going to be asked where their strengths and interests lie so that they can be matched with a specific program or service more effectively.

“We want these relationships to be mutually beneficial,” Winnett said. “If they just want to work one night a year, that’s great; if someone wants that two hours a week, every week, commitment, we want to put them there. It’s going to be a much more individualized approach.”

Making these kinds of institutional changes will take time, so there are both short- and long-term goals being set, he added.

“I want Davidson County residents to at least know the impact that Nashville CARES makes, to know how many people are both infected and affected,” he said. “Long term, I have that same goal, but for all of Middle Tennessee, so that we have the 17 counties that we serve all pulling together to make the organization stronger than it is now, so we can make even more of an impact.”

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