Trish Fulvio, a generational Penn State alumna, is back in town from the Philadelphia area as the new executive director for Pink Zone. Fulvio tells Town&Gown founder Mimi Barash Coppersmith about how breast cancer has touched her life personally, her experience working as an executive director for several regional and national non-profit organizations, and her vision for the future of Pink Zone.
Mimi: First of all, I want to welcome you to Happy Valley.
Trish: Thank you.
Mimi: Well welcome you back, actually.
Trish: Yes, I’m a devoted Penn Stater, so thank you.
Mimi: What motivated you to leave the city where you’ve obviously been a successful woman and you’ve come on to take the challenge of the Pink Zone during the pandemic.
Trish: I have a very close connection to the mission. A few years ago, I lost my cousin who was more like my sister at the age of 59 to triple negative breast cancer. It was a three year battle. I was the person who went back and forth with her. She was treated in Huston at Houston Methodist with a doctor named Mauro Ferrari, who is doing tremendous research in metastatic triple negative breast cancer. She was given three months to live when she was diagnosed. There was really nothing for her on the east coast. But we found Houston Methodist, and she got into several trials and they gave her some very good time. But of course, not enough time, she has children that she left behind. That was quite an experience for me. As I said, it’s a heartfelt mission for me to help these survivors.
Mimi: How long did she survive after the treatments?
Trish: Three years.
Mimi: Well, that’s a fair amount of time.
Trish: Yeah, for triple negative, it is a fair, she was stage four. She was metastatic. Most of her treatments were not chemo based. So she felt pretty good. So anyway, that’s one motivation, I’ve been wanting to get back to State College for a lot of years now. I love it. I have spent a good portion of my life there as a kid and of course went to college at Penn State, my whole family went there. It’s an area that I really like and I have a lot of friends there.
Mimi: So you came back here to be in love again.
Trish: Yeah, there you go. And eat ice cream!
Mimi: Well, I never found my way out of town, so that may be an indication to you that you may be stuck here. And you’ve got to get Pink Zone to a high level once we overcome this pandemic.
Trish: That’s my goal. I think it’s a very attainable goal because it’s a great cause.
Mimi: It has a great board that is trying to maneuver at a time when maneuvering is almost impossible. Do you have any ideas in your mind for how you’re going to approach this from the outset, and how your past experience may give us some new insight into this grand challenge of raising money? I believe Pink Zone has raised over 2 million dollars in its approximately 10 year history. We need a shot at something to overcome the setbacks that are now in front of us, as well as many other nonprofits.
Trish: I was going to say we’re all in the same boat as far as nonprofit organizations. But the way I’ve always approached fundraising, it’s very personal, and built on relationships. It is the hardest kind of sales that you can do, because you have no product in your hand to give the person. So it’s really built on relationships. The second thing that I think is extremely important in all nonprofit organizations is that it’s like running a business, it is a business. It needs to be run as a business. I think that’s where a lot of nonprofit organizations go by the wayside. Because they depend on altruistic giving, I’m not going to say there’s no altruistic giving, there is some, but generally, even people who are giving because they have a deep commitment to the cause need to be getting something back. The key is to determine what they need, whether it’s feeling that they are doing something for the greater good or for a company, it could be somehow affecting their bottom line, because they have constituents/customers who are affected by this horrible disease, it helps them to be involved. So there’s always a reason why people give and the key is to finding out what it is and give it to them. That’s the way I’m hoping to approach it. I will continue to build on the relationships that have been built. I know that you have been tremendously important in a lot of those relationships, so I’m hoping that you too, will help me as you have others along the way.
Mimi: I certainly would love to do that. I’m a breast cancer survivor and very grateful for being so.
Trish: How long have you been a survivor, Mimi?
Mimi: 37 years. I’m blessed to be alive. I also had thyroid cancer, which I survived. Some of what we have to do is make everyone understand that when they contribute financially to the Pink Zone, they’re getting us tiny steps closer to killing breast cancer forever. We’ve made great progress and we are in a place that raises money but also gives it to other nonprofits to perform their on the line tasks. We help them do it better, from Hershey to Mount Nittany to Geisinger to the Pennsylvania Breast Cancer Coalition and all pieces of the puzzle that tend to get us closer each moment, to doing things better, and for better results.
Trish: I also hope to do more with the Survivors Task Force, because the survivors are the reason. I think their stories are very important. They motivate people and move them to give and to be involved.
Mimi: Survivors are part of the solution. Because the longer they live and figure out how you do that, the more people we can help do the same thing, set an example and inspire. I have found that during my lifetime of involvement in nonprofits starting back in high school has made me realize that the time, energy, and money that are put into things like the Pink Zone, give you back such a good feeling about what you’ve helped to make happen. Many of these issues are very complex. Just as the pandemic is full of problems. As we get closer to a vaccine, it begins to be not a pain in the neck, but an exciting possibility of new opportunity. That’s the same attitude that I have for every group I work closely with. More people have to realize the joy of helping others. Money is only a small piece of it. It’s all the other things, being able to talk about what’s bugging you? What’s holding you back? What’s making it impossible to capture that positive feeling on certain days? How does that fit into this imaginary new program that you’ll help us create?
Trish: I’ll tell you a little story that speaks to that. I have always been good at sales. Over the years, I have had people come to me to lure me away, particularly stockbrokers. I was never able to do it because I need a different motivation. I need to know that I’m somehow effecting change. It sounds cliché, but it’s important to me to work for the greater good. I’ve been working in the cancer field for many years, mostly with pediatric cancer. That’s what drives me.
Mimi: I’ve been told that this is your dream job.
Trish: It is my dream job. I was an opera singer. So I’m sort of a performer at heart and selling is performance. I’m a people person. I love to get to know people. I think that’s a very important part of fundraising. In order for somebody to give they have to trust you, they have to trust that you’re going to steward their money well, that you’re doing what you say you do. All those things I think are really important. Integrity is top of the line for me. People need to know what you’re doing and where their money is going.
Mimi: It’s important, very important to build relationships. So you’re going to get to build these relationships here, or transfer some of those incredible relationships you have in the Greater Philadelphia area, to build a family of relations, that will increasingly build the overall impact of Pink Zone. We’ve had quite a success. We’ve been slightly sidetracked by the pandemic and it makes it very difficult to do the things that we do to raise the most money.
Trish: It involves connecting with people, and we can’t do that right now. We’re all in the same boat at the moment and we will get through it. I have a lot of hope that maybe by the summer, we’ll be able to start doing things outdoors and start connecting with people again, other than virtually. Right now we have to connect virtually, that’s all we can do.
Mimi: Do you have any ideas that you haven’t revealed yet? What are some of your early thoughts?
Trish: I have some ideas for some things to do in February, to continue what has been done, but put a new twist on them and do them in a new way. I’d love to still do the brunch, but do it in a way that perhaps we deliver the brunch to people so they feel engaged. We will do our auction online and hopefully connect to a lot more people nationally, since it is virtual. I’m looking at a way to do a virtual video of the survivors to show at the game. I’ve done a significant number of virtual events this year. Of course it depends on cost. We have to be really careful this year about what we’re spending. It’s about raising money not spending.
Mimi: Have you thought about how you might engage in researching how many former Lady Lion basketball players are now survivors of breast cancer and recording some messages from them?
Trish: I have started to look into that. Not only Lady Lion basketball players but some prominent people like Robin Roberts, who’s a breast cancer survivor and played basketball. Also, Holly Rowe who is a Football broadcaster and went through a breast cancer battle. I’m looking at how to reach those people. Hopefully I can reach some of these people and get them to record some messages because that does engage people when they see somebody they recognize who’s gone through the same thing they have.
Mimi: Have you thought about things that can happen more times during the year? To keep the challenge in front of people and entertain at the same time?
Trish: Yes, things like continuing newsletters, where people are seeing what we do on a regular basis. But also I’m looking into a challenge. A challenge grant that would motivate people to give and that could be something that would go throughout the year. So they’re just some of the ideas that I’m looking at over the last six days. I’m also trying to be very careful not to jump in too quickly before I know everything, because it’s important to understand the whole organization and the history before doing something that might not be the right thing for this organization.
Mimi: I have encouraged our first executive director, Miriam Powell to be in touch with you, and allow you to pick her brain. I had a lovely conversation with her. She’s very excited about you being on board and there to help in any way that she can. She put us on our feet and helped us set a wonderful example of success. We’re all looking to you to be able to get us out of this pandemic and be back in a leading role in the community.
Trish: I would love to speak with her. I had a great conversation with Sue Woodring. She was very helpful to me. It’s helpful to talk to people about what has worked and hasn’t in the past.
Mimi: We’ve never lived in a time like we’re experiencing now, between all the mass of the political world and the virus. There are lots of problems. It’s putting a lot of pressure on leadership, because your job is mostly fundraising, but it’s also leadership. You have the background of bringing people together. So let’s make a home run in the ninth inning that wins the game. You’re going to do it. I can tell but from my perspective. I’m here to help and there are a lot of people involved in the history of Pink Zone that will do whatever you ask them to do in most cases, because we’re very proud of the job that we’ve done.
Trish: Absolutely. That’s my goal. I want it to be successful.
Mimi: What would you like to say about your journey ahead, that I haven’t motivated you to speak about?
Trish: I hope to be able to use my experience and what I’ve learned over the years about working with people and motivating people. Helping people to feel successful, because that’s really important for people to feel successful in what they do. I hope to be able to bring that to the Pink Zone and hit the home run, as you said.
Mimi: What more can we do to aid survivors in their continuing battle to survive? We honor them once a year, what else could or should we be doing for that emotional side of the challenge?
Trish: That’s why I want to connect with the Survivors Task Force on a regular basis to find out what they need and try and find a way to get it to them.
Mimi: What do you see is the biggest part of your challenge here?
Trish: Just the challenge of raising money when so many people have lost so much of their income. That’s a big challenge. There’s people who have lost almost all their income this past year and are just surviving on a shoestring. It’s a challenge finding the people who are still working and are able to give and allowing us to raise money. That’s a big challenge.
Mimi: What’s the situation with volunteers? Have they been adversely affected too?
Trish: Yes. Everybody has been affected. It’s all virtual. I think everybody will be happy to go back to normal. I put up a tent in my backyard in April. It’s quite an elaborate setup, I have meals out there. That’s how I see people, I don’t do anything inside. We need to connect with people, we’re human beings, we’re not meant to be alone.
Mimi: I want to welcome you with open arms. There are lots of people in this community that want to help you be more successful than you’ve ever been in any individual challenge you face. It impacts a lot of people. It does have a measurable history of helping in tangible ways.
Trish: Thank you, Mimi. It was so nice to spend time with you.
Mimi: Thank you so much. Be well.