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Fast Start: Communicator rises to director at nonprofit

In just six years, Taryn Mullen has moved up the ranks from an entry-level position to executive director of CDS Wolf Foundation—before the age of 30.

Today she leads a team of seven and is responsible for achieving the nonprofit’s 2017 fundraising goal of $1.1 million. CDS Wolf Foundation is the fundraising arm of CDS Life Transitions Inc.

CDS Life Transitions is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. It serves close to 3,000 people, including those with developmental disabilities, veterans and seniors. The organization helps people in 22 counties across the state.

Reaching her current role came from one thing, Mullen says.

“It was a lot of hard work. It was showcasing the skill-sets that I had, helping to grow the communications for the agency and (helping that) improve and evolve, because the organization at the same time was growing and evolving. We started to branch out.”

Working in the nonprofit arena allows Mullen to be innovative and efficient. CDS Life Transitions as an organization is open-minded about trying new ways of doing things, she says.

“It’s really exciting in the not-for-profit environment that we’re in right now,” she says, “to be working in a not-for-profit organization that’s so innovative and continues to look ahead to what the next thing is that we need to be prepared for. (We are) diversifying our services to serve more people, but at the same time we are staying true to our mission.”

Mullen, 28, attended Byron-Bergen High School in Genesee County and spent most of her free time in Batavia listening to local musicians.

“I was really into music,” Mullen says. “Batavia, oddly enough for being such a small place, had a pretty vibrant music scene. When I was growing up, there was a little coffee shop in town and they used to have concerts all the time, local bands. I was always there listening to the music and taking pictures, which was also what I really liked to do.”

Batavia’s music scene drew Mullen to the mic—not on stage but at a radio station. While in high school, she interned at WGCC, the Genesee Community College outlet she listened to growing up. The experience taught Mullen to take charge.

“It just really gave me a lot of ownership over a project,” Mullen says. “I have this four-hour time slot and I’m responsible for making sure that the music gets played. You’re in front of an audience, but you’re not; that’s something that I think was always appealing to me about radio because I was kind of shy.”

She graduated from St. John Fisher College in 2009 with dual degrees in communications and Spanish. She finished in three-and-a-half years, thanks to college credits acquired in high school, and spent her last semester in Spain.

Looking for a job in the States while abroad was not easy.

“It was really difficult. … It was like, how do I look for a job when I’m not even home? So that was a difficult thing to think about,” Mullen says. “I just let go of it.”

Returning home, she continued her job search during the holidays. Initially she did not have much luck.

“It was during that time where it was still kind of the weird recession,” Mullen says. “There were no communications jobs anywhere, so there really weren’t a lot of options when I graduated.”

In 2010, she stumbled upon a position at CDS Life Transitions that seemed right for her. The position required part-time work in the nonprofit’s IT area and part-time instruction of adults in one of the organization’s day programs. She got the job and began working as media specialist of the organization. Mullen had never worked with developmentally disabled people before.

“It was a very warm and welcoming place to walk into, especially not knowing what to expect of the organization,” Mullen says. “I hadn’t really had a lot of exposure working with people with developmental disabilities, but I was really excited about the prospect of doing that. I’ve always been the helper type.”

She soon was involved in the PR side of the nonprofit and became director of communications and public relations in 2013. The chance to apply skills while developing her career in the organization made a strong combination for Mullen.

“It was forging my own path a little bit,” Mullen says. “I had a lot of room here to do what I wanted to do and craft what I wanted to craft when it came to driving the communications materials.”

She took on her current role in May 2016.

Mullen says her personality aligns nicely with the organization.

“I’m definitely the type of person that doesn’t like to make a decision on the spot,” Mullen says. “I like to take a moment to digest and take a step back and assess the options and think about it, and figure out what makes the most sense.”

Much of Mullen’s role today requires her to step outside of her comfort zone. Fundraising was not something she thought she could do at first. Asking people for money was not the most appealing role for someone so shy and reserved, she says.

“At the end of the day, when I go to ask people for things, I’m not asking for me, I’m asking for them,” Mullen says.

Aligning a donor’s desire to help others with the needs of the population she serves has made Mullen understand the true breadth of CDS Life Transitions. Without the support of the community, the individuals served by the nonprofit would not be thriving as much as they are today, she says.

“When you’re doing donor work, you want to make sure that you’re giving your time to those people that are really helping your organization to grow and make the services available to people,” she says.

Rochester’s philanthropic nature gives organizations here an advantage and strong support despite the economic climate, Mullen says.

“It is a tough environment to be in for fundraising anytime,” she says. “I think Rochester is a very philanthropic community, so I feel very lucky to be working in the field here in Rochester.”

From day one, Mullen has sought to improve her skills. That desire has helped to energize her career and get her to her goals.

“I feel very fortunate that I’ve been able to spend pretty much my entire career here and have found this kind of success, and (to) apply the skill-set that I went to school for and found to be of interest to me,” she says. “What’s most rewarding for me about this is the fact that I’m able to make a direct impact for people in their everyday lives.”

#Team PXY with Carter and Corey on 98PXY is a partner with Fast Start. Listen on Monday from 6 to 10 a.m. for their interview with Taryn Mullen.

(c) 2017 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-363-7269 or email madams@bridgetowermedia.com.

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