University of Massachusetts Amherst

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Lobbying for a Cause

“My career has been in business, press, and politics,” says Joe Donovan ’92 (political science), who recently joined the UMass Political Science Advisory Board. “It’s been about building relationships, making friends, taking risks, seizing opportunities and benefiting from the help of many generous people. That is what UMass taught me.”

As a lobbyist in the Boston office of Nelson Mullins, Donovan helps companies and organizations navigate the political process, primarily at the federal level. Engaged in areas related to higher education, clean energy, and defense, he interfaces regularly with Congressional staff and state officials. Focusing on funding and business development efforts for clients, he helps identify and secure public- and private-sector partners for financing opportunities.

Reflecting on his career choice, Donovan says, “I’ve always loved politics and the competitive nature of the political process.” But as a student Donovan kept his options open. “I worked as sports director for WMUA Radio and envisioned a career in broadcasting.  I also spent some time on the judicial review board, joined Young Democrats, and did a statewide campaign in my undergraduate days, he says. Informally making Japanese studies his minor, Donovan tried learning the language too. “It didn’t do wonders for my GPA, but I toyed with the idea of spending a year in Japan, teaching English. Ultimately, I did what many recent college graduates do: I pieced together several opportunities—freelance reporter, youth worker at a residential school, telemarketer—and then took a job with the state’s employment agency. But I knew that wasn’t my future.”

In 1995 Donovan and three of his UMass buddies moved to Atlanta to jumpstart their careers. Donovan volunteered for the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games, got a full-time job as a reporter, freelanced with the Associated Press, and served as a marketing consultant to a festival held in conjunction with the Olympics. “Taking chances really paid off,” Donovan recalls.

Moving back to Boston in 1996, Donovan spent about eight years as a public relations/public affairs consultant with two strategic communications agencies and on his own. UMass Amherst honored Donovan in 2003 with the Distinguished Outreach Partnership Award for his multi-year commitment to the University’s mission and support of its economic development initiatives. During this period, he also earned his graduate degree at the McCormack Graduate School of Policy Studies at UMass Boston and married his UMass sweetheart Kathleen Flaherty ’93 (political science). “We’ve been together more than twenty years,” Donovan says.

Donovan also was director of communications for the Massachusetts Executive Office of Economic Development during the Romney Administration, providing counsel to four secretariats and 17 agencies and offices. He was closely involved with the development of policies and programs affecting every area of economic development across the state. Donovan was involved in the reform of the state’s commercial permitting process, development of a $100 million job creation infrastructure fund, clean energy policy initiatives, the successful Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process, the $23 million Nanotechnology Center at UMass Amherst, and major job creation efforts such as the Bristol Meyers Squibb biomanufacturing facility in Devens.

“I am one of eight children, which made for a great upbringing,” Donovan says. “My mother, now in her eighties, has worked very hard to make sure each of us lives a life worthy of respect. My dad was a hardworking, simple guy, devoted to the family. I’ve been blessed with them as parents. Kathleen and I have two children, and our life revolves around family activities that extend to her side as well. There is no substitute for our time together. You can’t buy memories; you have to make them.”

Before attending UMass, Donovan spent a year at a small, private liberal arts college. “The faculty and students were terrific,” he says, “but the environment was very controlled. I chose UMass because it truly represents the opportunity and challenges people encounter in their lifetimes. I enjoyed the faster pace, the uncertainty (will I get that class, where will I live, how will the budget cuts affect the campus), the exposure to faculty who challenged commonly held assumptions, and the bonds I formed.”

UMass taught Donovan that it’s just as easy to work hard and succeed as it is to waste time on distractions. “Some people learn to strike a balance, some do not,” he says. “Personal responsibility is a major factor in whether you sink or swim at UMass — and beyond. I’m eternally grateful that I didn’t spend my time on a campus that made life easier, that sheltered me, because I’d be worse off for it.”

Donovan is also grateful too for the financial support that made his attendance at UMass a reality. “I’ve got a debt to repay and happily look forward to doing so,” noting that UMass is now part of his DNA. “I’ve been extremely pleased with the growth of the Political Science Department and look forward to supporting its chair, John Hird (who was one of my professors), and connecting alumni with current students. People vote with their wallets — and I believe a lot of votes are out there for the asking for the department and UMass.”

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