What are the elements of success for fundraisers to transition from raising money door-to-door to building programs and a culture of philanthropy? Douglas Nelson welcomes Ana-Maria Hobrough, the Vice President for Advancement at Sunnybrook Hospital Foundation. The first step is to identify your natural strength and skillset. Then figure out where you want to go with your project. It’s not about the scale but nailing the end game. Stay true to where you want to go. Bring people along and engage them in the mission. If developing a culture of philanthropy is your passion, this episode’s for you.
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Sunnybrook Hospital Foundation With Ana-Maria Hobrough
Our guest is Ana-Maria Hobrough. She is the Vice President for Advancement at Sunnybrook Hospital Foundation. She is a long-time friend of mine, a friend of the Discovery Group and of the show. Welcome, Ana-Maria.
Thank you so much for having me.
I have been looking forward to this conversation because you and I worked together at UBC a few years ago. It has been incredible to watch the impact you have made as your career built significant capacity at the University of British Columbia and watch you build a great juggernaut of fundraising at Sunnybrook to come. Before we get into all of that, the stories you are going to share around, Ana-Maria, what is your first memory of philanthropy?
I was raised in a Columbian Catholic family in Vancouver. I went to Catholic schools through elementary school and high school. I remember we were raising money, doing collections, making posters with candles on them out of construction paper to take to the local old folk’s home when it was probably in about the third grade and it was a French school. I remember learning French Christmas carols, taking cards and things we had made to the Ukrainian retirement center at the Ukrainian Church next door down at about 14th in Heather right by VGH.
I remember that vividly and we were constantly doing those types of activities throughout high school and elementary school. I figured out what philanthropy was more so in university when I was actively involved in a sorority at UBC and was the philanthropy chair. That is when I learned what the word was. That is where I made the first connections that got me into this career because I did not know it was a career like many people fell into it. Oddly, it was my sorority experience that made those first connections in and got me excited about it.
What was your first role in philanthropy? Your first job where that was, “Ana-Maria, we need you to go raise some money for this.”Learn and understand what work excites you. Click To Tweet
The first time fundraising was political for the member of parliament that I worked for in my first real job but my first philanthropy job was with Kids Help Phone. I do not remember what the title was. It sounded much better. It is something ambassador coordinator but for about a year and a half, I did golf tournaments with Boston Pizza. I went to air shows and anyone that would take us to learn about the ambassador program that Kids Help Phone had in the schools. From there some are consulting and eventually to UBC pretty quickly thereafter.
One of the things that I have always admired about you is how considerate you have been about your career and taking on roles. When we worked together at UBC in the early 2000s late 1990s, it was a place that was growing as an organization. Philanthropy development was a big part of what was happening at the campus. You were a big part of locking in those gains of those early years at UBC thinking about your career. How have you approached thinking about and considering the career you want to build in development?
It has changed over time and most in the last couple of years, it has changed a bit. When I think back, especially in my first three roles at UBC, not my final role at UBC, I wish I had been a little bit more intentional but I felt like I was lucky a lot of the time and things fell into place. I have been corrected at the time. I said, “You accomplished certain things and therefore, you were promoted.” At the time, I was enjoying the work I was doing and the people I was working with. It is almost it was almost like going back to school.
As a UBC grad, especially for me but the camaraderie we had. Especially at the beginning there, where there felt like there was a class of us that all came up as development officers at UBC at that time, as we were getting ready for the first round of the big build. It was a fantastic place to be from there. From medical school and into law school, it was about building.
I have become much more clear in what I get excited about is building people, teams and programs. The roles at UBC were exciting for me, whereas I was doing that work. I also think that earlier in my career, I was a little bit more focused on things like title, a number of reports and less as interested in what the work is, what excites me and fulfills me.
I think, like many people, not every job I had was that job for me but it helps me learn and understand what does excite me. I love UBC. I am so pro UBC, two masks and all of it. I’m there, I love the people that I worked with and I’m grateful for that experience. As we talk about me leaving UBC, I want to be clear. UBC is awesome. It is not for everyone. It is a big place but I can’t be grateful or thankful enough for my time at UBC and the people I worked with there.
You mentioned looking for those roles where you can build a team to build a program. Early on in your career, when fundraisers are taking on a faculty lead position or direct development in an organization for the first time, you say, “We would like to build,” but you do not know what that means until you get into it. Looking back both at your own experience and with the hundreds of fundraisers you have worked with and supervised over the years, what are the elements of success to those fundraisers that are able to make that transition from being good out-of-the-door fundraisers to being able to build programs? Also, build a culture of philanthropy whether it is in an organization, a faculty, a department or a program?
One of the things that have helped me and where I have seen others have been successful, there are a lot of ways to be successful. We all have to play into the strengths that we have. When I think of my own skillset and my natural strengths, it is being able to see the potential, figure out that map as to where we are going and get folks on the bus to come along the journey, that strategic lens.
It is not about size or scale but understanding. When you are sitting there tackling a project, a strategy or whatever it is. To think about, “Where is the end game? How are we going to get there and bring people along?” When you do the Gallup StrengthsFinders or whatever, there are many of those tests you can take that you see in your career, in different junctures and professional development seminars or whatever.
I lean into strategy. I always think about the end game. It is not about the size of the game. It is thinking about where you want to get to, staying true to that, bringing people along and figuring out how to do that in a way that engages them in the mission. You need to stay true to that mission. It can’t be about wanting to raise more money than X or Y. It has to be about commitment to that mission.
I listen to you answer that question about what to look for in those jobs or those opportunities that are going to help build a career reminds me of a couple of things. Going back a number of years, I remember having a conversation with you where you said, “Don’t these people applying for fundraising jobs know that it helps if they have talked to donors?”
This will make me sound 100 years old but the number of young professionals that have come into the sector done the academic training that have done the certificates that are studying for CFRE, the first day on their first job. One of the things that get missed is the work of sitting in front of donors and having a conversation. That is something I learned from you.Figure out where you want to go, stray true to that, bring people along, and engage them in the mission. Click To Tweet
You took it for granted that fundraisers are supposed to go talk to people and you did it. As you moved up in responsibility and started to lead teams, you realized not everybody had that approach. How did you address that issue? How did you encourage those that worked with you that were on your teams to have that tendency out the door rather than using an Excel spreadsheet to try and fundraise?
To be clear, I do like myself, a good Excel spreadsheet from time to time. For me, there has been a lot of different iterations of the metrics in how many calls, meetings, first-time calls and people do you go visit with. I can appreciate those are helpful. I have used them, especially when leading a large team. In my final frontline fundraising world at UBC, when you are trying to make sure that $50 million is coming in and the 70 odd people under you are doing what they need to be doing. You need those numbers.
It is that strategy piece, to what end and making sure that you are measuring and thinking about the right type of activity. What gets measured, what gets counted is what tends to get done, I’m finding especially when you are thinking about people who are starting to make their mark. They want to know, like, “What are you counting? What is going to be counted?” It is almost like a test in university.
Trying to be much more deliberate, intentional and not skipping over to Moves Management 101 that you picked up at BCIT, Humber College or wherever those programs are right now. Thinking about what is the right move for this portfolio, program, pipeline to make sure the activity and the right activity are happening.
There are no cookie-cutter answers on that. It has to be individualized, which is challenging. When I think about the folks on my team right now, thinking about how they are going to manage a number of different fundraisers in different contexts but be equitable. It has been clear how you can be equitable about that without necessarily cutting short on strategy and making the right decisions on what you are going to count and measure.
It can be a tough balance for organizations. It embodies the personality or the experience of the leaders in those organizations over time. You have organizations where everybody has some of the top prospects and has some of the top corporations. Everybody has a few foundations and individuals mixed in.
We often find through our work here at the discovery group that one of the fastest ways to accelerate both donor activity and dollars in the door is to streamline that and make it clear what is expected of people. It’s because it is a different motion to be doing 50 identification calls in a month or 25 ID calls in a month versus putting together the strategy for a multi-generational seven-figure family gift. There are different muscles or different skillsets. Everyone can probably get to be able to do both but it is hard when you are expecting one fundraiser to be able to do both of those things at once.
It speaks to the need for trust in your organization. You need to have a culture where the team trusts that we are able to make those distinctions and be fair, not the same, not equal but fair. It is not a given that your team is going to trust you. You need to earn that trust. They need to know that when I say, “Cancer is one of our big programs. Lots and lots of grateful patients.” A new program over here that the hospital created a year ago is not going to have a robust pipeline but you two are equally important. You are both senior, you both similar pay bands, all that stuff and how do we make that fair that you are doing the same work or you are doing different work but you still, the same level of work is required.
You grew up professionally in the post-secondary environment and you are working in health. One of the things that I have observed and this reflects my own bias and experience but fundraisers who start in post-secondary are good specialists. Some people stay as specialists but when you leave the post-secondary environment, you need to be able to think like a generalist and still act like a specialist in some way. How have you found that transition from post-secondary to healthcare philanthropy?
I’m a little bit lucky in that. I was at UBC at a time when, when you led a faculty, you could still be quite a generalist. I was not as streamlined as you would be right now in UBC anyway or another big university program. I did have a bit more of a generalist tendency to me and with my roles at UBC, I was all over the place doing different things over the years. I got up to taste a lot of different work, work with a number of different types of colleagues and do different professional skills.
What we find is that in the post-secondary environment, you are often in a position where you are specialized. When you move into healthcare philanthropy, you need to maintain that to be able to move like a generalist and specialize when needed. How have you found that transition?
I was fortunate. At UBC, I had so many types of roles especially with going into the advancement space towards the end of my time at UBC, that I did have quite a general outlook compared to many and certainly more than a philanthropy director would out there now. With that being said, it has been a huge shift for me in thinking about the need for community giving and direct mail door to door, all of those what we would call annual fund at UBC. We call it community giving at Sunnybrook. I had no idea it could be robust. I did not appreciate how much money you could raise. I did not know people fundraised by knocking on doors. Simple things like that are commonplace in the hospital sector.Dig deep into what work you feel excited, energized, and motivated about doing without worrying about the salary. Click To Tweet
I did not appreciate the value that those dollars bring because I was so used to looking at ROI and the cost to raise a dollar when it comes to major giving because the universities are major gift shops for the most part. I got so used to that math, which is easy math to have when you are a budget line in the university and not a private foundation raising the money to pay for your salaries and the team. That has been a delight and getting to learn that side of the business. My colleague that leads has become a dear friend. It is interesting to me. I’m constantly curious about that work. The door-knocking blew my mind. We knock on doors to ask for money. I’m like, “What?”
It is fine. It is monthly donations that are given on a regular basis.
You know about this. I did not know about this. Are you doing that? It is highly successful. The other thing that I have found interesting is people love their university and UBC is a big research institution in the city. It is not a local university town, smaller university. People love their university. I love my university.
People love their hospitals in a different way, the volunteers, the donors and the team. The commitment to Sunnybrook, from the people I have met, is unlike anything I have experienced at the university. It is quite deep and profound. It is phenomenal.
One of the most interesting things that I found in the transition from both secondary to healthcare was in healthcare, you are often starting the conversation with what motivates the giving, “You replaced my hip. You replaced my knee. You saved my mom. You provided great care to dad in his last weeks. There is a personal connection that leads. That is where you start. You are looking for projects, great capacity and what size the gift might be.
Do you know why the owner is giving? You are not doing a lot of that discovery around why support Sunnybrook or why support this healthcare foundation. Whereas in both secondary, they have got a connection. You often know they have the capacity and you are looking for that why it fits. The first couple of conversations with donors in building a relationship is quite different.
Ultimately, when you need to get into cultivation and you a donor is getting ready to consider a gift, it is similar. Those initial, “What motivates you to give? What are you interested in doing? What level are you thinking,” I found those conversations to be night and day and even when it is the same donor. The donor would ask if they have a different conversation at the university than they would at a hospital foundation.
When you are starting at the university, you are talking to them about the starting places, often what they studied when they were eighteen years old. It is not the same connection but that is what you have to start with. Whereas here, it is usually something that has happened in the last several months. I’m sure this is true in Vancouver but I had not explored it. There is a real sense, “This is my hospital.”
The hospital downtown is their hospital. We do not talk to them about money because that is their hospital. Sunnybrook is my hospital and has a real sense of ownership around the institution. It is an incredible commitment to the mission. There are challenges with it like everything else but it is incredible.
I hope we can spend a couple of minutes here talking about the move that you have referenced a few times through our conversation, moving from Vancouver, UBC, where you have been for a number of years and taking on the role as Vice President for Advancement at Sunnybrook. It is a big move for family and all those sorts of things but how did you get yourself ready in a professional context for a move like that across the country?
It did not start off with looking for a move across the country. That was not the motivation as a starting point. I did some work while it was approaching a milestone birthday. I’m looking to think about what was next and what I wanted to do. I was at a loss in what I wanted to do. I always felt a little bit accidental the success I had at UBC, which I know you will tell me, as with others, that is not how that works. I’m fortunate to be out there working with incredible folks.
I knew that I was ready. Every 3, 4, 5 years or so, I would be ready for the next challenge. I had maxed out the opportunities for me to advance at UBC to take on other challenges. I did not know what I wanted that challenge to be. I spent some time working with a coach who helped me with some insightful work around my values and not in that, let’s do a strategic plan values way.Start building personal relationships. Click To Tweet
She had me dig deep into what are the things in my work life where I felt excited, energized motivated, I was doing good work and not worry about what the salary was, what the title was, how senior I was and when was I jazzed by the work I was doing. Simultaneously one was I not motivated by the work in front of me but she also had me do that in the context of my personal life and thinking about where are those intersections? It helped me come up with a list of things that were important to me in my next role. With that, I was armed and had some clear signs of what I was looking for. Building one was a big element.
Was there anything in doing that work that surprised you about where you got the energy for your professional self?
It was the connections between the two things. Plenty of people will be rolling their eyes if they read this. I’m that person that likes to wander around the office and talk to people. I have always been that person. I’m the person that always has a full house of family members on the weekend. That team family, I like having people around. I’m always the first one to say, “Come on over.” Have everyone come over. I am figuring that out and realizing that part of that for me was wanting to work someplace where I knew everybody and where I knew their names. Maybe I knew a little bit about their personal lives, had a kid or whatever. That gets harder and harder to do as your team is amping up to grow to 400-plus people.
Suddenly, that was a bit of an a-ha moment for me. I was like, “I want to work someplace. I think I can 140 tops.” I want to work somewhere where I can know everyone’s name. That was a bit of an eyeopener for me. The other one was around adventure. I had never equated myself as an adventurous person in the workplace or I had not put that as something you think about at work. I have always been someone that likes to travel to different places and go someplace new every chance we get.
I’m tying that into the sense of building, trying new things and building up programs was another one that I had not made that connection. Finally, the other one, which was not a surprise is I am driven by the impact on the mission. If I do not feel like I can see the impact on the mission that I’m making, it is hard for me to turn the computer on in the morning.
In the university setting, the more senior you get, the further away you are from getting your hands dirty in the mission. I know intellectually, 100% the work impacts the mission but looking for someplace where you can work with the doctors on building up the plans, the projects and all of that stuff. I wanted to be in someplace where that was going to be more present in my day-to-day life. I knew I had to care about it. I wanted some adventure, a certain size and big enough that it was going to have the resources to do good work but also not so big that I could know everyone’s name. With that, I started looking at opportunities differently.
That would be imagining yourself in the organization as a part of the community of that organization and building it is different than looking at yourself as the leader of the organization. It amounts to the same thing once you get the job. It certainly has in your case. What did you find when you had moved from a place where you had done great work and knew everyone, even though it was a large place. You knew everyone’s name to a brand new city and new organization in a different kind of fundraising.
I do remember days weeping under my desk, “I used to be the oracle. Everyone would come to me. No matter what the question was, I’m the one who could answer it.” It’s certainly not that at Sunnybrook. It is hard for me to pull it apart because I was offered the job. It was March 10th, 2020. I was going to Vietnam for the same milestone birthday referenced previously. We did not know COVID was going to change our lives as much as it did.
We moved here in September 2020. Sometimes I do not know what I’m thinking about is the difference between university to hospital, Vancouver to Toronto, COVID to the before times. It has been a bit of a whirl but I found it somewhat challenging to get used to the fact that I did not have the answers. I also found it rewarding to know that my instincts, thoughts, ideas and perspectives were still sound. It was not that I had been at UBC for so long because you wonder sometimes like, “Could I be successful somewhere else?”
I had someone that I managed at UBC on my team here at Sunnybrook. I had one person who knew where I came from. It was exciting. I leaned into it. For the first year, I felt I was on a professional development tour and I was going to go back to my old job at some point. It has been great and I love meeting people. That part was joyous but I have found the hospital itself complicated. It is not only the university and the hospital.
The hospital system here and the governance around it are radically different from the healthcare system in BC. Even getting my head around some of that stuff was like, “What? I do not understand. Help me understand.” It has been great. The hospital is profoundly impressive. With Sunnybrook, the work they are doing there is unbelievable on the research front, the advances in clinical care, the trauma team there is the most active, engaged, advanced and busiest trauma team in the country. It is incredible.
Is there a time when you are learning the new place and getting used to seeking the oracle rather than being sought? Is there a story or a moment in time where you thought, “I got it here.” You are starting to settle in.Focus on doing work that makes you happy. Click To Tweet
Shortly after I arrived, we welcomed a new CEO who also came from the university and she is fantastic. Kelly Cole, who came to us from Western, we have had a lot of fun. Every now and then, we look at each other and go, “This is different. Let’s figure it out.” It was conversations around priority setting and how things should work in helping the physicians and leaders at the hospital get their heads around how we should think about how we choose fundraising priorities.
It had not been a particularly rigorous process in the past. I’m introducing them to concepts of fundraising, feasibility and what is missing for this to be ready to go to market. The first few times that I spoke to a few of the various groups that lead leadership on the hospital side and taking their questions like, “I got this, we are good.” Similarly with our board when they would ask questions. In the first couple of board meetings, I was a bit terrified. I was like, “I know this. I got this. We are good.” There have been a few of those but usually it has been around the questions that come from the hospital or from the board.
Also knowing, “I do know this stuff and this work pretty well.” As we come near to the end of our conversation here, you have been in Toronto through much of the pandemic. Now that the pandemic is seemingly over if you read the headlines or do not, wherever we are in the next phase, what are you most looking forward to both there at Sunnybrook and on a personal, professional front?
At Sunnybrook, I’m looking forward to team meetings with the team in the room. I had all of our philanthropy directors come to the house to do a planning session for 2023. It was the first time we had all been togethe and it felt awesome. We were within the guidelines, to be clear. We followed the health mandate, we had the right number, all that good stuff but it was awesome to have the group together.
The energy that comes from that, I’m looking forward to that being more common. We are going to a hybrid work model. It will not happen every day but it will happen more regularly. I’m also looking forward to meeting hospital colleagues. Our hospital has been in crisis after crisis after emergency. They have done phenomenal work. I’m sure many of you will have seen the tents that were on one of our parking lots in the summer for a worst-case scenario.
We had a blizzard here and the number of folks that checked in the night before to voluntarily spend the night at the hospital because a blizzard was coming and they wanted to be there for patients, it has been one thing after another for our colleagues. I’m looking forward to getting to know them in person and starting building those more personal relationships that you can do when you see each other in the hallways and now we do not do that. If I know them, even the ones I have gotten to know quite well, I do not recognize them because they are wearing masks. Being able to have that sense of camaraderie is going to be exciting.
Personally, I love big cities. I’m excited to be in Toronto. We have been to two shows before they got canceled again. I have got my tickets. I’m looking forward to restaurants opening up, all of the festivals and the road trips taking on from here. I’m looking forward to people coming to see me here. All of us travel in and out of Toronto once or twice a year. I’m looking to everyone including other people on this show with me, to visit soon, to get to enjoy the great restaurant and the scene that is in Toronto. It is a big city. You forget it is big. I’m excited about that.
I’m going to ask one final question. You have talked a lot about the journey you have taken in your career. I think our readers probably learn a lot and reflect on their own experiences as they read. What advice would you give to yourself if you could go back twenty years in your career and say you had 30 seconds or so to talk to your younger self?
I do not know quite how I would say it and I do not know that anything would have changed but something around do not get hung up on what it looks like you are doing, how others are going to perceive where you are in the organization and where you are in the organization. Focus on doing work that makes you happy and makes you feel good.
I do not know that I would have done anything differently with that advice but I can think of times when I was younger and especially before having kids and that dose of reality. I wish I could go to act to my young self and give a smack on the head. It is like, “Do not worry about that. Do not be ridiculous. Do a good job and enjoy yourself while you are doing it.”
I want to thank you very much for being on the show. It has been great catching up. I appreciate your willingness to share the story of your journey and the things you are looking forward to.
Thank you, Douglas. It has been my pleasure.
About Ana-Maria Hobrough
• Experienced fundraising executive driven by mission-based transformations
• Strategic leader known for crafting elegant solutions to complex problems
• Authentic communicator, adept at surfacing sensitive issues for discussion and resolution
• Skilled at engaging teams in building a compelling vision and then coaching them to achieve it
• Strong understanding of governance, grounded in professional and community experience
• Creative, collaborative and trusted colleague