One of the silver linings in the COVID-19 crisis is the fact that we see a lot of people stepping up to donate in any way they can to the fight against the pandemic. Victoria Hospitals Foundation makes sure that these donations go where they are needed the most. Using all resources available to extend its reach, the dedicated people in the foundation have essentially become frontliners in healthcare philanthropy. Avery Brohman sits at the helm of the foundation as its Executive Director. She joins Douglas Nelson in the show today to share the work they had done in the foundation and how it has inspired her to become the best leader she can be in this honorable cause.
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Victoria Hospitals Foundation With Avery Brohman
Our guest on the show is Avery Brohman. She’s the new Executive Director of Victoria Hospitals Foundation. We’re pleased to have her on the show. Welcome, Avery.
Thanks for having me, Doug.
You’ve been with the organization as the Acting Executive Director for a while and then became the new Executive Director of the organization. Tell me what it’s like to assume that leadership position full-time in the time of COVID-19?
It’s certainly been interesting and the journey that has brought me to this place has had a lot of learnings along the way. I will say that gratitude is the best way to describe this. I know that this is a very unique time in healthcare and philanthropy, to learn so much in such a short amount of time and to be taking this journey and this ride with a lot of other executives where there is no handbook. We don’t know what’s happening week-to-week. No day looks the same. It’s one I will always remember. I’m very grateful for it.
You mentioned the unique time. People are tired of unprecedented in terms of describing it. What are the conversations like with donors? How were they different in this time of the pandemic?
For us, no donor has ever been the same. The conversations are very different. We do know that there’s a capacity to be donating big or small to the response of COVID-19. Some donors are asking how they can help in little ways and if that will do anything, which it will. There are other donors that want to give, but they know that right now may not be the time whether that was market loss or whatnot. They are simply saying, “Will I be able to support this initiative in six months or one year down the road when the market recovers?” Those conversations are happening. The biggest appetite and opportunity we’ve had is the corporate donors, that corporate social responsibility. This is the time where we’re seeing companies come forward and stand united and want to support the front line. There are many different conversations with respect to that and the marketing components that come along with that ride, which is a lot of fun.
You mentioned that there’s a real emphasis on healthcare, which we’re seeing across the country. The initial response to the pandemic was donors investing in vulnerable populations in terms of homelessness, food banks and those types of things. We’ve seen more of a shift in terms of giving to healthcare, both the emergency response and into research. Victoria Hospitals Foundation is a unique type of organization. It’s one of the very few hospital foundations that act as an umbrella for fundraising for multiple hospitals in Victoria. How has that work in the time of the pandemic in terms of priority setting?
Our work will not remain unhinged. It will remain the same. We always provide support to the most critical need and the greatest need. Between the three hospitals, Royal Jubilee, Victoria General and then Gorge Road Hospital, Island Health determines what the biggest priority needs are at that time. That’s what we campaign for. What you’re seeing, we launched our most aggressive annual campaign that we ever had and that is honestly a response to COVID-19. We heard loud and clear that we need to double critical care capacity. That is happening in one hospital that is the COVID-19 response hospital. It makes complete sense that we would have to pivot our campaign that we were currently pursuing which is not complete yet, but we’ll dive into that later and act quickly. We knew that we had great work to do in our hospitals that are battling COVID-19.
In more normal times, do you have donors who want to give to one hospital and not the other? They say, “My hospital is the Victoria General or the Royal Jubilee.” Do they see that Island Health is the one setting those priorities and determining the greatest need?
There are many of our donors that want to give to greatest need because they trust us and they know that the health authority makes great decisions. They talk to everyone from the nurses, clinicians and the directors of the different areas of care. They know that determining those priority needs are the true priority needs in the community. They will donate to the greatest need. As I mentioned, there are several areas of care across all of our hospitals. Many of those areas of care don’t just happen in one hospital. Both hospitals, mainly the biggest ones on the Island Road, Jubilee and Victoria General are supported through donors that want to designate their funds to a specific area of care that resonates with them. That leaves a lot of the donor conversations and the philanthropy.
In other umbrella health foundation and hospital foundation arrangements in Canada that I’m aware of, there is formally or informally board members who represent one hospital site over another hospital site. Is that a part of your board or is everyone on your board appointed with the broader view across the system?
They are appointed with the broader view and mandate that we support all three hospitals across every area of care.
That limits a lot of the conversation and debate about fairness and equality that it comes with when you’ve got those representative boards. You mentioned your most aggressive annual campaign, which I assume you’re talking about the critical campaign to double critical care space. It is uncanny. How was it that you were able to put together a campaign so quickly in response to the needs that COVID has brought for the system?
It’s the people that can help us put this together. The team of 22 that I work alongside with are incredibly talented, but they’re very passionate about our work. The minute we had the green light, we started diving right in. We worked around the clock like our peers in the hospitals to get a campaign out in real-time. Knowing that we’re representing the front line, we are the frontline of philanthropy. There was no time to rest and we had to execute quickly but we did this out of the response of what Island Health needed. We simply said, “What can we do to help you right now?” There’s a fine balance between what the federal government is going to commit to doing, what Island Health already have in place and what they can do and then where the donors can be. The appetite was huge. We were hearing from our donor community every day, “How can we help?” They were ahead of us. We marketed and executed a campaign in about one week’s time but simply put, our donors were knocking on the door that day saying, “What can we do to help?” We knew we had to do this fast.
One of the things that jumped out at me was that it’s clear that you are providing philanthropic dollars to the area of highest priority or greatest opportunity within the system. You’re also clear about amplifying government funding rather than replacing government funding. How do you approach that balance when we’ve seen these big investments in healthcare and defining that role for philanthropy that you can communicate to your donors?
We’ve seen with the partnerships that we can communicate, whether it’s the regional health and hospital districts working with Island Health and then working with donors. Mapping out that big picture of truly what healthcare looks like goes a long way. Our community does dollars match. They do like to know that they have a seat at the table, but they’re not the entire table. That’s been highly rewarding. Working with the health authorities and the government, it brings us closer to this work. It’s becoming very clear but as we move forward, we’ll not be able to operate in the ways that we used to. The crowded ERs and the busy units can’t be a reality moving forward. Balancing that demand and healthcare offering will need to be different than it was before.
That’s why we created a campaign that’s going to support that future mentality of what healthcare looks like. We cannot do that alone. The true stakeholders and spokespeople that we need to support our work are the clinicians and the executives. They guide us and we helped share their message. If we don’t work alongside them and we can’t properly forecast what the future is going to look like with them, we can’t be successful with these campaigns. We’ve heard we’re not going back to normal and we’re entering a new reality that’s different than it was before. We need peer support with that. This is unchartered territory that if we did this alone, we would not be successful.
I’m sure the messaging that you’re shoulder-to-shoulder with the women and men on the frontline of healthcare, aligned with those who are making the critical resource decisions to support those women and men, resonates with donors. To what extent are donors asking for details around what does it mean to double critical care?Now is the time for us, healthcare frontliners, to step up in a big way and let the people know what we do and what they can do to help. Click To Tweet
They are asking detailed questions and we are grateful that our peers within Island Health and in the hospitals are willing to support that. We’re doing campaign video like iPhone video advertising, sharing what this new high acuity unit will mean to our care teams. Our communications and marketing team compiled together about eighteen iPhone video messages and then post it on social media. All of those posts are going viral. All of the photos, the quotes, the testimonials, what this means to our frontline is coming authentically from them. We’re not scripting them.
There is no time for perfection. It’s all about authenticity. We could not do this without them. The partnership and the willingness that they’ve created to allow this campaign to be successful is truly inspirational. I’ve never felt closer to them. Granted, we’ve only worked with the foundation for a few years but seeing how responsive they are to help us share this message has been highly rewarding. Something that comes to mind too is the phrase “hospital heroes.” We’re hearing that nationally, if not internationally and globally. Our clinicians don’t want to be called heroes. They say that the donors are the true hero in this. We’re just doing our jobs and we’re going to do our jobs every day whether or not COVID-19 is here.
That’s what heroes would say.
Whatever they can do to help, they want to help.
One of the observations that guide our sector on a day-to-day basis is the world around the sector is changing faster than the organizations within the social profit sector. That’s a real risk for our organizations because we’re seeking to serve the larger community and if the larger community is changing faster than we are, our organizations will be out of touch. In responding as quickly as you have, how have you managed to bring your board along so that they feel in-the-know and supportive of these significant undertakings that you’ve launched in such a short period of time?
Our board has always wanted to come along for these journeys and they’ve been so engaged. At the end of every email I receive, it’s, “Let us know how we can help.” That makes a world of difference. We’ve not gone through this before. Knowing that we’ve got this highly intelligent and engaged board that’s there to help when we need it, now is the time that we’re asking for help. We’re saying, “Do you endorse this idea? Is this something that you think that we could run with? Would you mind opening doors?” It’s a unanimous yes. The leadership from our board is something that our entire team of 22 and the Island Health Authority feels. It’s brought us closer together as well.
Being new in your role, it must have given you a lot of confidence to know that they’re supportive of some of the hard and quick decisions that you’re needing to make early on in your tenure.
I feel their confidence and they said it best. They said, “We would never sign off on the biggest campaign to date if we didn’t think you and your team could do it.” Getting a lot of that confidence makes a world of difference.
That is a stamp of approval that means a lot, “We believe you can do it, so you better do it.” You mentioned that at the start of that campaign you had donors clamoring to make their gifts. One of the inspiring things we’re seeing in response to this pandemic is many more Canadians and many more Americans for that matter are making gifts. The number of people who have reached into their pocket or gone online to make a gift is much greater than in 2019. With such a large campaign goal, how were you having those conversations to get those gifts at a level that you’re going to need them to be in order to be successful?
In an effort to be completely transparent, we’re doing this backwards. We didn’t find a lead donor going into this. We’ve had to rely on community support at every level to help us. We’ve had to communicate to our donors in a very different way and discovering new and innovative value add work processes like these digital fundraising campaigns, new donor outreach techniques, our gala is going to change quite a bit. We’ve had to create opportunities for every single gift amount to be welcomed. That’s part of this new reality for us. We’re hopeful that this is going to work. We’re an organization that welcomed 4,500 new donors in 2019.
When you consider 4,500 donations over twelve months, and we’ve had 1,400 donations, we’ve welcomed 400 new donors. If that’s just the beginning and that’s any indication of what this could look like, there’s a huge opportunity for us. Outside of the fundraising, our brand is being recognized. We’ve had to pivot all of our strategies, not just fundraising, to take ownership of this opportunity and to leverage this. I say that in all sensitivity. I’m not leveraging a crisis, but we knew there was an opportunity unlike any other that our hospitals and our frontline are the primary focus of everyone. We had to step up in a big way to let them know this is what we do, this is who we are, and this is how you can help.
One of the plans that you put in place before you do a large campaign is the stewarding of the donors that you’re going to acquire. Those are impressive numbers that you’ve shared. Have you turned your attention at all to how you’re going to keep those people connected to the hospital foundation over time?
Every single one of those donors have received a personal phone call. Our work has had to change and we’ve had to create new ways to steward and cultivate these new relationships in our current donor base. Phone calls and emails are happening. We’re finding every single way to touch a donor that we haven’t done before or increased that level of stewardship. That’s another reason why we’ve seen such a great response. The work we’re doing is shifting. We’re emailing our donors more. We’re partnering with companies that are helping us do match campaigns that are giving new donors the opportunity to donate that they haven’t done before. We ventured into a text-to-donate option, which was successful. We’re finding new ways.
Tell me about the text-to-donate option. I’ve seen it for large concerts and I’ve heard of organizations trying it but never to great effect. How did that work for you?
It worked. We had nothing to evaluate ourselves on because we never received a donation through this text-to-donate. We knew that there were a lot of advertisements placed by one of our generous supporters. A company in town was doing an Island wide match, which was nice for us too because we got to connect with all of the other hospital foundations. We knew that there were advertisements that had already been purchased and they wanted to include this match in all of their advertisements. That was radio, newspaper, and social media. We were trying to think of ways that we could create where people could donate easily.
We thought the text-to-donate would be an ideal way because they’d see it multiple times. It’s not just one advertisement. We saw success through that and I know that we’ll do it again if there’s the appetite for that many advertisements. If we’re in an event setting that somebody could be looking at a jumbotron or the emcee is mentioning the text-to-donate option throughout. Repetition is important with the text-to-donate but we found it successful because we knew we could repeat that message through the campaign. We thought that this match campaign would take four weeks. It took a week and a half. Another way that we can attribute the success to this campaign was creating new elements of innovation.
There will be a lot of fundraising lessons learned through this pandemic and new ways to engage our donor communities. It sounds like you’re right at the forefront of pioneering that one. You’ve mentioned your team of 22 a few times. One of the things that’s always fascinating to me is leaders who come from the organization. Often boards will want to change the voice or change the way the leadership has done just for the sake of change or sometimes there’s an acute need to reach outside of the organization for the new leader. You were appointed as the interim leader and then confirmed as the executive director. What was that like in terms of your conversations with your former colleagues and now your employees? How have you adjusted to that role as the leader?
I’m very grateful that I had the opportunity to work within the organization before I have had the great privilege to leave the organization. It’s helped me understand that everyone wants to lead, everyone has ideas, and you have to find ways that they can bring those ideas forward. Our value at Victoria Hospital Foundation is not permission to fail but permission to try. Because we’ve done many new fundraising initiatives, we’ve embraced change with this crisis, and knowing that we couldn’t control the change we were facing, it has been a lot easier if we were operating in a way that was normal and comfortable for us.When every person on your team has the ability to lead a certain initiative, you see great things happen. Click To Tweet
The team has truly stepped up and we’re working harder than ever from home to support the hospitals during this time. I also think there’s a huge self-awareness piece. Everyone on our team wants to be on our team. We know that we have a profound role that we don’t take for granted. When you have a team of 22 dedicated to our hospitals, crisis is hard but they now have this ability to try new work and initiate new processes. Everything from the front end to the backend, we’re pivoting. It’s working and it’s bringing us closer together more than I thought we could be.
I want to go back to something you said there, permission to try. Try is one of the values of the hospital foundation you said. Say more about what that means. Can you think of a story or a time where permission to try has come to the forefront?
I shared the text-to-donate but permission to try as even embarking a large campaign. Permission to try is talking about taking our gala virtual and what that could look like. Every week we have a collaboration session where there’s a blue sky on the agenda where every single team is coming forward with their new ideas. As we deployed remote work, one of the agenda items for our management team is innovation. Talk to me about an innovative project that you’ve connected with your team on. Those activities and those measures throughout were offered these new ideas to come to the table. I’m not naive, I know that I can’t create everything or think of everything. I might have a great idea. It might not be a good idea, but our team has the autonomy to challenge one another and bring ideas forward. We’ve seen great success by trying new things and it’s going to continue to lead our work.
Given that permission to try as a leadership ethos for you, I may know the answer to this question. What is it your employees or your teammates can do to get a gold star with you? When someone is doing an excellent job, what does that look like in your organization?
The gold star is how they show up. Do they have an appetite to learn, try new things and strategize? We went through a re-org and we elevated all of our support staff. Every single person on our team manages a program or a function. It was a risk that I was willing to take, but it’s paid off in more ways than one. When every single person on your team has the ability to lead a certain initiative, a group or a committee, you see great things happen because of that. We’re a young team and we’re very diverse. As you can imagine with Millennials, we want to hit a home run all the time. We want to change things, save lives and chew more than we can bite. It’s been working.
When you have that ambitious innovative culture, when things don’t work, how do you approach keeping your team uplifted or keeping them moving forward when something that was aiming at that blue sky fell a little short?
It’s not that it doesn’t work, we’ve still learned from it. We have such an open dialogue. We communicate openly. There are no secrets. There are no closed-door meetings. If something doesn’t work, we’ve learned why it didn’t work and we won’t do it next time. We’ve practiced mindfulness. We know that we can look at it in one way or we can look at the other. I don’t think we look at it that it’s not working. We look at it as we’ve learned something.
That’s a great approach. I’m curious if you’re able to extend that approach to conversations with your board?
We have such an open dialogue and we talk about everything. We share the good, the bad and the ugly with the board. If we only shared the good, they’d realize something is not right or you don’t have the right bums on seats because you need to be trying new things all the time. Our industry is always changing. Years ago, social media wasn’t even in our work. We’re being innovative. We’re getting technical. There’s a digital revolution happening and there’s changed. You’ve got to share all the ideas of change too. We are very open with our board and we offer that too. They can think of ideas as well. They bring ideas to the table. At times, it can be fun educating them why it won’t work, but we also do try new things with them as well. That’s part of the bigger picture of this team that we have.
With that approach, it’s no surprise that you’ve been able to marshal your organization as well as you have as an effect and as quickly as you have. If you could look back for a moment, has there been a particular time or a particular story that’s resonated with you as a person and as leader of the hospital foundation?
I will speak selfishly for the first time during this show and let you know that I had my anniversary with the foundation. Social distancing has been something that we’ve all had to combat. I woke up feeling like I wish I was with the team. At 8:30, I get a knock at my door and my entire leadership team and the board is outside on my front lawn thanking me for the work. That’s something I’m always going to remember. That’s something that I know they’ve seen the hard work. There’s been a lot of change that we’ve championed over the past few years. That to me is something I will always remember because those are the faces that we can’t embrace but we’re still connected. in the background is the Royal Jubilee Hospital because my house is on a hill. I remember thinking this is what it’s all about. The hard work is paying off and this is a team that I couldn’t be by myself. I needed to be with them and they knew it and it was something I’ll never forget.
Thank you very much for sharing that. My final question for you is as healthcare philanthropy leaders across North America are looking for the strength to keep going or new ways to engage donors, new ways to deliver on the promises they’re making to donors, what advice would you give to your colleagues to keep moving forward at this time?
Lean on your peers. We’re all doing this together. Pick up the phone. I’ve called other hospital foundation and other charities. I’ve said, “What do you think about this idea? Has this worked for you or not?” Blue sky with one another, brainstorm with one another and keep the conversation open. We shouldn’t be competing for donor dollars. We should be working together because I know that we’re stronger together. That would be my one piece of advice. Never be afraid to ask for help or engage your peers through LinkedIn and social media. Also, like each other’s posts. Be there for one another and celebrate each other’s successes. This is a lonely job at times being a leader in philanthropy and at a hospital foundation. There are times you don’t want to share things with your team or your board when you’re in a vulnerable position. Lean on each other through that. That’s also helped me throughout this journey.
Give one another the permission to try. Thank you very much, Avery. I appreciate you making the time in your very busy schedule to join us on the Discovery Pod.
It’s been a pleasure. Thank you so much for having me.
About Avery Brohman
The Board of Directors of the Victoria Hospitals Foundation has appointed Avery Brohman as the Foundation’s Executive Director.
Avery joined the Foundation in May of 2018 as the Director, Development & Communications, and for the past year, served as Acting Executive Director. In her new role, Avery is responsible for attracting transformational giving to advance the Victoria Hospitals Foundation’s mission. She leads strategic vision and planning, fundraising, board engagement, and partnerships with the executive leadership of Island Health.
Her professional background spans 14 years of non-profit management, development and community engagement at Shaw Communications and some of the most respected National non-profit organizations including Ovarian Cancer Canada and Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.
Avery is a graduate from Ryerson University and Conestoga College and was named “Top 40 Under 40” in 2013. She is a mentor with the Association of Fundraising Professionals and has obtained her Certified Fundraising Executive accreditation.
Avery embodies fundraising and inspires philanthropy. She has a track-record of transforming organizations through impactful philanthropy. Under her leadership, the Foundation has seen an increase in community support and looks forward to building on the success and continuing to advance care in our hospitals.
“We’re committed to championing philanthropy that transforms care right here at home,” said Steve McKerrell, Chair of the Foundation’s Board. “Avery has demonstrated that she is uniquely qualified to lead our fundraising during a transformative period for our Foundation. Her vision, passion, and commitment inspires her team and will continue to serve our patients and inspire donors to support our mission to enhance healthcare for our community.”
“I am honoured and grateful to the Victoria Hospitals Foundation Board for their confidence in appointing me to lead this great organization and outstanding team of professionals,” Avery said. “I am devoted to the mission of the Foundation and look forward to continuing to work with our heroic donors and philanthropic partners to make a difference.”