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Palliative Care Society Of The Bow Valley With Theresa Radwell, CEO

By June 6th, 2024No Comments19 min read
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Discovery Pod | Theresa Radwell | Palliative Care Society

The Palliative Care Society of the Bow Valley was born from a personal experience and a community need. Founded ten years ago, it aimed to build a local hospice facility after a resident faced long travel distances for end-of-life care. Now, the Society has grown from a volunteer-run to a fundraising campaign to build the hospice, expanding palliative care services across the Bow Valley community. Joining us today to tell us more about the Palliative Care Society is Theresa Radwell, the CEO. Theresa also opens up about a unique opportunity to be part of the organization, a pivotal role in making a real difference in the lives of those facing end-of-life challenges.

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Palliative Care Society Of The Bow Valley With Theresa Radwell, CEO

I’m pleased to be joined by Theresa Radwell. Theresa is the CEO of the Palliative Care Society of the Bow Valley. Welcome, Theresa.

Thank you.

Palliative Care Society of the Bow Valley

Great to have you join us, and I’m excited to be talking about your director of fund development role that we’re going to be launching the search for. In fact, it will be launched by the time this comes out. Looking forward to learning more about you and the Palliative Care Society of the Bow Valley. For that matter, for someone who isn’t familiar with the society, let’s start there. Can you tell me a bit more about it?

We’re not so much in many other organizations like ourselves, charities that start as a result of a personal experience. Somebody who was living in the Bow Valley in the Canmore, who had a life-changing diagnosis and was able to stay predominantly at home and receive great positive care within the community. At the end of life, when they were looking to move into a hospice, the only nearest available hospice was in Calgary from Canmore.

Particularly when you’re driving back and forth every day and under those circumstances, it’s a long way. It’s not ideal for a family coming together to go through those circumstances and to be traveling. Whilst the hospice experience itself was fantastic, the experience of traveling back and forth and the strain that it put on the family was significant. Fast forward a few weeks and within the community, the story was being told about this experience and other similar stories were coming out.

A testament to our community in the Bow Valley is that this group of individuals came together and said, “We need to change this.” That was the start of the society. The focus and vision was that we would build a hospice in the Bow Valley that served our community and enabled people to stay close to home if that’s what they chose to do. That’s the starting point. That was many years ago that this original group came together.

From that point, we have predominantly been up until probably the last three years completely volunteer run. When we look at what’s been achieved, it’s quite significant. We have a lot of community outreach programs that span the entire palliative care journey right from diagnosis through to end of life. Also, a grief and loss program that supports that.

We’re at this exciting point where this vision from many years ago is going to be coming to reality. We have some very generous donors who are giving us some land right in the Bow Valley. We’re embarking on a campaign to raise significant funds to not only build this dream vision that we had, but also to open the doors and welcome the community and to be able to deliver all of these programs and services to that entire group and population. We’ve gone from very small beginnings quite rapidly into a very exciting future in realization.

That’s exciting. Quite the journey in yours. You’ve advanced so far in that time, as you say, going from a volunteer experience to staff run to your own experience as the leader now of the organization and what the future is going to hold. We’ve talked so much about the campaign. I know I want to pick up the campaign theme a little later too but I want to hear a bit more about you. What is your why? Why is it you do this work that you do, Theresa?

As I say, personal experience is always something that within a not-for-profit or a charitable sector you have that personal connection to the cause. My story is no different to that. At quite a young age, I was able to benefit from the support that we provide now and we’re looking to provide in the future as a family member. That was that support right from the get-go, understanding what the diagnosis was and the journey and getting that support. That was through the whole family.

I felt that my go-forward and my future were helped because of the support that I got many years ago. When this opportunity came, and I saw not the organization was there, but its vision, its future, and the passion of its people. I felt that this was an organization that I wanted to be connected with to be able to bring my experience into this community, into the Bow Valley and help everybody benefit from the support that I had at that time. That has set me in good stead into the future. It is a very deep passion of mine and that. It’s almost the dream job, I would say. Maybe it is the dream job.

Fair enough. Many people in your case, as you say, we all have that experience of end of life issues, palliative care. Some of us don’t have necessarily the benefit of a facility and the operations that you’re running. Kudos to you and thanks for sharing that. In your time at the society so far, you’ve done so much already and there’s so much still to come, as you say. What are you most proud of having achieved so far?

I don’t know that I would say that I’ve achieved it. What the organization has achieved and it’s a destiny to the community. It’s this passionate group of volunteers. It was these people that started it. Many of whom still remain involved. They’re not on the board anymore, but they are still actively involved in many different ways.

We have approximately 90 volunteers from within the community. These are actively working with people in the population that have a life-changing diagnosis. They’ve been through many hours of training to get there. Their commitment to this work is quite outstanding and blows my mind at times that people are so generous with that time.

Not just as a volunteer, but in terms of giving that to education and ensuring they’re providing such high-quality support. It’s that group of volunteers that’s taken us from that vision to this point. We have now seven staff and soon to be eight. That’s exciting, but if it wasn’t for our volunteers, we wouldn’t be here and delivering the programs that we are into the community.

Discovery Pod | Theresa Radwell | Palliative Care Society

Palliative Care Society: Without our volunteers, we wouldn’t be here today and wouldn’t be delivering these programs to the community.


The Palliative Care Journey

That dedication and balance. You’re talking about the service delivery. I know you’ve got a great board of directors as well. You’ve got volunteers working on the campaign. It is the community coming together in so many ways. As an aside, you’ve talked a few times now about the journey, the palliative care journey. I love how you talk about that. Typically, someone like me might think of hospice or palliative care as the very end of life. You’re very careful and thoughtful about looking at it from the time of diagnosis, that entire journey. Can you tell me a bit more about that? It’s such a key piece both the services you deliver and the philosophy of how we care about people that are experiencing this.

It is something that as an organization that we are focused on changing the dialogue, changing the dialogue around palliative care. Your vision of what palliative care or hospital is, is I would say probably the vision that most people have. It’s proven that the earlier palliative care is involved in somebody’s diagnosis, the better experience that they will have as a result of that.

We want to be there from the point at which somebody receives that diagnosis when you first hear those words. You never hear anything beyond that point and you’re completely reeling through what you’ve heard then you’ve got so many questions and many emotions coming out. That is the point at which we would like to be involved with people, to be able to support them, understand what they’ve heard, and come to terms with what that means to them then to start to look ahead.

Your palliative care, in my mind, is all about living the best life that you possibly can until the end. Part of that is understanding what’s important to you. What do you want to achieve? We all talk about bucket lists. We never think about what a bucket list truly is. One of the things that matter is the big things and the small things.

It’s surprising what some of the small things are. Helping people have what is a wonderful experience following that diagnosis. The other piece that’s important, we talk about grief and loss. People always think about grief and loss being at the end as well but it’s not. When you get a diagnosis, you experience grief in that respect. Part of that grieving. It is grieving for the life that you thought you had ahead of you that you no longer have. A grief and loss piece comes in early on as well. Not just at the end.

It is a much bigger journey than we talk about. One other thing as well, it’s not just about the person or the person that has a diagnosis. It’s about the bigger community. It’s about the family, friends, and loved ones that support the individual and are impacted by that. The extent of our services goes beyond the individual. We look at caregivers, the family, and supporting everybody. It has a very community-based feel.

It's not just about the person who has a diagnosis. It's about the bigger community. It's about the family, friends, and loved ones who support the individual. Click To Tweet

It’s so individualized too because not only is the diagnosis very different person to person, but the individual’s journeys. You’re dealing with family members. Everybody experiences loss and grieving in a very different way, emotionally, socially, and contextually. There’s so much happening. That’s beautiful. It’s great to have an organization like yours supporting people.

The Work Culture

Let’s dive a bit deeper into the organization itself because ultimately, we’re talking about a director of fund development role here. Thinking about work culture, you’ve talked about the staff, the volunteers and work culture is so important. What is that work culture at the society that you’re both trying to create and have at the moment for that matter?

It is a tough business. I’d ever shy away from that. It can be hard at times. It can be an emotional work. We are a work hard, play hard team. I would like to say that there’s barely a day goes past when there’s not laughter in the office. Sometimes people are shocked by that and say, “It’s a very serious work.” Having that fun side, being able to laugh openly and cry openly, if that’s what you want, is important. We’re a very caring group. We are a group that roll up our sleeves and get our hands dirty and get things done or a small organization.

We are a group that rolls up our sleeves, gets its hands dirty, and gets things done. Click To Tweet

That requires somebody who’s prepared to do that. We help each other and we support each other. That is the organization. Very focused and very committed to the cause. Sometimes too committed and that’s always a challenge. It’s getting that balance right but it is a wonderful team. We know how to have fun and know how to focus and get the job done as well.

Director Of Development: The Origin Story

That’s great. Thinking about the team, creating or having created the role of director of development. Why now? You alluded to the campaign at the top of our conversation. Tell me more about the origin story of the director of development role. Why is this role fundamental now? What is it they’re hoping to achieve?

This organization, as I was almost going to fill that it’s coming out of that startup phase that you would typically see in a company. We’ve been existing for many years, predominantly through volunteers. We’ve been building our programs and slowly building our revenue. What this building and the campaign give us is that sudden move from being a small organization, more hand-to-mouth to being something that is looking to that future.

We need to start to grow our opportunities for revenue and particularly through philanthropic channels. We’re wanting to ramp up that activity. We’ve got the campaign. The campaign is for the building. It’s going to be a 21,000-square-foot building. It’s beautiful. It’s set right in Canmore between the two mountain ranges either side of it. It is a beautiful location.

The plans that we have for how the space is going to help us move forward with our programming, but also support for end-of-life and respite support also requires money. This is not just to build it. This is to keep the doors open and to be able to reach out to that community. We’ve gone from a very small organization to this vision that’s suddenly become a reality.

We have been doing some work around strategy and what the strategy looks like on the fund development side and looking for someone who can pick this up, take it on and run with it. Put the strategy into implementation and into a reality to help support our existing volunteers who are already very successfully working on our campaign and to help have a staff member leading that and to ultimately develop that fund development function for the organization. I see it as a very exciting opportunity for somebody who loves the challenge of something new and building from scratch.

Very much so. Some of this, we talk about in the brief but the campaigns underway. You’ve got some lead gifts already in the door. This person’s coming in where there’s already activity happening. There’s momentum fundamentally. There are great plans. There are great visuals for the campaign as well. I know you’re doing a lot behind the scenes to support this person, certainly.

They’re well set up for success, but you’re right. You need somebody to come in and run with it and has the wherewithal, the art, the science of major gifts, fundraising, and campaign work to support you and the group fundamentally. That’s great. How would this person earn a gold star? What do some success measures look like for you? The obvious one is finishing the campaign but I don’t want to speak for you. What else do you think this person should be doing?

Hit the campaign goal or knock it out of the park would be even better. As I said, with the organization, we’re now putting all of the pieces into place for its future stability and sustainability. The campaign goal is a key indicator of success for a gold star. Also, building and putting the foundation into the organization to be able to continue that success and growth. That’s both internally, but also with the donor relationships, is going to be key.

We’ve got a lot of new donors coming on board, so this stewardship and building those relationships is going to be imperative for us to be able to continue to grow. Also, to create a diversity in philanthropic revenue. That helps to bring stability. We’re very focused on major gifts and we’ll continue to be. It will always be the majority of our revenue in this area. There is a lot more diversity that can bring in. There’s more engagement of the community and more grassroots engagement. Delivering that fund development strategy and putting the foundation of the fund development function in your organization in place, would be another significant achievement.

Discovery Pod | Theresa Radwell | Palliative Care Society

Palliative Care Society: Building those relationships is going to be imperative for us to grow and create a diverse range of philanthropic revenue that helps to bring stability.


That diversity and sustainability go hand-in-hand to make sure you’ve got diverse sources that are able to sustain you in that ebb and flow. Particularly as you build out the entire fundraising plan and team fundamentally in the activities. That’s great. You mentioned a few times the beauty of Canmore, Bow Valley and the culture there. Let’s talk a little bit about location. Do you envision this person being located in Canmore or in the Bow Valley? What are the geographic ideal and constraints for that matter for the ideal candidate? Working location or work-from-home situation is very important now given where we are in the work life cycle for that matter.

Our office is based in Canmore and we serve in the Bow Valley community. I’d say from just West of Cochrane in Alberta, right through to the BC border past Lake Louise and down into Kananaskis. It’s a significant geographical area. The two main towns are Canmore and Banff, but it isn’t always possible to be able to live in the Bow Valley for a variety of different reasons. We recognize that.

Ideally, having somebody who lives in the Bow Valley would be our top choice in terms of location. However, it wouldn’t trump skill set. It’s an important consideration but we certainly all have that flexibility. We all work high in the hybrid role. None of us are full-time in the office. That might change into the future with the new building and I don’t think it will from an administrative side of things.

We would be looking for somebody that would be prepared to be in the Bow Valley. I would say 2 to 3 times a week. It’s not unreasonable. As I said, we have people that live in Calgary, who do come and drive into the office. There are very few days when that is an issue driving that highway, I have to say for the most part. It’s one of the most beautiful drives to work and one of the few most beautiful locations to work in, then you get this wonderful drive home at the end of the day. You catch up on shows and everything else. It is a beautiful location, but when it comes to where somebody would live, we can be quite flexible in that respect in order to be able to accommodate that.

Many people are thinking right now that it takes an hour to cross whatever city they’re in for that matter. Never mind going to a beautiful office back and forth from Canmore. One of the scenic parts of the world that would be.

There are very few traffic lights.

Joining The Organization

Sure enough. That’s one compelling reason for someone wanting to join you at the society. Why else would someone want to leave their opportunity or leave another role or perhaps join you at the society? What’s the compelling piece here? What do you think someone would want to join you?

As I said earlier, this is a very exciting organization with a big vision. I do think it’s a very achievable vision. For somebody that likes the channel, that likes to come in at the ground and build something from the ground up, and have a sense of achievement. Look back and say, “I’ve taken it from here to here. I’ve left my mark.” It is that of an organization.

It’s to be part of a great team. It’s a small team but it’s a fantastic team. A small and mighty team, should I say, and that is sometimes a problem. Not all organizations have that spirit and culture within them. We are going to achieve this vision and we’re going to do that. It’s going to require all of us to pull together. It is an incredible opportunity in my mind for somebody who has that vision for themselves in their career.

Fair enough. At the risk of being a bit sycophantic, perhaps. You and I have known each other for many years now in various capacities and the opportunity to work with you, a very down-to-earth leader who, as you say, works hard but plays hard. Takes the work very seriously but likes to have fun. That’s very compelling as well.

You’re hiring a subject matter expert and you’re not going to be telling this person what to do. If anything, it’s going to be the opposite fundamentally and you’re highly engaged and willing to speak to donors and keen on this as well. That’s a very key piece of the puzzle fundamentally here that I wanted to mention because you’re not one to blow your own horn. I thought I’d blow the horn for you fundamentally.

Thank you. That’s important. I am looking for someone who’s a subject matter expert in this. It’s not my background or my forte. This is almost a right-hand person for me. Someone who I can completely have full trust in that can take this on and run it. I’m happy to be involved as and when needed. This is somebody that would have pretty much full control over letting this up and running with it.

The Future Of The Society

In closing then, any final messages for potential candidates or curious people? Is there anything else you want to share that excites you most about the future of the society that we should talk about?

I was going to reflect back and somebody was talking to me first of all many years ago on palliative care and fundraising. They said, “Nobody wants to talk about palliative care and end of life.” I took that to heart and I thought, “I can understand that.” My experience, however, is very different. The focus around that whole journey piece and how we can support people. The whole focus around living and wellness is a very different perspective to perhaps where traditionally people come from.

Our vision of changing the dialogue and building our communication around that supports us being able to attract interested donors to support. It’s a very different message to where we’re completely focusing on end of life. It’s not that we’re hiding the end-of-life piece, but where we can get the greater impact. Impact more people is further upstream. I would encourage people to do a little bit more reading around palliative care and the earlier intervention of palliative care. It does broaden that audience. It does broaden the number of people. It’s a very different conversation that you have with donors. We’ve found it to be very successful in that respect.

That’s a great note to close on. It’s very compelling and I appreciate the way you talk about the vision, the strategy, and the growth fundamentally that you’re talking about with the society and the fundamentally wonderful work you’re doing. That’s such important work on such a specific localized scale. Kudos to you and the team.

If anyone is interested in learning more, the brief is in circulation. It’s on our website and LinkedIn. If anybody wants to reach out to me, it’s at [email protected], and by all means, look into the Palliative Care Society of Bow Valley as well. Theresa, I appreciated our conversation and your passion for the cause, and excited to be working with you on the search.

Thank you very much. I look forward to hearing from people who are interested.

Very much so. Chat soon.

Thank you.


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