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Lessons learned - an interview with Kay McRee of St. Dominic Health Services Foundation

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Kay McRee leads the fundraising efforts for St. Dominic Health Services Foundation. Her development/fundraising duties range from orchestrating in-kind gifts during the pandemic to annual fund to capital campaigns for the numerous pillars of St. Dominic Health Services. Kay’s interview with Derek Alley, Arthur Alley Co-founder & President, follows.

What were some of the most obvious or surprising ways that COVID-19 has affected your work?

The most obvious effects have been working remotely and learning to communicate with staff and donors in a different way. Though there are challenges, remote working comes with fewer distractions and allows me to have more focus.

We also learned that as a team, we have the ability to pivot on a dime. We quickly shifted our focus from major gifts to in-kind gifts for a while when needed, whereas in the past this was not a focus of the Foundation.

The community really stepped up and showed their gratitude to healthcare workers. It was amazing, heartwarming and quite moving to see the goodwill in the community.

How did contributions to your organization compare March - May, 2020 to the same period in 2019?

We are currently wrapping up a capital campaign to partially fund the expansion and renovation of our Emergency Department. As a result, in 2019 we received some very large campaign commitments in this time period. In 2020, the largest gifts were much smaller so a comparison will show that we raised fewer funds. This discrepancy is not so much due to COVID-19 and more of a result of simply where we were in the capital campaign.

How did/will you respond?

We will continue to follow up with prospective donors to close gifts. We believe you reap what you sow and that things happen on the donor's timeline. For example, donors made gifts during the height of COVID-19 because of meetings we had prior to the pandemic. We have also seen that a grateful patient's positive experience is more likely to move a prospective donor to give. This happened in at least one case. We are fortunate that people are still giving major gifts, even in an unprecedented time like this.

Did your online/email/digital engagement increase during the Pandemic? How so?

Yes. We perfected some of the processes we have been working on for a while but never got around to completing. With the shift in work that came with the pandemic, we focused our time on things that needed to be done that may not have been a priority pre-COVID-19. We focused on phone calls and mass e-mails as a means of communication, and also learned that Zoom is a great tool.

How will this inform your future plans?

We will continue to be more strategic about what we do and how we communicate based on what we found to be effective during this time.

What new habits/strategies/tactics will you bring with you into the post-COVID-19 era?

Communicating with prospects and donors through e-mail has proven to be beneficial. We had not done much of this in the past when we had more opportunities to meet face to face. We developed a process we will continue to use for solicitation and general stewardship, and we also developed some virtual gatherings, like a wine and cheese, for planned giving prospects. It was great fun, and as a team we found creative ways to continue with our plans.

Do you have a strategic plan in place? How has it been useful during this time?

Yes, but we did have not referred to it as frequently as we have our Operations Manual.

How did you donor engagement change during this time?

In addition to utilizing phone calls and various forms of electronic communication more than we did previously, we pivoted our direct mail messaging. We added an option to give to the return slip that was mailed with our Planned Giving newsletter, and this minor, free change resulted in multiple gifts we had not received before. The Foundation shared useful information about Planned Giving, and recipients had the opportunity to support St. Dominic’s. It was a win/win.

Do you have a development plan in place? Did you stick to it? How would a plan have been helpful if you didn't already have one?

The strategic plan is specific to development, and we absolutely utilize it. We continued providing donors the opportunity to give and used the fundraising vehicles we have while slightly adjusting timelines. Having a plan in place gave us something to ground us and provide direction. It kept us moving forward.

Any other lessons learned - professional or personal -that you'd like to share?

We can't deny donors the opportunity to give. Don't stop asking! This is especially true if your organization is meeting a current need. No matter how bad times are, philanthropy is a way people can help and feel productive. Continue with your plans, consider tweaking them, but continue in fundraising efforts. We learned we can react quickly and adapt, and we learned the importance of collaboration with other departments. Teamwork is very important, and as a result, more people in the organization understand the work of the Foundation and the positive impact in our organization has in the community.

This interview was conducted by Arthur Alley as part of our efforts to share what we learn. Arthur Alley fundraising & mission development counsel empowers you to craft a meaningful story firmly rooted in your organization’s purpose and to effectively secure resources. Arthur Alley has the experience and insight to help you achieve your career goals and for your organization to thrive.

Want to learn more? Contact us here and we’ll be in touch.


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