The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted almost every single aspect of our lives, and everything has to be put on hold as we struggle to survive the crisis. Burnaby Hospital Foundation had just launched the largest campaign in their history, raising $30 million for redevelopment, when the pandemic struck and forced them to shift focus. Kristy James was right there at the forefront of the pivot as the foundation’s CEO. With its dedicated team, magnanimous board, and generous donors, the hospital was able to launch an unprecedented emergency response that showcased the power of a cohesive community. Kristy tells the story of how they managed to do this as she joins Douglas Nelson in this episode.
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Burnaby Hospital Foundation With Kristy James
Our guest is Kristy James. She’s the CEO of Burnaby Hospital Foundation and we’re pleased to have her on the show.
Thanks for having me.
It’s great to have you here. I’ve been looking forward to our conversation. There are a couple of things that we’ll get into. You launched the largest campaign in the history of your organization, received the largest gift your hospital foundation has ever received and then COVID-19 strikes. It changes everything. Tell us what the last couple of months have been like at your organization.
Launching a $30 million campaign for Burnaby Hospital for the redevelopment was a long time coming. We worked for at least 18 to 24 months to get government announcements and then to secure the donor, which is Betty Beedie and the Beedie family, with our largest gift, which was $8 million. We put a lot of work into getting that announcement and revving up so that we could get going on this huge feat for us. A few weeks after we announced where we were all working from home and pivoting all of our focus onto something else. It’s been a whirlwind but it’s been exciting, a little scary at times. We have surprisingly gotten ourselves into a position that we feel we reacted quite quickly. We’re giving a lot of opportunities to the hospital with new equipment, supplies and food. We did some great work getting to where we are.
One thing that’s fascinating to me and how hospital foundations, in particular, have responded to this crisis is it often takes months or years as for priorities to percolate to the surface to be the main focus of fundraising efforts. A pandemic changed all of that. When was the moment that you thought, “We have to do something different, this is going to change everything?”
It’s interesting because, on the 10th of March, we started hearing there’s potential, we want people may be to be working from home in the future. I got my leadership team together and we came up with a plan immediately to say, “What do we do?” First of all, as a team, how do we stay safe? That’s important. We have a team of ten I wanted to make sure that we were, especially working in a hospital working in an environment that was safe that we could continue working. We put a plan together and we finalized it. It was about the sixteenth, we walked into the office with the plan to announce it to this team and say, “This could potentially happen. We may have to go off-site and work from home.” When everything changed, we walked in and that plan became effective. I said, “This plan is effective in 30 minutes from now.” We sat around as a team, talked about what everyone’s role was going to be, collected our belongings and went home. It took a day or two to get settled, figure out Zoom as the entire world is doing and decide what we do.
We were about to launch a direct mail campaign for our redevelopment. I have a strong development marketing team. We were quick to react and decide this is an opportunity for us to help the hospital and give back to some of the emergency needs. Within two days, we had our COVID emergency response fund up and we had already received $60,000 donation to buy a ventilator. That for us showed quickly how the community was reacting to this. It also showed us how quickly we had to react to all the generosity of the community that was pouring in by the end of that first week. It was a fast transition for us. I would say we all had new roles and we were moving forward with a huge influx of donations of supplies, food and equipment. People who’ve wanted to purchase ventilators and ventilators were the big thing. In our hospital, we were fortunate. We only needed 1 or 2 more to be able to manage and we managed to get those probably within the first two weeks. It was a fast pivot to a completely new plan.
The tremendous community response is probably inspiring. As we work away in the day-to-day work of a hospital foundation, you’re thinking about, “How to engage people? How to let them know what the needs are? What the opportunity for philanthropy is?” When something big like this happens, it must be pretty inspiring to see the community step forward and say, “This is what you need. Here it is.”
Burnaby’s a culturally-rich community. We’re fortunate that we have many different community groups within Burnaby and the third-largest city in BC now. Our population is almost 40% Chinese. For our community to be able to see what’s going on around the world, in China, in Italy, in Spain and everywhere else, they quickly reacted and wanted to ensure their community was taken care of. That has a lot to do with the fact that Burnaby has such an amazing community and they saw this happening around them and quickly reacted, “What can we do? What do you need?” It was our job to make sure we knew right away what it was we needed to make sure we were successful through this and could fight this pandemic the best that we can in our smallest community.
It’s great to hear that the community responded. Is there a story that comes to mind that resonates with you or resonated with you when it happened about the community stepping forward?
[bctt tweet=”The goal right now is to make sure that every patient is taken care of. Everyone should be on board to do that.” via=”no”]
There are many. One of the first donors who stepped forward was a donor of ours who came forward, brand new donor and gave $100,000 to our redevelopment plan. Even though we hadn’t launched it yet, we were in that quiet phase and they knew about it. We wanted to make it their commitment. Before we even have that COVID response fund up, they were phoning me saying, “How much is the ventilator? I want to buy it for you.” Also, we’ve got all these supplies. They dropped off a check for $60,000 to buy the ventilator. They also dropped off over $60,000 worth of supplies, masks, gloves, gowns.
At that point, we didn’t realize that was coming and that need for those supplies. It was inspiring to see this donor in particular say, “I know what you’re going to need, you’re going to need this and this and I’m bringing it to you before the week is done.” That was corporate. We’ve had a little girl come in and she has been making masks. She dropped off her $20 or $30, she’d sold a few masks and wanted to help. It’s touched a lot of people and being able to do something to give back. It’s hard to pick one story. A little girl dropped off boxes of Girl Guide cookies for us to give to the ER staff. We’re fortunate and all the stories are equally as inspiring.
I’m sure the Girl Guide cookies were quite appreciated in the emergency room. This is not something any of us have been through before and leading a hospital foundation, you’re side-by-side partners with the healthcare professionals but there isn’t a playbook for a foundation to follow. How have you connected with peers in order to see what other people are doing and to share best practices?
In the Fraser Health region, 8 or 9 hospitals and they all have hospital foundations. We are fortunate in this health region that we have a foundation council. All the CEOs of all the hospital foundations within Fraser Health. We immediately got started getting on calls and we were holding two calls a week to talk about what was happening at each other’s sites, what they were doing to react to that. I have to say that made the world of difference that first week, you don’t know where this is going to go. You don’t know how long it’s going to last. You’re reacting. When we started having these calls and all of our colleagues and counterparts were sharing ideas, it made it not easier.
It made it clearer where we all wanted to get to and sharing the load of, “Who wants to come up with a plan for accepting hotel donations? Who’s working on food donations? What are you guys doing? Can you share that with the group?” We’re in the position now where we’re working together. We have a call to talk about the back to work plan, how everyone’s going to take that and things you don’t think of on your own. Having that pool of resources and the years and years of experience with all of my counterparts of these other hospital foundations is amazing. Having them to lean on, get through and share all of this has been probably a huge part of the success of how we’ve managed to get to where we are through this.
That’s great to hear that collaboration is working well. I assume in more normal times there is an air of competition around the table when you all get together.
You would think that. There isn’t. We’re mostly all community hospitals and a couple of the hospitals within our region are more provincial. Even with rural Colombians who are right on the border of New West and Burnaby, there isn’t a lot of competition. We have a lot of shared donors. Throughout the rest of the year, we share a lot of ideas as well and get a lot of advice from each other. It’s not to say that we don’t look at each other’s direct mail and goal. They’re doing that this time. Let’s think about that. There isn’t a lot of competition between us. It is quite a unique opportunity to be able to share ideas and successes.
Whenever I hear about these collaborations, I wish donors could hear the collaboration and working together that happens in the sector. The perception is that all of our organizations are in intense competition all the time. It sounds like through that foundation council and Fraser Health, you’ve managed to bridge that gap.
I think so for sure. Sometimes there have been opportunities, especially through this to be able to share that with donors. We had a donor come forward and want to do a full dinner for our hospital staff on a certain day. It was near the beginning when meals were starting to come into the hospital as donations. We couldn’t take it that day. We redirected them to another hospital within the Fraser Health Region. I said, “This hospital could use that. Why don’t you go there?” Our donors are starting to see that we are working together. The goal is to make sure that every patient in BC, Canada, the world is taken care of. If our hospital’s able to help out a different hospital or vice-versa to ensure that the patient’s care is taken care of and that’s number one priority, then we’re all on board to do that. It’s quite heartwarming to see that collaboration and us caring about beyond our sites in particular.
I want to change direction and ask you about your board. I know you have invested a lot of time and energy in working with your board on helping them to be supportive of the campaign that you launched, the $30 million proud history, the bright future campaign you mentioned. I know they’re keen to play a supportive role in that campaign and then the big change comes. How has your board responded to this change, first of all?
[bctt tweet=”Do not talk about changing your mission because of the pandemic. Talk about what the pandemic means for your mission.” via=”no”]
They were concerned at first. We had spent a lot of time getting ready to launch this and put a lot of work into upcoming direct mail and marketing pieces. They had concerns. As soon as we started that, our top priorities were making sure the team safe. Our second priority was to make sure we got input from the board and know what direction they want us to go with this. Keeping in mind they’re also going through all of this with their own businesses and companies. We have another unique opportunity to share with them what we’re doing. They shared with me what they’re doing and that also helped guide us in what we’re going to do. The discussions over the COVID response fund, they were supportive of that.
We needed to make sure we were addressing the issue rate at hand, which was this urgent emergency need for support for the hospital because we didn’t know where this pandemic was going to go. We didn’t know if we’re going to end up looking like Italy or other places or if we were going to get a handle on it and fortunately it was the latter. When we didn’t know that we started looking at, “What kind of equipment?” We were a unique position because our redevelopment has a huge component of it is a new emergency center. We were able to tie how COVID is affecting the hospital, how that emergency center in the future that we’re fundraising for would make this experience different and in the future will make this experience different and how we’ll be more prepared. We found some interesting ways with guidance from the board on how we can pivot from one priority to another one, like the temporary priority of COVID, and be able to pivot back.
We’ve done a lot of work with the board to make sure that they feel comfortable with that and how we’re going to be able to keep our eye on the prize, which is that redevelopment campaign. We have to raise $30 million and that is for a hospital foundation that usually does $3 million to $3.5 million a year. That’s a big goal for us in five years. Reassuring the board, we still have our eye on getting to that redevelopment. We’re taking a little detour, but every message that we put out there was about, “This is an emergency response and emergency care in the hospitals is important. In the new redevelopment, it’s going to be one of the biggest pieces of our redevelopment as a whole new emergency department.” We’ve been careful to tie that together to show that we can still get there.
One of the messages that we’ve heard consistently across the country, we’ve been recommending to clients and others has been not to change your mission to COVID but to talk about what the pandemic means for your mission. What it means for your organization and how an organization is responding? People who are committed to your hospital, people who are interested in that redevelopment, are going to stay interested in that redevelopment and understand the need to deal with this emergency response. You don’t want to appear to be shifting completely from, “We’re about redeveloping the hospital,” to, “Now we’re to an emergency response organization and that’s all we’re going to be.” There is a challenge in balancing that communication with donors. How have you managed to strike that balance?
That’s interesting is making it meet your mission. As I said, we’ve tried to tie everything, all of our marketing pieces to, “We have an urgent need now so that we can get to the future.” We’ve had to be careful with that. You touched on something interesting and it was talking to donors and getting that message to them. One of the things that we found valuable during this time was a lot of phone calls. We have spent days, if not weeks, phoning donors. That alone, not to ask, but to make sure they’re okay and talk about, “I know you know we launched the campaign. We’re taking a little halt here to work on this thing that’s an emergency need and then we’re getting back to what we want to let you know that we’re doing that.” I have to say the response from the donors has been phenomenal. They’re pleased to hear we’re not moving away from the redevelopment. We have a large fundraising cabinet that has put all their effort into this redevelopment as well and they’re all donors. Making sure that they know this is still our priority.
First of all, calling the donors was one of the first things we started as well because isolation for a lot of our donors and they are mostly seniors. Eighty percent of our donors are over 60. Being at home and being isolated for them and some completely on their own has been hard. We, fortunately, have a couple of staff who have great relationships with these donors. That’s been a huge piece of our work is keeping them engaged and letting them know that they’re not alone and that we’re still here and being able to see if we can help in any way. They’ve been fantastic at staying in touch with us. They’re getting back to us, “Do you have what you need? Can we help with anything else? I can make masks.” People want to make sandwiches in their kitchens. At least we’re keeping these donors who are isolated, engaged. That’s important.
The other thing in our community that we’ve noticed with the donors is we’ve seen a lot of new donors. We’ve done a lot of work on this redevelopment announcement. We’ll lead up to the big announcement of our lead gifts. January, February we did some work in trying to get into new demographics, new areas, try to share a story. Since COVID started, the first six weeks, we saw over 600 new donors to the foundation. It goes back to saying something about the community. When there’s a sense of urgency and that pandemic, that unknown, people want it, they turn back into giving at home. They want to support their community and make sure that as a community, we’re taken care of. That’s been exciting to see all these new donors get involved.
It’ll be fascinating to see how those 600 new donors, how many of them continue to stay with you through the campaign and beyond now that they know that they have that good feeling of giving to your organization and making a difference in their community.
We have a strong donor recognition program to make sure that we keep engaging them, stewarding them, letting them know what we’re doing, and the impact that they’ve made, but 600 new donors is a lot. We’re now working on a new plan. It’s always changing. We’ve got to come up with a new recognition plan to make sure that we don’t lose the interest of these donors. They gave because they have an interest in our hospital. Going into the redevelopment, we can keep them interested in what the hospital’s doing.
I know, Kristy, you are a campaigner at heart and your keenness to get back to the campaign comes through. As we navigate the gentle reopening here in British Columbia and others are facing it across the country, what are you looking forward to, in the next couple of months in terms of being able to focus on the work of your organization?
[bctt tweet=”There is a sense of urgency about this pandemic that makes people give back and support their community.” via=”no”]
I’m looking forward to, and it’s going to help us be successful in our redevelopment, telling the stories of how our hospital got through this and share some of the patient, medical staff and donor stories as to why they gave back. There’s such a huge opportunity. Ours is about storytelling and it’s why people should get involved. We have more stories than we can write in the amount of time we have. We’ll be doing this for the next few months is telling everyone’s story and trying to engage people into our community hospital, which in itself is the community. T
That’s what I’m looking forward to. I without sounding off, the COVID pandemic is going to help us to bring awareness to the hospital that we wouldn’t have had through normal marketing and communication means this is unprecedented. Everyone looks to their hospital at this time. You see that with the 7:00 cheers with all the influx of donations and the caring for making sure that the staff is okay. It’s not just, “I want you to buy a ventilator.” It’s, “Do your frontline staff needs sandwiches? Do they need food?” All those little stories are going to be helpful in getting us back on track with redevelopment and sharing the story of redevelopment.
You’ve put your finger on something important there. You talk about the hospital and the hospital foundation as being the focus for the community. The way you’re proposing to thank the community for that is to reflect back that generosity and let people know what their neighbors, colleagues, friends, and family have done. That gets to the root point of what is driving a lot of major philanthropy these days. It’s not about your hospital foundation or it’s not about the hospital, it’s about what it represents for your donors. The way you talked about your next steps is as a perfect encapsulation of that idea that, “It’s not about us. It’s about our donors.”
The history of our hospital was started by our community. Our community built our hospital. We’re coming around to a whole new redevelopment. What better times to get the donors from the community involved again and share their stories? This is their hospital. We facilitate all of this for them to make sure that they have what they need for healthcare in their community. What we’re seeing of giving back is telling how important this hospital is in this community. That’s a bonus for us as that these donors want to see something amazing and supporting their community members.
You are on the right track there, Kristy, and you’ve shared a lot of important lessons for other leaders who are starting to wonder or starting to plan what does gentle reopening looks like? What does it mean for philanthropy in our communities and across our country? The final question I’ve been asking everybody during this time, what have you been doing to look after yourself as the demands on your time have been pointed straight at the ceiling?
I have kids doing homeschool. I’m sure most people out there do. For us, it’s been making sure that we get time together away from a screen that’s been a big one for us. It was amazing how quickly this came on and how quickly our world changed. Going back to that, we put our screens away in the middle of the day. My kids and I have a badminton set in the backyard, which is new for us. We’re making sure that we’re getting away from screens and connecting because you’re missing that. You’re missing that social interaction outside of your house. That’s been a big thing in our house. For my team, it’s important to note that this is hard on a lot of staff, especially in a hospital foundation we’re busier than we’ve ever been before.
I always check in with them at least once or twice a week and sometimes individually to make sure that they’re taking time for themselves and making sure that they know there are resources out for them. Fraser Health has put out a lot of resources for members of the community and there are some great ones there. People shouldn’t be nervous or afraid to use those because this is a challenging time. We want to make sure that everyone gets through this as unscathed and healthy as possible. Accepting and taking those opportunities to get some mental health support or even doing more online exercise, things like that. That’s what we’re doing personally outside time with my family and then with my team, making sure that they know all the resources that are at their fingertips and taking advantage of them.
Kristy, thank you for taking the time to be a part of the show.
Thank you for having me.
- Burnaby Hospital Foundation
About Kristy James
Kristy began her career in the not-for-profit sector at Lions Gate Hospital Foundation where she progressed to Director of Donor Relations over a course of nine years. Her success led to a role as Executive Director with Cystic Fibrosis Canada, and most recently, Chief Executive Officer with Variety – the Children’s Charity in Burnaby. Kristy holds a Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE) designation and a Non-Profit Management Associate Certificate from BCIT. She is a member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) where she has taught the Fundamentals in Fundraising. She spent three years on the West Vancouver Chamber of Commerce board as Secretary and Second Vice President. Kristy also served two years as PAC Chair for her kids’ elementary school. In her spare time she likes to volunteer at events in her community as well as spend time with her two kids.