Diabetes Canada With Laura Syron

Making a great impact is one of the main goals of a social profit organization. But as with its nature, you have to pull a number of strings in order to make things work—from coordinating with donors to organizing fundraisers and more. Needless to say, the job entails a lot. Yet, with a heart that is ever-willing to serve, nothing is quite impossible. In this episode, Douglas Nelson sits down with Laura Syron, the CEO of Diabetes Canada, to talk about her interesting story that provides a great education for how to build a leadership career in the social profit sector. Laura takes us way back to her role at Heart and Stroke, and then forward to this day where she is putting all the elements of social profit leadership together in one package. This conversation is surely not to miss, most especially if you want to learn the ways to become a great leader who inspires and makes the impact they want.

Listen to the podcast here:

Diabetes Canada With Laura Syron

Our guest is Laura Syron. She’s the CEO of Diabetes Canada. We’re pleased to have her here. Welcome, Laura.

Thank you, Doug. I’m pleased to be here.

Over the course of a number of interviews, we’ve talked to a lot of people about their journeys to the CEO chair. Your journey to CEO of Diabetes Canada is particularly interesting to me and a great education for our readers for how to build a leadership career in the social profit sector. Maybe you could start with your role at Heart and Stroke, and bring us forward to this day, and how you put all of the elements of social profit leadership together in one package.

It’s been something that I’ve been quite deliberate and worked hard about. I appreciate the question. I started at Heart and Stroke back in the mid-‘90s. I was on the mission side of the house. I started as manager of Stroke, but worked up to be VP of all scientific research, advocacy and education. While I loved the mission side, I was there for fifteen years. My goal was to be the CEO of a not-for-profit. I had some great advice from board members at the time. I could also see sitting on the management team that I needed to get direct fundraising experience.

If I could be a CEO that had deep mission, but also deep fundraising, that I would be effective. After about fifteen years, I thought I needed to branch out. I also wanted to be in a community-based national organization like Heart and Stroke. I wanted to try to start honing my fundraising skills at a hospital foundation because it’s a very different model. I was lucky enough to be able to land a job at Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation. It’s one of the main cancer hospitals in Canada based in Toronto. There I was a VP of Community Programs.

That was all our annual giving, our mid-level giving, our third-party events, our digital fundraising and our cultural fundraising. That was an incredible learning journey for me. I was able to bring my mission skills, but also pick up the fundraising skills. I’d been around fundraising for fifteen years at the senior leadership table at Heart and Stroke. Now I had bottom line accountability for delivering the revenue. Also, in a hospital foundation, it is such a different environment. I got to see firsthand excellent major gift fundraising, mid-level in a formal good way. I was able to bring ethno-cultural there. I was able to cut my teeth.

Your job as a fundraiser is to paint the picture in an inspiring way. Click To Tweet

What I missed though was fundraising in a national health charity. At a hospital foundation, you raise the money, but then you hand it over to the hospital for it to be spent. I missed and wanted to be at a table again with the goal of being a CEO, where I was on the side of raising the money, but then I was partnering with my mission and marketing partners to talk about how are we going to spend it. That iteration between, “Here’s what we want to do in mission so how might we think about framing that and inspiring donors with that, but then here’s what donors are interested so how could we think about framing the mission?”

I had the opportunity to go over as Executive Director to the Arthritis Society, which is a national health charity. Not long after that, the Chief Development Officer left and they asked me if I wanted to take that on as well. For two years, I was there doing that. By that point, I had about fifteen years of mission and almost ten years of fundraising. When the CEO role came open at Diabetes Canada, it was a perfect opportunity for me to be able to bring those two sets of competencies together and lead an organization especially during COVID as I’ve come on. I’m thinking about creating a fundraising-first mentality, while also relying on my mission competencies and my deep understanding of stakeholder relations in the health systems environment, etc. I’ve been there for a few months now. What I would say is exactly as I’d hoped. Having both sides of the house has been incredibly valuable in terms of how I can lead the team and understand the ecosystem and the landscape.

Thank you for sharing that. The deliberateness with which you undertook to say, “I’m great on this mission side. I’m going to figure out fundraising,” is a rarity in our sector. It’s a good example of what it takes to be effective in these leadership roles. I’m curious as you’ve done fundraising at the national level and at the hospital, how are the conversations with donors different between the two types of organizations?

There’s a tendency when you’re on a national side to think they’re so much easier in a hospital. In some ways, this is true. My experience in the conversation with donors when you’re in a hospital foundation is the thing for which they are inspired to give tends to be more immediate and quite tangible for them. You can walk them over to the hospital. You can show them the piece of equipment. You can introduce them very specifically to the researcher or clinician that they’re interested in supporting.

You don’t have that on the national side. You can talk about the kinds of researchers that they’re going to support, but there’s no bricks and mortar. Also, in terms of the research because you’re doing a peer reviewed excellent, you don’t always know who’s going to get funded. You can’t be specific. On the other hand, when you’re talking to donors in the national health charity, it necessitates that sense of inspiring the donors, which is important. What is it that, in my case now, Diabetes Canada is doing in its mission activities? What’s its vision, but what’s its unique role?

Your job as a fundraiser is to paint the picture in an inspiring way. You have to do a little bit less in the hospital because the hospital itself paints the picture. Also on the hospital side, where you find your donors is different. The donors that you’re going to get on the hospital side, especially in my case, at a cancer hospital is it’s very true that you’ll very much get the grateful patient donor. That may be grateful, not even in my case, that the person lived, but that the care was so amazing. How you are speaking to the donor, whether it’s in DM, at events, it’s corporate, you’re often talking to them about how this gift could display gratitude.

Whereas when you’re in a national health charity, they are grateful for what the organization does at Heart and Stroke or Diabetes Canada, but it’s a broader and more motherhood sense of gratitude. It’s not, “You saved my life” or “You made my child’s last couple of days.” The donors want to hear on that side like, “Talk to me about the unique difference your organization is making. Don’t just talk to me about research. Don’t just talk about education. If Diabetes Canada didn’t exist, what wouldn’t be happening to people living with diabetes or people at risk of diabetes? What’s the unique role in the ecosystem?”

DSP 11 | Diabetes Canada
Diabetes Canada: When you’re in a hospital foundation, donors are inspired to give in a way that tends to be more immediate and quite tangible for them.

 

To me, you’re talking to donors when you’re in a national community-based health charity or any kind of charity. You’re talking a lot more and you’re painting a picture of an ecosystem. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a DM donor or a corporate donor and anything. You’re talking about in a sense of your unique value proposition. Whereas when you’re at a hospital, they’ve almost already experienced that unique value proposition because it happened to them or someone that they loved. The storytelling is different and the motivations might be different.

In a community-based one, it may be almost like an insurance. If I give to Heart and Stroke or Diabetes, I hope one day when myself or a loved one gets diagnosed, there’s been more progress on the research. You’ve advocated for a better system of coverage or access to medications. Whereas when I give on the hospital foundation side, either it’s out of gratitude or at maybe a local community hospital. When I go there, I hope there’s an extra MRI machine so that my weight is less. One is more the thinking of the future and the other one is thinking of more immediate and what might happen. They’re neither good or bad, they’re just quite different.

It’s been fascinating for me watching a number of the national health community-based organizations try to diversify their revenue and move into significant philanthropy or major gifts. It’s challenging for them to adapt their case for support to make it that tangible that this is what you’re giving to. We’ve seen a lot of organizations struggle. You mentioned one of your goals at Diabetes Canada is to create a fundraising-first mentality. Say a little bit more about what that means on a day-to-day basis and how that might lead Diabetes Canada to being able to ask and receive for those significant major gifts.

In terms of my experiences where I’m trying to change a bit of a culture of, “We’re a big disease, which we are. Therefore, the money will come in and we will do X with the money.” Historically big organizations like Heart and Stroke, Cancer and Diabetes may have had to do less selling of themselves because you gave to them. They were big diseases and a whole bunch of things, which we could do a whole another show on. They have changed over time, donors’ expectations, the way Millennials and other people want to be involved in giving back and all that kind of business. When I came to Diabetes Canada for example, at the senior leadership table when we meet weekly, why was there not a lot of discussion around what was happening in fundraising? Not just updating results but, how are we speaking to donors? How are we talking about things?

I’ll give you an example. I’ve given a speech that I’m now recording virtually to be shown at a virtual gala That we’re doing in Manitoba. Diabetes Canada, meaning our volunteer committee. I want to thank our committee. The language is all about Diabetes Canada as hero, not volunteer and donor as hero. We must switch that. If we’re congratulating ourselves on why these people want to support us, that’s not going to inspire people. It’s got to be, “Even in COVID and you couldn’t do it in person, you guys rallied together. We just supported you to make it happen. Without you, we couldn’t be doing this gala.” First of all, it’s true. Second of all, if I’m a donor and I’m sitting in that gala audience, I potentially have the possibility of making a transformational gift when I hear an organization speak like that, putting the donors and volunteers at the center and as the hero, and then framing the work we have to do.

I had them rewrite the speech to talk about it is because of people like you. It is because of supporters and volunteers that we may be able to end diabetes, which is our tagline. It’s about the framing. That may sound small, but that’s one small example of, as we write our DM, as we do our advocacy work, as we speak in our education, we’ve done a lot of now webinars and stuff, how are we positioning the organization so that we make sure we’re doing soft asks in everything we do, but we’re doing them in a way that isn’t transactional but inspirational. For me, that’s the shift. It’s how much airtime are we thinking about fundraising.

A phrase that I learned a long time ago at Heart and Stroke that I always think of is, “No money, no mission. No mission, no money.” It’s so true. If you don’t have a compelling mission, it’s going to be hard for you to attract donors. At the same time, you can have the most compelling mission, if you don’t focus on fundraising, if you somehow think fundraising is the dirty side of that coin, you’re not going to succeed. It’s not the dirty side of the coin. They must work synergistically and wrapped together as the connective tissue of marketing.

No money, no mission. No mission, no money. Click To Tweet

What I took from my time at Princess Margaret is this sense that people are generous and they either want to show gratitude or be inspired. They see family members with diabetes and they do want to end diabetes. How do you honor that by creating opportunities for them to display that inspiration or that gratitude or whatever, versus the thinking of, “We better go ask these people for money?” It’s completely different. As I took over Diabetes Canada, this idea that fundraising is asking for money versus fundraising is being able to frame our mission in a way that inspires people to support it. That might sound like work but to me, it’s not.

It’s important. It is the answer to national community-based fundraising. It’s also the answer to how to fundraise during the COVID pandemic. The organizations that we see that are successful are the ones that are talking about the impact of the pandemic on the people they serve, on the mission they serve, rather than talking about the pandemic’s impact on the organizations themselves. Being able to reflect back why we’re all here at Diabetes Canada. You’re there to serve Canadians with diabetes and reduce the number of Canadians who are diagnosed on an annual basis with Type 2 diabetes. You have a constituency that you are serving. The donors that are giving to your organization care about that constituency. That’s what you should be talking about. It’s refreshing to hear you talk that way. It’s much more than words. It is everything when it comes to firing up and sustaining a fundraising engine.

COVID has thrown a wrench in things, but it separated organizations who have said “woe is me” a bit, or “Without you, we’re not going to survive.” Instead, for example, “With COVID, people that live with diabetes and get COVID have much worse outcomes. We don’t know why yet, but I have made sure from my time when we came in that the work that you’re supporting is even more important because people living with diabetes are suffering from COVID, so help us help them.”

They’re both true. We’re down like everybody else, but it comes back to inspiration. How do you want to encourage people to think about supporting you? The other thing I would say during COVID is that support doesn’t always have to be monetary. How can you get involved in our advocacy efforts? We put out something about food and security, which has been heightened during COVID. We’ve been communicated to by people living with diabetes that sometimes there’s now hard choices between being able to afford their medication and healthy food.

How can we, first of all, help those people? What can we do to advocate to government, etc.? Partly what we can say to people is, “Not only we’d love you to support us with a donation, but would you sign this petition? Would you show your support?” Sometimes we’re having the conversations that to me, remind me very much of major gift conversations. Sometimes those first moves in moves management aren’t about the ask at all. It’s about, “Would you sign this petition?” The government in the Yukon started covering all continuous glucose monitors and flash monitors for everyone in the Yukon. It’s going to make a huge difference. Part of that was an advocacy effort that we went out to people. There was no financial ask other than “We know we were at a tipping point here, would you help us carry this across the finish line?” We did. With those people, now they can see it. You then go back to fundraising 101, “Thank you for doing that. Without you, this wouldn’t have happened.”

I want to pivot slightly away from fundraising for a time, which is rare for me to ever say that. I’m interested in your experience coming in as the new CEO of Diabetes Canada. I’m not telling tales out of school that there had been a number of people who’d been in that chair in years. There has been some turnover. You knew about that turnover going in. How did that revolving door look, how you came into the role and how you approached coming in as CEO?

It wasn’t a very important consideration as I thought about my first 30, 60, 90 days. One of the decisions I had to make was, did I address it head on or did I treat it as history? I thought I would address it head on and I’m glad I did. One of the things I acknowledged upfront not only to my senior leadership team, but to the whole organization was that “I know you’ve been through lots of change.” When I came in the organization, there were about 160 people. At that time, it was COVID too, but I was explicit. I do all staff email on Fridays. There have been a lot of leadership changes. There have been a lot of changes during COVID. I know there’s a weariness here.

DSP 11 | Diabetes Canada
Diabetes Canada: When you’re talking to donors in the national health charity, it necessitates that sense of inspiring the donors, which is important.

 

Part of my approach to that was transparency. My style has often been described as authentic. I thought that given that’s my style, it’s better to acknowledge what people would be thinking like, “Here we go again. Here’s the next CEO.” Rather than pretend it didn’t exist, acknowledge it. There were times that I would be starting meetings and I’m like, “We’re going to talk about the strategy thing, whether it’s fundraising, mission or marketing. Excuse me if I’m asking questions that have been asked a lot already because I know you guys have had a lot of different changes here.”

It’s the 100th anniversary of insulin, and Diabetes Canada has big plans for it. When I came in, they take me through the plans and I have to say I wasn’t on board with them. Because there had been so much change, my approach was, “There have been a lot of great thinking here. Here are some of the concerns I’m having. Can you help me understand if those concerns have already been brought up and how they were addressed? Being respectful, being acknowledging of the change but also being decisive. Partly, when people go through a lot of change, they need to feel too that this new person is in charge, and the things that have been on hold until the new leader comes are not going to be keep on hold.

There were a number of things where it’s like, “Take me through this. That’s on hold. Let’s go do this. Let’s make some change or let’s proceed.” That seemed to be appreciated so that there was some traction. From my point, often you say you want a new job or you want some early wins. I think it was more the organization needed to see that they weren’t going to be in this stasis all the time. Life went on, business goes on, there’s a solid new leader. She’s listening, but she can also act. This is back to your initial question. This is where having both the mission side and the fundraising side has been super helpful. There were projects on both those sides that had been in stasis or that had maybe gone off the rails a bit.

Because of my experience, I had a lot of comments in the first couple of weeks of, “You know about the research community. Now we can make some decisions here. Or you know about a mid-level giving program. We can move,” versus we’re going to have to wait for the CEO to get up to speed and maybe bring in consultants or do whatever. My depths of experience helped with that too because they hadn’t had a CEO in the last couple who had both sides of the house.

In an organization that’s had a lot of leadership change. You can have some team members, some senior leaders in the organization keeping their head down and trying to wait out the CEO like they waited out the one before and the one before that. That resistance to change is real. We have one client that we’ve worked with for a couple of years now. They came in and was in a situation similar to yours coming in as the CEO. The first thing that she did was say, “We’re doing a new strategic plan.” Everybody went, “Oh.” It was the third time they’d heard it in several months. She reversed course and said, “Let’s define what we’re doing first and then we can set a plan for what we’re going to do next.” It paid a lot of dividends for that. It sounds like that’s very similar to the approach you’ve taken.

One of the things the board gave me a mandate to do was to start a three-year strap plan. When I came in, I said, “We’re doing this.” They had heard that, but it became very apparent to me in a couple months that our fiscal starts January. We were going to try to have too many trains running on too many tracks. We were trying to do a three-year strategy and annual business plan. We were trying to get through COVID. It ended up sadly having to do a lot of downsizing because of COVID. Part of a good leader too is knowing when there are too many trains moving on too many tracks. I went to the chair of the board and said, “Let’s put this on pause. I know it’s important but at some point, we’re going to burn out our people. Given the very unique circumstances of COVID, the whole organization will feel better.”

I had said we were about 160 and now we’re down to about 95. It was very important for us to rally around something concrete. I said, “Let’s focus on getting the 2021 business plan locked and loaded. We’ll then restart the train on the strap planning.” There was such a huge sigh of relief from my team that we don’t have to have so many plates spinning at the same time. There’s an acknowledgement that, “We’re tired of all the plates spinning.” It’s not that the team doesn’t think it’s a good thing to do. It was more about me getting the sense of what’s the right timing especially during these unusual times.

If you don't have a compelling mission, it's going to be hard for you to attract donors. Click To Tweet

People were trying to blocking and tackling like my department got downsized by half so we’ve got to find new ways of doing thing. If you’re in payroll and you have half the staff and you’re trying to figure out you’re also being asked to contribute to a business plan while you’re also doing strap plans. I got to learn how to do my job, who’s even still on the team, who do I reach out to and all that business. It’s not just burnout from the leaders, but it’s also the good leader.

Someone said to me when I started this, “CEOs have two jobs, setting direction and setting pace.” That’s essentially it. That was helpful for me because that’s exactly it. I thought, “I’m setting direction, but I don’t think we’re at the right pace.” Sometimes that means speeding up the pace, but sometimes in this case, it’s slowing it down or putting it on pause. You have to have the temperature of your organization to know that.

I have said to many boards over the last couple of months is that one of the defining characteristics of the organizations that will be successful through this pandemic are the ones that have the confidence to limit their choices. There was instinct, particularly after the initial shock of the pandemic, as organizations moved through April, May and into June, “Now we should blue sky and re-imagine our future.” I’m like, “No, if you’re needing to re-imagine your future, you should re-imagine whether you’re still operating in September, but focus on what is the value you deliver to your donors, what value you deliver to your mission first and foremost, and work back from there.” Make it as skinny as possible. What you’re doing, you’re executing very well. That is what’s going to be your momentum as we move through this pandemic. The organizations that are fundraising are never going to be the same. We’re going to re-imagine. It’s a risky road.

You’re not saying don’t pivot. For example, we’ve pivoted a lot of our educational opportunities online. We may never pivot back. Everyone’s getting tired of the word pivot. To your point, what you’re talking about that is different is, “How were we as an organization?” To me, the last thing your folks need, whether your staff, volunteers, those you serve and in our case, researchers, clinicians, etc., there’s already so much change. Saying during a time like this that we may fundamentally change again doesn’t make sense.

The other thing I would add to that that’s been very helpful to me is this is a time to pull out your values as an organization and to rename them if you weren’t already doing this. Some organizations do this beautifully. Some they’re on their website or they’re up on a wall somewhere. As you said, we had to go from planning in three years to three weeks. It had to be like, who knows if our stores even open. For us, our National Diabetes Trust uses Value Village. They’re not open or whatever. One thing that should be consistent is your values.

One of the first things I did when I came in was like, “What are our values?” It was interesting. There was mixed understanding of who could name them. It came back to, “Let’s put them on a piece of paper and let’s talk in my Friday emails, in our team meetings. In the three weeks, when someone was able to do this, that demonstrated the value of transparency or that demonstrated the value of partnership or whatever your values are.” At this time right now, not only should you not re-imagine, but you should almost go back to basics and don’t forget that values are part of your basics and ground people.

When people came to your organization in the first place, at some level they were jiving with the values of your organization. How do you put those out front and center again? For me, part of that too is what I’ve heard positive feedback in. When you do that, it also shows that you’re caring about your people. I’m saying people broadly like stakeholders, people living with volunteers. It’s not just as part of what they’re doing to help end diabetes, but as people. We’re all seeing a different side. We’re on Zoom conversations. We’re this and that. The values help to humanize it again too. To me, that’s been an essential part of it.

DSP 11 | Diabetes Canada
Diabetes Canada: Donors can make a transformational gift when an organization puts the donors and volunteers at the center and as the hero.

 

One of the things I’ve observed is that in a world, in a situation that is very unpredictable, successful leaders are the ones that give some predictability to their teams, some measure of confidence and predictability to their boards. Reflecting on your board, your board hires you. What I see is they had probably been an organization that have had some CEO transition. The boards are usually closer to the operation. It’s sometimes all the way up to their elbows, sometimes it’s their fingertips, but they’re usually right into the organization. How did you approach getting the board to move from a ground level back to closer to that 10,000-meter level that we want to see them at?

Three things I would say, the first is I understood that I had to earn that. They should be operating strategically and not operationally, but there are lots of should haves in the world. This was a board that had to go through COVID essentially with an interim CEO. What I’m saying is an acknowledgement that there were hardworking and amazing people on our board, and not to have the assumption that they’re operating out of some negative motivation. To assume good intention and to say, “As they see me come in and as they see me take the reins, and as I get small wins and build confidence, I’m assuming that at least some of them, if not all, will start backing off.” That’s indeed what’s started to happen.

The second thing has been having some clear governance conversation. It’s not so much about the CEO to the board, but there were a number of fingers in as well as eyes in that were happening on some of the board committees. What I did was I got out the terms of reference of the committee and had the honest/half naive conversation with the committee chairs. It’s interesting that on this agenda, this is on there, but when I’m looking at the terms, help me understand because where I’ve come from, that wouldn’t be an item that would normally show up. A little bit playing dumb and a little bit naive, but using Diabetes Canada’s own governance to help reframe it. It wasn’t, I’m reframing it. It’s what you guys said is not what’s happening.

The last thing I would say is I’m transparent. I’m blessed with an amazing chair. She and I very quickly got to where we had very transparent conversations. I was able in our status to meet with her weekly. In our status to start saying not week one or two but, “I’m noticing this. I want to push a little bit because in my experience, that’s not how I would normally see it. I wanted to see if this is something that you see ongoingly that you guys would be involved in, or you’re trying to move back out?” For the most part, then I would get, “No good catch. We’re trying to move back out. We got used to this.”

To the point where when we had it, there was a couple of board members that are policing each other, where questions will come and they’ll be like, “That feels a bit operational.” We don’t have to say it. They’re doing it. It all started with understanding that there may be a reason that happened. I didn’t want to presuppose that that’s how they wanted to be operating. Indeed, that’s what started to happen over the past couple of weeks. As I’m having chats with board members, they are starting to say, “Thank God,” because we were putting many hours in. Remember it’s during COVID that all this happened too. We were down in the weeds in certain people’s cases. It was exhausting and I didn’t want to be there and please tell me to get out. When you hit that point, it’s good.

It’s one of the advises I often give to clients and CEOs that I’m talking with, don’t just focus on what the board is doing, focus on the direction that the board is moving. Knowing that the board is stepping back and in some cases with some boards for good reason, some for not great reasons. It takes a long time to get back to that 10,000 meters. Each step is about establishing credibility. Others are far more willing to get back up there for reasons of history, circumstance and the individuals around the table. As the CEO, you’ve got to know your audience and know what direction they’re moving. You know where you want to get them and often it’s just patience.

When I was at Heart and Stroke, we used to have this running joke about the board was about a third, a third, and a third. A third of them loved operating at the strategic level. You could always count on them to help pull the others up. A third could go either way. Depending on how the conversation went, they could get dragged right down that rabbit hole, or they could get pulled right up. A third, you could often tell them, and you can tell them all because they used to come with paper copies, not their iPads. They had highlighted every line. They had notes in the margin. Those people you had to identify early on.

It’s great that they’re thorough and that they’ve done prep, but you knew your audience. You prepared as a senior leadership team. If these folks start going there, how were we going to try to deflect up. Sometimes even how can we speak with the other third and then the top third in a sense to help manage that. In my experience, a third, a third, a third is a pretty darn good rule. If you ever think you’re going to have a board that doesn’t have that third that’s very thorough, it would be one way to put it or I might say operational and tactical, you’re fooling yourself.

Part of a good leader, too, is knowing when there are too many trains moving on too many tracks. Click To Tweet

My magic wand or my mission in the board work that we do here at the Discovery Group is if we could eliminate the following phrase, “You know what we should do around the board table,” the social profit sector in Canada would have an immediate 15% to 20% increase in efficiency and effectiveness. It is well-intentioned 99% of the time. Setting tactics with a veil of strategy is damaging to the momentum and sustainability of organizations. Well-governed organizations are the ones that are going to be strongest coming through this pandemic. The ones that have that operational board leadership, where maybe it’s more than a third that want to be elbow deep in the organization are going to struggle to be nimble enough to adapt to the changes that are coming.

It’s also going to be hard for CEOs. I don’t find myself in this position, thankfully. I cut from 160 to 95, but for those organizations that started at 50 down to 20, at some point you may need the arms and legs of board members. You may need them to play multiple roles. You don’t have a lot of people left. How do you navigate? You can do it, but it’s more challenging. How do you navigate when you say it? In my experience I’ve had that like, “Help me understand what hats you’re wearing now.” You’re reframing it for them like, “I’m here talking to you as a board member. I’m not here talking to you as someone who had to go drive the food share van.” The person might be playing both roles, but helping the person understand.

When I was at Heart and Stroke, we had the chair of the board for a while who had to be the interim CEO. When we got the CEO on, I found with her a lot of times that I had to reframe that. I had to keep saying to her, “Is this with your former interim CEO hat on or is this with the board?” I only had to do that a couple of times until she got the clue. People are going to have to do that because you may have to use people. We’re all in tough times. You may have to use board members to do things that you didn’t think you’d ever have to do. That’s fine as long as they’re clear in that role.

It is going to be fascinating to see how all of this shakes out as we move through this pandemic. One thing I’m pretty sure of is that Diabetes Canada is in good hands with you and the CEO chair. I want to thank you very much for making the time to be a part of this discussion here.

Thank you. I’ve enjoyed it. It’s my pleasure.

Important Links:

  • https://www.Diabetes.ca

About Laura Syron

DSP 11 | Diabetes Canada“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.”

This quote by John Quincy Adams embodies the leadership qualities I’ve embraced throughout my career. In fact, it has become a driving force in my intentional pursuit of some of the most challenging and sought-after portfolios at Canada’s top charitable organizations. And it’s why I am honoured to be the President & CEO of Diabetes Canada.

Diabetes Canada has a clear vision – to End Diabetes. And to achieve that vision, all of us need to dream more, learn more, do more and become more – a truly collective effort to support the 11 million Canadians living with or at risk of developing diabetes while working to find a cure for it.

Diabetes Canada is the nation’s most trusted provider of diabetes education, research, resources, and services. Our organization has helped millions of Canadians affected by diabetes understand it, manage it, and combat complications since 1953.

Prior to my role at Diabetes Canada, I’ve been privileged to steer and manage high performing teams resulting in game changing success for the not-for-profits (NFPs) I have worked for, including:

• Arthritis Society (Chief Development Officer): creating greater clarity around this organization’s fundraising vision which led to the Society’s first-ever seven figure major gift and the launch of a $3M mid-level giving program
• Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation (VP Community Programs): strategically managed Foundation’s community-facing fundraising programs, driving 15% growth in net revenue
• Heart & Stroke Foundation (VP, Research, Advocacy and Health Promotion): strengthened and grew relationships with research and government stakeholders creating real and tangible change including establishing Canada’s first Research Centre for Stroke Recovery and leading the program that placed the first wave of AEDs across Ontario

What has led to my successful trajectory in this sector? Two things: My passion for building positive working relationships within complex NFP structures; and my experience that success comes when mission and fundraising are understood as two inseparable sides of the same coin.

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