CEO’s social good challenges

CEO's social good challenges


Last year has been personally challenging for everyone, no doubt about it. But when it comes to social good challenges, few people had a year as demanding as our guest.  We interviewed  Shannon Gorman, President, and CEO of the Queensway Carleton Hospital Foundation in Canada.  She joined the Foundation following an 11-year tenure as the National Director of Community Affairs for TELUS. She has an impressive track record with years of experience in the social good industry. 

She also obtained her master’s of nonprofit leadership and philanthropy at Carleton University and did a certified fundraising executive program with the Association of Fundraising Professionals International. But nothing could really prepare her for the crazy year of 2020. 

But like everything, COVID also has a silver lining. According to Shannon, the rise of donations to the healthcare system in 2020 is like nothing she has ever seen before. She believes that donating can be an empowering act in the face of a disease that has left so many of us feeling helpless. 

Optimy: Why do you think that?

Shannon: We’ve had more first-time donors this year than we’ve ever had historically. So it just shows you if you’re doing good in the community and you can get the word out, people right now, through COVID, despite some financial hardships that people may be having, people want to do something, they want to give back. They want to show their support for hospitals and for the health care and the front line workers. And it’s something they kind of have control over in a world where none of us feel right now, we have a whole lot of control. So being able to support organizations you care about, I think is really meaningful to people at this point in time. 

We had a group of incredible Ottawa home builders that came together and they thought, you know, a lot of people that are working in the hospital right with all the COVID positive patients that are struggling, are afraid to go home at night. They are afraid that they will have some contamination and perhaps pass it to their families, especially if they have somebody vulnerable that they live with. So these home builders gave money so that our staff could stay in hotels if they didn’t feel comfortable going home.

So just the amount of innovation and care that we’ve seen from numerous organizations, just step up and these small restaurants and local like local organizations that have stepped up to do things for the hospital, knowing that their livelihood is impacted by people not being able to go there. It was just incredible to see and something that makes me really proud to be a part of this community. And knowing that as much as the people at the hospital are caring for your loved ones, and in many cases, you know, very ill people, that the community is also caring for the people at the hospital. 


Optimy: How do you keep the momentum going and engage these first-time donors so they keep helping the community in the long run?

Shannon: We have strategies. So every First-Time Donor, that is new to us, we phone them and thank them. We have a conversation. We want to know what inspired them to give. And we find that certainly helps with retention. We really have tried to build a great stewardship program so that people know that we’re here for them and if they need help, they can call us and we can try to help them as well. So, yeah, we’re communicating a lot more electronically.

What was once a weekly newsletter, and that certainly wasn’t sustainable, but it was something that we needed to do early on just to keep people in the know of what was going on because it was a very fearful time for everybody. Now we’re doing that on a monthly basis with a lot more information and telling a lot of donors stories. You really have to tell those good success stories and great things that the hospitals are doing to make sure people feel engaged and know what’s going on. You know, it’s tough. I want to see people. I’m a very social person. I like to meet people. I like to be able to read body language and talk to them. And it’s very difficult at this point in time not being able to do that for me. But we’re certainly doing everything we can to try to engage people, and hopefully get people to want to support us through monthly donations, which is so important to have that sustainable source of income for foundations. So we have conversations with a lot of our donors about that as well. 

Optimy: COVID has also brought new challenges to a well-known issue in the social good industry: the lack of funding. How do you think CEOs should tackle this issue?

Shannon: I think a lot of corporations are kind of scaling back a little bit on funding right now. And I think there are good reasons for that. There’s a lot of uncertainty right now, but there’s still a lot of organizations and especially foundations, private foundations that have quotas that they have to give out on an annual basis. So there’s still money to be obtained. But I think you have to look for it and you have to really build a case for support around that funding to make sure it aligns with the donors’ passion. So, you know, you have to do your research and figure out what that looks like. So, for example, we had a great organization step up and provide us with three ventilators through the early months of COVID because we realized we need these ventilator’s and each ventilator is very expensive. So a donor stepped up, a corporation, and said, “Hey, we’ll buy you three ventilators. Here are one hundred ninety-five thousand dollars to do that”. 

But it was something that totally aligned with that company. And they were passionate about health. They wanted to do something at the right time to support COVID. And we were able to tell them a story about a patient that because they were able to be on a ventilator at this point in time, they were able to survive and ultimately be able to go home to their family. 

So it’s closing that loop. It’s finding a company that aligns with what you’re currently fundraising for doing your research, which is crucial, putting in the right proposal at the right time, and being able to follow up with a real story that’s going to show them the value of what they have funded. 

And, you know, corporations are responsible to their shareholders, and their shareholders need to be able to see the difference that their community investment is making. Community investment in a corporation is the easiest thing to cut. So if you can’t prove that you’re making an impact and making a difference, and that’s through those personal stories that you provide back to the corporation, then chances are that their funding could be reduced. And we don’t want to see that. So I think there’s work that needs to be done before you put us out there. But I think there are numerous different untapped sources of funding that you have to look for and do your research and put together the best proposal you can. 

If you would like to know more about the work of the Queensway Carleton Hospital Foundation, you can access:

To listen to our full interview with Shannon Gorman in which she shares many other tips for Corporate Foundations, click here