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AHP Connect Member Profile - Debra A. Gill, MPA, CFRE, FAHP

AHP Staff
Published:  07/30/2018

Debra_GillDebra A. Gill, MPA, CFRE, FAHP

Vice President and Director, Western Division

Ghiorsi & Sorrenti, Inc.

Bozeman, MT

AHP member since 1998

Debra (Lefever) Gill has 32 years of organizational fundraising and capital campaign experience crossing a variety of not-for-profit sectors including health care, education and social service organizations. She is widely recognized as a highly skilled philanthropy professional with extensive knowledge of not-for-profit management, fiscal administration and executive leadership.

What inspired you to start a career in health care philanthropy?

My father was a family physician for his entire career, so I grew up within hospitals. As my fundraising career was evolving, I saw the opportunity to establish a foundation with a hospital in my hometown of Bozeman, Montana. It seemed like the right fit to be able to carry on my father’s legacy with patients and families without having to go to medical school. I knew I wanted to continue to work in philanthropy and had been for almost 10 years at that time. Being able to work for a hospital and start their program from scratch and build the infrastructure to create a stable long-term foundation was the perfect opportunity for me. While I moved on after 16 ½ years, I’m proud to serve as their counsel now and continue to see the organization thrive and grow.

What area of giving are you (or your clients) most focused on?

While I specialize in all areas of philanthropy, I primarily focus on capital campaigns and helping hospitals of all sizes be prepared for and properly manage their capital campaigns. My goal is to help clients maximize philanthropic support while facilitating the development of life-long meaningful relationships with internal and external prospects. Ultimately, it’s about growing a strong culture of philanthropy by implementing industry best practices and applying customized strategy for each situation. 

What are some challenges you see your clients face, and how do you help them address those challenges?

Like all nonprofits, hospitals are pressed for donors. We are constantly trying to find new and innovative ways to engage donors so they not only trust that their philanthropic dollars are being well-invested, but they are able to interact with the organization in a meaningful way. I think the most exciting examples are opportunities to integrate traditional infrastructure funding needs, such as buildings and technology, with programmatic priorities such as population health and prevention into campaign cases. This tactic enables donors to recognize they are helping people to live better lives and preventing what could be catastrophic health issues. In addition, I think the attention that the cost of health care has been given on a national level, and the number of people who are still struggling to receive the care they need, has really opened doors for people to understand the importance of funding that need. We’re working creatively with our hospital clients to not only fund the traditional capital needs, but to identify other giving opportunities as well. This seems to be inspiring donors of all generations to continue to support health care.

Is there a particular campaign you helped a client with that sticks out to you?

One of the most exciting campaigns I’m working on is with a children’s psychiatric hospital in Montana – Shodair Children’s Hospital.  It is the only acute and residential children’s psychiatric hospital in the state of Montana, so they are the safety net for our kids. Because Montana has an unusually high teen suicide rate, the work being done to expand their facilities and increase access has the potential to impact families in ways we don’t even understand. Historically, as we all know, mental health has not been discussed publicly. We’re not only working to raise money. We’re working to help people be comfortable with the mental health conversation and to understand how important early intervention and prevention is in the lives of young people. It’s about more than just philanthropy, but the philanthropy creates the opportunity to have those conversations.

Have you seen any success in that campaign in creating those conversations and the opportunity for additional support for mental health services?

Yes, definitely. We are still in the early stages of the campaign, but during the planning study, most of those we spoke with were shocked by the need and surprised to learn about the level of services Shodair provides. While they may have known about the hospital, until they got into the details about what was happening behind the walls, by reading the Case for Support, they just didn’t really understand the impact their gifts could have. It’s too early now to talk about the financial success, but we already know it’s going to be a historic campaign for them and that they will be building philanthropic relationships throughout the state. It’s very exciting to say the least.

What can attendees expect from your Philanthropy 2028 panel at the 2018 AHP Annual International Conference?

I wanted to bring together a panel of people who have made compelling AHP presentations over the years and those who I think have a really important story to share with their peers. Most importantly, I want them to help us look to the future and make sure we’re all preparing the way we should as health care philanthropy professionals. I’ll pose questions like: What do we need to be thinking about in terms of how donor relationships are going to change? How does our health care case for support need to evolve? What kind of impact is social media going to have on the way we do our work? We’ll cover lots of topics. Everything is changing so quickly in our field, and it’s certainly not the same field I entered 30 plus years ago — when we didn’t even have computers.  I think hearing from these professionals who have seen a lot of change and understanding what they think the future may hold would help everyone in the room prepare themselves for the next decade of their careers.

What is a piece of advice you would give to someone new in health care philanthropy?

My advice is to be a lifelong learner. Whether you’re new to health care philanthropy or have been in it for decades, there’s always something to learn that can help you be better at your work. Never assume that you know everything you need to know. Attending conferences, finding internet resources, reading books or gaining mentors, whatever works for each person — there’s always value in learning. I learn a tremendous amount from my clients every day. We can never stop moving forward with our preparation for being the best possible professional we can be in the field.

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