AHP Connect Member Profile - Aaron Sanderson
Aaron Sanderson, FAHP, CFRE
Vice President, Philanthropy
Plan International Canada
AHP member since 2015
Why did you choose to make health care philanthropy your career?
My first role was a co-op position when I was still an undergraduate student. It was as a prospect researcher with BC Children’s Hospital Foundation; it gave me a panoramic view of all the fundraising portfolios and events. It was there I fell in love with both health care and philanthropy.
It comes across in your Forty Under Forty profile that you have a passion for helping children. Explain how you bring that passion to your work.
When I was much younger, I volunteered at my church teaching Sunday School and as a coach at my gymnastics center. I had been working with children for some time leading up to my opportunity at the children’s hospital.
Our planet faces so many challenges. I believe that if we want to see real change, we need a generational approach—and we have to start with kids. Heath is, of course, a basic need, so I think in some ways, it makes practical sense to marry the two and focus on child health.
What does being a part of our inaugural Forty Under Forty class mean to you?
I’m very flattered and humbled. It does come with some pressure, though: the spotlight is on us to do great things in our years ahead. But more importantly, I think it’s an important acknowledgement that there’s real talent out there among young fundraisers.
For a long time, fundraising was a late-stage career switch. Today, that’s not the case: young people are choosing fundraising straight out of college. Forty Under Forty recognizes that there are younger folks in leadership positions in the sector who are making significant contributions.
You already have your FAHP recognition, which is an amazing accomplishment for someone so young. What would you say to someone looking to get their FAHP recognition about its value to a career in health care fundraising?
If we want our profession to advance and be taken seriously, we have to maintain high standards. Just like other professions, that’s what a credentialing or accreditation program does. It also demonstrates that fundraising is a true professional career track.
Especially for young or early-career fundraisers, we sometimes run up against doubt from donors and colleagues about our abilities or expertise. A credential can be a badge that helps you challenge those misconceptions.
Tell me about the A Night of Miracles Gala you did for BC Children’s Hospital. How did you start that and what has been its impact?
At BC Children’s, I went to my boss with an unsolicited plan to raise $1 million with the province’s South Asian community. Part of that plan was the A Night of Miracles Gala.
I had spent time working with the community, getting to know them, their values and their preferred modes of engagement. Sometimes it was pretty different from what the foundation had done historically.
Likewise, there wasn’t an event for a major gift audience for the foundation from the community. Often, community leaders were new Canadians who had established successful businesses and had done quite well. The gala was a strategic move to engage those folks.
There were two key ingredients to get started. One was finding a volunteer who believed in it as much as we did; we found someone fantastic who went above and beyond. The second was to convince the foundation that it was worth it. We did—and it paid off. It was very innovative at the time; I still don’t see many other events like it.
It sounds like there were challenges you faced with getting your leadership on board, and I am sure there are challenges in other parts of your work as well. How do you address those challenges?
Part of it was the million-dollar plan: I had a business case for it. But I also needed an internal advocate. My boss (and mentor) was very helpful; there were also key leaders at the hospital who were South Asian. Their buy-in was essential.
It was just like working with donors: get the right influencers, put it in the right format and convincingly make the case.
For someone who is looking to see their name on a future Forty Under Forty list for AHP, what advice would you give that person?
First, never believe that just because you’re young, you can’t do great things. You can. Rid yourself of any doubts. Next, work confidently and with the right support around you. Learn with humility from others, including mentors, peers and the profession’s body of knowledge.
Perhaps most importantly, lift up those around you. Celebrate your peers, staff and superiors, and they’ll do the same for you. We all need that.
Then, boldly press forward with the causes you support.