AHP Connect Member Profile - Amy Grenzebach Day
Amy Grenzebach Day, CFRE
VP, Office of Advancement
Loyola Health System & Loyola Health Sciences Division
AHP member since 2006
What do you love most about working in health care philanthropy?
I like working with health care administrators: physicians, nurses and frontline caregivers. Primarily because early on in my life I just wasn’t smart enough to go to medical or nursing school. I just didn’t have that particular skillset. I’m in awe of people who have that ability to heal and help people through the most difficult part of the lives or — even as important — to help them die with dignity. This is my way of being a partner in that process. Folks who go into health care are incredibly smart, and so working with partners who are that bright really make it a pleasure.
The second part is having the opportunity to work with donors who have the desire to invest and make a difference in the future. When someone says, “Thank you for helping my family and me make a difference in the community,” or, “I made this gift and I’m over my deductions that I can take, but it felt so good that I want to continue the conversation about my next gift.” To see folks so happy and engaged and living their best life because they’re making a difference in the lives of others… it’s incredible to be a part of that process.
How did you end up in health care philanthropy?
It was a total accident. I was traveling for a sales job and I sat next to someone who was leaving a job at the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and she was charged with finding her replacement. I just happened to say I was traveling a lot for work and wanted to get out of travel, and she suggested this career path even though it was a total shift for me. But I thought I’d give it a go.
Both sides of my family have fundraisers who go way back, so it’s funny that I never ever considered it. But even at that time it wasn’t something I had considered in my head. It was happenstance.
I went from the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation to what is now the Lurie Children’s Hospital – at the time it was the Children’s Memorial Hospital – and stayed there a number of years. I so loved it there.
What made you fall in love with this industry?
I was at Children’s Memorial, a young major gifts officer working with a board member who was the chair of the board at the time. I was extraordinarily nervous during these exchanges because it was one of the first gifts of the campaign – to build the new Lurie Children’s Hospital. I was a new gifts officer and never asked for a seven-figure gift before.
In any case, working with this board member on this campaign, I got to know him well. I really had a great interaction with him and I was getting to the heart of what would help him make a difference in the community. He became very engaged with the board. Eventually, in partnership with a board member, I went in and did the first presentation.
I’m glad it was a wooden desk because my knees on the other side were shaking, so you couldn’t see those. I asked him what it would take for him to consider a seven-figure gift to an organization that has been so beneficial to him.
He was solicited by the board the next day. It was the right person, it was the right amount and it was the right project.
I went in about a week later to have another discussion, and he was making the gift. His family wanted it to be confidential because he never made a gift of that magnitude and he was a well-known name in the city.
He told me, “Thank you for helping my family make this pivotal gift in the community.”
That was the moment when I thought, “This is the connection. This is the difference I can make.” I will probably never make a seven-figure gift in my lifetime, and I can’t do the healing work of pediatricians, but being able to match those individuals in the community who want to make a difference with the folks who can make a difference… it was an ah-ha moment for me.
About a week later, one of his grandchildren was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, and it was so traumatic. He took comfort in the fact that he had made such a major gift in advance of that diagnosis to help children like his grandchild.
Before that happened, I was an annual giving and events officer with our related organization, and there was a relatively contentious gift where a group had pulled out from funding something called a radiosurgery system for Dr. Tadanori Tomita, a neurosurgeon who helped children. He needed this equipment and they backed out from funding it.
Through a series of discussions with another affiliate organization, it was finally funded. I got to witness all of those things that fundraisers experience: the difficulties, the barriers, the challenges. And I was young — I was 29 at the time — but I helped get the funding through one of these groups and they worked so hard for this. I convinced them in partnership with the leadership and physicians that this was a great investment.
Dr. Tomita eventually performed the surgery. One of the first folks he performed the surgery on was a girl named Stephanie. And Stephanie went on to testify to Congress about the importance in investing in brain tumor research several years later. I had a moment at that point, too. Were it not for this investment in this equipment and the doctor’s ability to perform the surgery and Stephanie’s resiliency and ability to articulate the importance of investing, none of this would have happened. But it had to start with funding equipment. To see a teenager have that day in the spotlight and really advocate for the research dollars — it blew me away to be even a tangential part of that process.
That was one of those moments where I was like, okay, this is what I was made to do.
At AHP’s 2018 Annual International Conference, you presented about using art and science to support major gift fundraising. Why do you think that blend of art and science is so important in fundraising?
I try to present as much as I can because AHP has offered so much, not only in the learning but in the collegiality, the partnership and the ability to engage with my peers. It makes all the difference because I can share with them, I can learn from and I find AHP is something that has brought us together as an industry. I’ve never seen an industry that is willing to share and lift each other up as much as this one.
Why I think the arts and sciences are so important — there’s no question that our revenues are declining in health care. Philanthropy is being leaned on more and more to really produce results and help us keep people in their best state of wellness.
Sadly, because of all the changes in health care in this country, it’s reliant on philanthropy because operating margins remain very low.
There’s an art to this. It’s incredibly important that you have a heart and passion for it. Listen to people and meet them where there are. That’s critical. I think in this industry, we’ve always been good at the art, and continue to refine that and have our own personal styles. But I also think that fundraisers are like cowboys and that science needs to be applied to create incredible efficiency. So that’s the blend of the arts and sciences.
And it’s not just a balance between the two — we talked about that in our session. With a balance, anything can tip the scale and it can come crashing down. But if it’s a blend, it’s more synergistic and the science becomes part of the art.
In the process, we talked about enhancing major gift performance. Many people think applying science to major gifts fundraising often feels restrictive. But I argue that applying the science really allows the process to take over and to put much more energy on the art.
On the flip side, as someone who is so invested in the art and pays so much attention to the people at the highest possible level, it allows the art to flourish.
How does the team sport aspect that is comparable to baseball play out in fundraising?
I’m a team player. I played sports all through college. I swam. I learned that sometimes the spotlight is on you, and you have to be up there and you have to perform. But it’s incumbent on everyone on the team to perform. I keep that team aspect in everything I do.
There’s no question in terms of how we operate, how we respect one another and how we give credit. We’re a team, and we consider the team to include administrators and physicians. Over the past two-and-half years, we’ve totally changed the culture. And culture is everything. You can’t succeed without the right culture.
To me, culture needs to be about sharing specific goals, celebrating our successes across the team, being open and honest and recognizing each teammate is a unique individual with contributions make. I ask people for their input and then expect once decisions are made that we move forward collectively and collaboratively. Even when we have different opinions, we move together as a team. From the gifts officer, to the development services officer, to the frontline fundraisers, to a physician pointing out how we can improve. And I’m big on performance improvement and costless engineering and continual improvement.
I believe everyone can be a leader. You don’t have to have vice president in your title to be a leader. Improvements and observations are made by everyone on the team. That develops a participatory leadership environment and engages people. I pride myself, and this is what our industry needs to work on – on being someone people want to work with. I hope. I don’t have a lot of trouble recruiting and I don’t have a lot of people leaving. People are offered a belonging to the team.
In an industry when the average tenure can be 18 months to two years, and the average major gift can take up to four years — that’s a lot of turnover. So I’m dedicated to really talking about this, changing it and offering new pathways for folks to grow within their development shop — much as I had the opportunity to grow throughout my career.
What advice would you give to someone just starting out?
I tell physicians, administrators, colleagues — if you have anyone you know who is interested in becoming a fundraiser, or anyone you think might be a good fundraiser, I’ll meet with them any time, any day. I meet with college kids. I meet with people who are in their 60s and looking for a second career. I meet with people all the time.
I refer them to other people in the city if I know there’s a position open. That gets back to our collegial environment. I do that because it allows me to see what talent’s out there, and it allows me to recruit when the time is right.
I suggest to them that we have some events coming up, or we have some opportunity to come in and put some pieces together. I ask them if they’d like to volunteer. I can recommend other organizations they can volunteer for if they don’t connect with mine. But I ask them to get involved, particularly if they’re between jobs or just starting out in their career.
I had this happen recently at some events. I invited some of the folks graduating to come out and see what we do or come to the office and help us put together a grant proposal. We actually just had a woman go to medical school this past summer, and one of the professors talked about the study she was utilizing here on campus. She had written about it in her medical school.
What an amazing experience for her. She said, “Oh, I know about that. That was the grant I wrote.” I mean, that’s amazing. But I always recommend people get out there and volunteer. See what’s out there. Actually do our work because that will demonstrate, if you don’t have the experience yet, that you’re interested.
Personally, I like to hire folks who are just starting out in the industry or are relatively new. That way we can teach them the blend of art and science and really show them the real way to this, the way that’s process-oriented and professional, and they can get involved in AHP. That’s a great example.
I really encourage growth and personal development.