AHP Connect Member Profile - Connie Falcone
Northwestern Memorial Foundation
AHP member since 2017
What brought you to the health care industry?
Two things. First it was an opportunity to lead as part of a brand with a phenomenal reputation. I came from the Chicago Cubs and saw firsthand how you could utilize the power of the Cubs brand for good in the community. In Chicago and beyond, Northwestern Medicine has an outstanding reputation. I like to say I came from one championship team to another. I knew I wouldn’t have to make the case as to why someone should support Northwestern Medicine. Instead, I could talk specifically about the compelling project or program needing funding. The second thing that drove me to health care was my work at the Chicago Cubs with players and their charities, many of whom chose to support families faced with a pediatric cancer diagnosis. I found inspiration in the stories of families battling disease and wanted to help. Working at Northwestern Medicine gave me an opportunity to be on the ground floor, learning about medical advances and fundraising for impact. What better cause than improving the human condition?
What similarities and differences did you find going from a for-profit organization to a nonprofit health care organization?
I think people would probably be surprised to learn there are more similarities than you realize. At the Chicago Cubs, I had the opportunity to work with the best of the best — people who had been excelling at baseball practically since they could walk. We worked among the most elite athletes in the country. They have a certain drive, a way of working in a team, a way of goal setting and accountability that I see so similarly in medicine. The only difference is that health care’s end game is outstanding patient outcomes versus a championship trophy.
The other element I found similar is that in baseball and health care, there is a commitment to the community. In strengthening our communities, all boats rise. Healthy communities make for stronger cities. That’s one aspect of both jobs that I love. I’m a grassroots fundraiser at my core, so any community impact we can make is meaningful to me. Serving the great people, families and communities that make Chicago such a wonderful city and knowing we’ve helped to move the needle on their health or opportunities or education is an honor.
In your time at Northwestern Memorial HealthCare, what are some challenges you’ve experienced, and how have you addressed those challenges?
We’re a big system — a 10-hospital system. From a management standpoint, I want to be present with all of our team members no matter where they sit, and that’s not possible. Finding ways we can stay linked through regular communication is really important. I began a weekly email to the staff to share information equally in addition to adding all-staff events like, of course, an annual outing to a baseball game. You realize how much you need to lean on your other leaders to keep remote teams informed, on point and motivated and I’m lucky to be surrounded by talented leaders on the foundation team.
One of the other challenges I have is finding more time and better ways to thoughtfully engage with our donors. I feel strongly that the heart of great fundraising is building relationships. I also know all of us are pressed for time. How can we utilize technology to better direct how and where we spend time with donors? That’s been something we’ve been working on over the last year — utilizing technology to help focus our time on deeply engaged donors or prospects. It has been a fun project, and we’ll see if it works!
You mentioned Northwestern Medicine is a very trusted, recognizable brand. Do you find that to be an advantage in fundraising?
Yes. Our colleagues in the health system are so focused on being even better for our patients. I love that about Northwestern Medicine. The quest to be better ties in so beautifully to fundraising. Philanthropic support fuels the quest for better outcomes and in that story, the donor gets to be the hero.
Do you have a donor story that stands out to you as being particularly impactful?
We had a donor who was incredibly successful in the corporate world and turned out to be one of our best advocates for philanthropic support of oncology research and care. He led companies whose names you would recognize. This gentleman had been experiencing chest pain and was diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer. Our clinical team provided outstanding care with novel treatment for patients like this man whose tumors were resistant to traditional cancer therapies. He actually reached a point where he was living with and managing his Stage IV lung cancer. As a result, he lived to see his first grandchild. Sadly, he passed away recently and it really hit us hard. But sometimes living a few months longer might feel like a lifetime. We have to recognize the success in that. Because of philanthropy, a treatment plan existed that allowed him to meet his granddaughter. It’s still hard to talk about. He spoke publicly about his journey and how he was not surviving but thriving and he was so gifted in terms of his ability to express just how important it is for people to support research. We honor his memory by continuing to fundraise so others can continue to experience the big and little moments of life.
In your transition to the health care industry, what is the best piece of advice you’ve received?
The best piece of advice somebody gave me was, “People in health care like rules.” I know it sounds funny, but I’m finding it to be true. In health care, we get used to clinical pathways and linear thinking, so if you can explain to colleagues what the path is, it feels more comfortable to them. I find that when I’m working with clinicians and I can show them the project building blocks or map out the path to help fund a project, that strategy makes sense to them. This works far better than the rookie mistake I made when I started which was ask, “What would you do with $10 million?” That’s too nebulous. I’ve found that framing the discussion in terms of what a clinician would do to improve patient care if money were no object is a far better way to approach a discussion about fundraising.