AHP Connect Member Profile - Cory Davies
Member since 2008
How did you get your start in healthcare philanthropy and development?
Just after graduate school, I started working for a lobbying firm on Capitol Hill. The firm that I worked for was a multipurpose firm – we did grassroots organizing, grass tops lobbying and some online fundraising. The majority of the clients that we had were all not-for-profit fundraising. I was really intrigued by the clients I was working for at the lobbying firm and was moved by how passionate they were about advocating for causes that meant so much to them personally. My wife and I had to move out of DC to accommodate her education – she was finishing her doctorate. Leaving DC, I looked for work in the non-profit sector – a place I never really saw myself landing prior to that. When we moved to Harrisonburg, I first got a job working for the Collins Center, a sexual assault crisis and mental health treatment organization. That was the first time I actively worked for an organization in the health care realm. I was raising money for them through grants and direct mail, and I also started a major gift program while I was there.
What was the most important thing you learned during your time at the Collins Center?
The organization only had six people on staff. They gave me the title of outreach coordinator – that was really the only parameter I was given. All they knew was that they needed to diversify their funding base, and they weren’t sure how to do it. I was hired to help figure it out. As someone new to fundraising, there was a lot left to be defined. The takeaway from it was to not shy away from being assertive when it comes to a cause you care about – that graceful persistence pays off. If you are in it for authentic and genuine reasons, most people will give you the time of day to hear you out. As long as you can make strong connections to what they care about, you can make some real progress.
I saw in your 40 Under 40 Profile that you spearheaded a project that paired community health workers with at-home nurses. Can you tell me more about that?
One of our nurse directors was going to get her doctorate in nursing, and as a part of that program she had to design a research study. It ended up taking shape in that program you read about - it was her initial idea. Our hospital is a sole community provider, and she was looking for ways to augment the work that our community health nurses already do. It was a relatively successful program before, but she had this idea to combine workers with community health nurses. As you can imagine that’s a relatively expensive research project to try to pull off, but there was a legitimate reason for our hospital to want to try the idea out. It was seen as a pilot to see what the outcomes would be for the patients, what the financial outcomes would be for the hospital, and if it was something that we could justify that the hospital should take on as a part of its operations. It was unlike anything we had ever funded before, so it required a little bit of conversation with our board and other senior leadership in terms of getting people to buy into the idea. The outcomes have been amazing, and all the credit goes to the nurses and community health workers doing the actual work. Patra Reed was the name of the director whose initial idea it was, and it has gone better than we could have ever imagined.
You talk about managing social determinants of health through this project. Do you have any stories or memories from the project about that?
I’ll tell a patient story and a donor story. The patient story comes to mind first – we had paired a community health worker with a community health nurse, and they were going into patients’ homes to prevent readmission, specifically for congestive heart failure (CHF). The community health worker was tasked with being in the patient’s home and going through their food cabinets to talk about sodium intake, look at the medications she had in her pill box to talk about medication management. She was working with a particular patient who needed to reduce her sodium intake significantly to help control her CHF. The patient was fully on-board and wanted to make the change. It was not a question of motivation – she really wanted to get healthier. They spent quite a bit of time talking about sodium intake and the food the patient had in her cabinets. The community health worker left thinking, “okay, we really have made progress – she has new ideas and will work on getting rid of the food with too much sodium in it.” She went back a week later, and there was an open, empty bag of potato chips that was sitting on the kitchen counter. She asked the patient about it, mentioning that she thought the patient was on-board with the idea of reducing her sodium. The patient said, “Oh absolutely – I didn’t pour any extra salt on my chips like I usually do!” It really struck me that there is no physician in the world that has enough time to have that lengthy of a conversation with a patient to understand that she – in her mind – is significantly reducing her sodium by not adding salt to her chips. It was only because we were in the patient’s home having a pretty personal conversation with her that we were able to figure it out. Once we did, we were able to empower the patient with that knowledge to keep herself well. Once you do that, you can see pretty significant improvements.
Because the project was unlike anything the RMH Foundation had ever funded before, we had to look at it as a new way for philanthropy to impact the care that our community receives. If I’m honest, I was a bit weary and hesitant about how much donors would want to support it. There is one donor in particular who – as soon as I shared that patient story with her – I have never had to solicit a gift from her again. She will come to us and say she wants to continue to help fund and support the project because of the difference it is making for the patients. The takeaway there is that as long as you’re showing meaningful outcomes and impacts from philanthropy, donors who have a heart for the community will want to be a part of it. That has been a really pleasant surprise.
Speaking to the ability to fundraise, you completely surpassed expectations for your “Millimeters Matter” campaign. What made it such a success?
When we started that campaign – given our community and donor base – our estimate was that it would take about 2 years to raise the amount we needed to raise to make that project a reality, but it caught like wildfire. One of the first campaigns that our hospital ever ran was to build a new cancer center – and that was in the late 80s, early 90s. It was the first time we expanded or donor base. We’ve cultivated those same families for decades now. When we made that estimate for how long it would take, I don’t think we appreciated how much support is waiting for cancer care in particular. I think one of the really impactful things was that we made an extra effort to engage the head physician. The lead radiation oncologist was really involved in leading tours, in meeting with donors one-on-one. I felt like radiation oncology was something pretty technical and clinical, and hard for someone to understand who does not have a background in medicine or science. So instead of just meeting with the physician, we would meet with her in the linear accelerator vault so she could explain and people could understand from a first-person perspective what we were trying to do. At one point or another, everyone who made a gift went on a tour of our radiation oncology suite. That seemed to make a big difference too - to bring them in and give them a blueprint of what we do, not just meet them in their home or office – letting them see what we do.
As someone that has increased fundraising significantly for your individual campaigns and the foundation as a whole, do you have any tips for philanthropy professionals who hope to increase their margins as well?
It’s really great that we have seen the results we have over the last few years, but I think the reality is that it is the fruit of work done years before. One of the biggest reasons that we’ve seen such exponential growth is that we are starting to realize planned gifts that were started years ago. I think a lot of the stewardship work we did five or eight years ago is why people were primed to respond quickly to that linear accelerator campaign. For me the lesson has been that those fundamentals we learn as fundraisers really pay off if you do it over the long-term – don’t sacrifice short-term gains for long-term relationships. For us, those relationships have really come to fruition over the last few years. Maybe I have some part in that, but a lot of the work was done before me and a lot of the credit goes to leaders and board members before me.
I also saw that you’ll be speaking at this year’s AHP International Conference – congratulations! Could you share some information about your session?
I’m very excited to be speaking at the conference this year. I’ll be talking about board engagement – it is a particular topic that I find a lot of interest in that also resonates with me personally. I’ll always remember that when I applied to be the Executive Director of the RMH Foundation, I had already worked here for about five years. I had come to work at this hospital and for the foundation largely because of my predecessor, Merv. I had a lot of respect for him and wanted to work under him and learn from him. He was retiring and had been here literally since the beginning of the foundation when it was established in 1975. He was well respected and did an amazing job. When I was interviewing for his position with the president of the hospital, in a really graceful way he said, “Cory, if you’re selected for the position as the new kid, how are you ever going to be able to stand up to the work that Merv had done?” My response to him is something I still remember. I said, “While I have all the respect in the world for Merv, I also think that a highly engaged board has the potential to make a bigger impact than any individual fundraiser ever could.” From the beginning - because I was young and not from this community – I really relied on my board to help open doors and advocate for us. We were at a point where they really weren’t primed to do that. It’s been a journey to get them to where they are now – they’re a really big, tangible part of our success. At the AHP conference I want to share that journey we’ve been on. Yes, there is a lot of room for improvement, but I think they have made a big difference for us over the last several years.
Also at the International Conference, you’ll be recognized as an AHP 40 Under 40 honoree. What does being a part of the AHP 2019 40 Under 40 class mean to you?
I’m flattered to be a part of it. Hopefully it is a reflection of the team that we have here – that first and foremost includes the fundraisers and the support staff, but also our senior leadership team, the board, and the other clinicians that help advance our culture of philanthropy and help us raise money. I think fundraising is a team sport, and that individual accolades are hopefully representative of the whole team as well. It’s not just me that deserves the recognition, it is all the people that I work with.
What advice would you give to someone with aspirations to be a part of AHP’s 40 Under 40 next year?
As I said earlier, I think the best quality a fundraiser can have is graceful persistence. The other day, someone had asked me what I took away from starting my work with the RMH Foundation right after the great recession. I was thinking about a donor I’m near closing a large estate gift with, and the first call I had with them – they hung up on me. Then I got a “no” to a meeting several times after that. Through what I hope was graceful but definitely persistent follow-ups, we now have a close relationship. I consider them friends as much as I consider them donors to the hospital. People aspiring to advance in philanthropy, wherever they may be starting from, the quality of graceful persistence can’t be understated.