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AHP Connect Member Profile - Daniel Otto, CFRE

AHP Staff
Published:  06/20/2018
Dan Otoo

Daniel Otto, CFRE

Consultant, Marts & Lundy

San Diego, CA


AHP member since 2001

Dan brings to Marts & Lundy’s clients 26 years of experience as a consultant and development executive in health care organizations. He has successfully built and restructured programs to increase capacity and is an accomplished principal and major gift fundraiser. He is experienced in successful multi-million and billion-dollar campaign planning, execution and evaluation. Dan provides counsel on campaign planning; program assessment and development; major gifts strategies; CEO, physician, and Board engagement; staff recruitment and organizational restructuring and planning.

What do you love most about your work?

My career goes back 26 years. It started when I graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Hospitality Management. Coming out of college, I worked for a couple of small restaurants in the Los Angeles area and a friend of mine worked for the California Special Olympics. I grew up running track and field and cross-country and what inspired me was the opportunity to work with these athletes at the Special Olympics. Running one lap around a track was something I took for granted and these athletes spent months training just to complete a lap. So that’s what really drew me into the nonprofit sector.

After I gained some experience with the Special Olympics I accepted a position with the March of Dimes and then the American Cancer Society, but most of my career has been working for a community hospital and academic medical centers.  Five years ago, I decided to take my experiences into consulting. I really enjoy being able to help a multitude of different clients achieve their goals and work toward realizing their missions and visions. I feel I want that to be part of my legacy — to be the catalyst in helping others achieve their goals.

What is something you wish you knew when you started a career in health care philanthropy?

Early in my career, I wish I knew more about the various core competencies that I needed to advance my career. The nonprofit industry has changed dramatically since I started. Most people back then that were hired in fundraising did everything — events, annual giving, grant writing, major gifts. Now our industry is very specialized in specific roles. Most of our industry does not just have generalists fundraisers but specialists that focus on planned giving, major gifts, grants, annual giving, donor services. Each one of those areas has a very unique, specific set of core competencies that are critical to the success of that function. Understanding the importance of developing those skills early on is something I wish I had more opportunity to do. I took the initiative early on to learn from others, reading non-profit books, attending conferences that helped build my understanding of what was needed to be successful.  I still take that approach – continuous learning. 

You just renewed your CFRE. What value does that credential lend to your work?

I think it provides a lot of value. I know throughout my career, whether it was interviewing for a new job or securing a new client, it has been a deciding factor. Recently, I had a client whose hospital CEO was concerned about the foundation leader not having a CFRE.  Securing a CFRE shows a commitment to our field and, to me, indicates the person wants to continue to learn and support growing our industry.  The hospital CEO felt similar.

What are some of the tactics you use to help your clients with their major gift strategy?

It’s all about engagement and strategy.

An organization’s ability to involve board members, hospital administration, other volunteers and physicians in the development process is really important to their success. I’ve heard many CDOs or major gift officers say, “I’m the fundraiser. I go build the relationship and ask for money, it’s my job.” I think that’s one approach to take, but in my experience, it may not be the most effective way to be successful if they’re not involving their key stakeholders. Taking a couple of extra steps to identify who is the right team to help with the cultivation and solicitation is key and will help build an understanding of the importance of philanthropy and enhance the organizational philanthropic culture.

I’ll share with you one of my favorite quotes by Abraham Lincoln. He said, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I’ll spend the first four sharpening the axe.” It’s all about developing the strategy before you execute it. I coach a lot of my clients regarding major gifts, and I talk about making sure you have the right strategic information before you make a solicitation.  I’ll share with you what information I think is important.

  1. Who are the right people to cultivate and solicit. I have a lot of examples from people who cultivated just one spouse and, when they were about to make a solicitation, brought in the other spouse and totally derailed the solicitation. The same thing happens when people don’t think about maybe involving the kids in cultivation and solicitation.
  2. Who are the right people for the cultivation and solicitation team? Is it their physician? Is it their best friend? Is it a board member? Is it the CEO of the hospital? Who are they close to in the organization?
  3. What is the right project? We shouldn’t be pushing projects, but rather partnering donor interest and passion with organizational priorities. It’s about probing and asking the right questions to identify people’s passion and interest and connecting that with something in the hospital.
  4. What is the right timing? Most philanthropists give to more than one charity and may have an outstanding pledge. Knowing that, and holding off until that pledge is complete, may increase the size of gift.
  5. What is the right amount to ask for? There are many analytics these days to give organizations a good sense of the wealth of their prospects.

Describe a recent or current project that you’re proud of.

I have a community hospital client that was recently purchased by a large health system that does not do fundraising. 

I led them through a strategic planning process that involved the health system leadership along with the community hospital CEO, Foundation leader, physicians and Board. This process culminated in a retreat that created discussion and agreement about the importance and value of philanthropy. Since the retreat, they have been able to start working together to integrate the foundation with the culture of the health system and moving forward with building a more robust foundation that will support their community.  

What are the biggest challenges many of your clients face?

There is a trend of major hospital merger and acquisition in health care. When that happens, hospital foundations find themselves trying to catch up with a new system and culture. With some of my health system clients, one of the biggest challenges is designing an organization that’s most efficient for the system, but also supports the local effort.

For community hospitals, I think the biggest challenge they face is establishing a culture of philanthropy amongst the hospital administration and medical staff. As I previously mentioned, having those key stakeholders involved and appreciative of what development does is critically important. Another challenge is being able to retain staff. In many metropolitan areas, you find organizations that can pay a little higher or provide bonuses that attract candidates. Finding individuals who are tied to the mission or have some experience with the organization helps in retaining staff.    

What is one piece of advice you would give someone who is new to the field of health care philanthropy?

Find a mentor. Find one or two people in the field who are seasoned and make an effort to get to know them, learn about their experience, how they started, the challenges they faced and the successes they had. Pick as many brains as you possibly can. Try to understand what your core competencies are and where your interest lies within the field. The thing I know for a fact is that the network you build and the relationships you have will help carry you throughout your career. Build those early. There have been a lot of people who have been my bosses, who then turned into friends and colleagues and who then helped me along my career. I continue to try to stay in touch with those individuals, and I have learned a lot from them.

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