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AHP Connect Member Profile - Dennis Linderbaum

Allana Schwaab
Published:  06/18/2019

Dennis LinderbaumDennis Linderbaum
President, UnityPoint Health Foundation
Des Moines, IA

AHP member since 2002


How did you get started in your career?

I began my career as a grant writer after I finished my M.A. at Iowa State. It was an entry-level position at Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. A year and a half later, I was named director of grants at Kirkwood. I was lucky to be at a place where management rewarded young talent. Two years later, I became director of governmental relations, which involved working with federal and state agencies to find funding for the college. After six years at Kirkwood, I moved to Des Moines and joined Iowa Public Television (IPTV) as their first director of development & community relations.

IPTV wanted to do a capital campaign for a new broadcast center here in Des Moines — a $6 million project — which was my first assignment. I had never done a capital campaign before, but together with the leadership team at IPTV, we figured out how to get it done. We surpassed the $6 million goal in the mid-1980s and opened the new IPTV Broadcast Center in 1987. Once that campaign ended, a new opportunity presented itself at the Iowa College Foundation (ICF), which raised money for the private colleges and universities in Iowa. As a Luther College grad, I applied for and became president of ICF in late 1987. After a 14-year career at ICF, another new opportunity appeared at UnityPoint Health-Des Moines (UPH-DM) and I became president & COO of the UPH-DM Foundation in 2001. And I’m still here in 2019, having more fun than I ever imagined.

It seems like you have a lot of experience fundraising for a lot of different industries. How does fundraising for health care differ from those other opportunities?

Our constituency here at UPH-DM includes many of the same businesses and corporations in central Iowa with whom I worked at both ICF and Iowa Public Television. But in health care, most of donors are individuals and families. Corporations and businesses tend to only sponsor events. Some also support capital campaigns and other projects, but our basic core of donors are patients and family members of patients, or people who have a special interest in health care. Most of our nearly 8,000 donors live in Iowa, but we have numerous “transplants” from Iowa living in other states who still have close ties to our hospitals.

What campaigns or projects are you currently focused on?

We recently finished a campaign for renovating and expanding our Emergency Departments, Critical Care Units & our Trauma Center for both Iowa Methodist Medical Center and Blank Children’s Hospital. Iowa Methodist is the only Level 1 Trauma Center in Central Iowa, and the only other one in Iowa is at the University of Iowa nearly two hours away. This was a $72 million project — and the Foundation raised over $15.5 million for the project, including a naming gift for the Emergency Department & Trauma Center. The community support for this very important project was incredible.

One of our current projects is centered around two very important programs at Blank Children’s Hospital that have outgrown their space at the hospital: the Children’s Developmental Center, which deals with kids who have developmental disabilities, and the STAR Center, which works with physically and sexually abused kids at its Regional Child Protection Center and also has a Foster Care Clinic. Over the last five years, these programs have grown exponentially and we just broke ground on a new facility off campus that will quadruple the space for both programs from 7,000 square feet to over 30,000 square feet. This building project will cost $10.7 million and our goal is to raise at least $5 million in 2019. This campaign is off to a great start, with over $2 million raised to date.

In addition, because insurance reimbursements only cover about 50% of the operations for those two programs, we are also seeking endowment funds over the next five years of at least $10 million to subsidize these crucial services for our most needy pediatric patients.

Another project that just got underway is a campuswide expansion of our Maternity Centers at all three of our adult hospitals. UnityPoint Health-Des Moines births more babies annually than any other hospital entity in Iowa. Our market share has expanded over the last decade and projections are that this trend will continue. We are running out of space at both Iowa Methodist and Methodist West Hospitals, so we are expanding the number of maternity suites at both facilities and completely remodeling the Maternity Center at Iowa Lutheran Hospital. We will raise at least $1.5 million for this $12 million project by the end of 2020 and, to date, have received gifts of nearly $400,000.

There’s a lot of transition in many different foundations from a special event fundraising strategy to a major gifts strategy. Are you making that transition?

We do four major events annually that net approximately $1.3 million. These are significant funds for us, but our special events are very work-intensive and take a ton of staff time. The key to our special events is that we don’t do them just to raise money — we use them as a valuable way to identify major gift prospects.

Bottom line is that we’re using both strategies. If organizations hold special events only to raise money from those events, they are missing a valuable tool. The money you raise at the event is only the beginning. You can use your events to find prospects who are interested in your causes beyond the events. For example, we just celebrated the 35th year of our Festival of Trees & Lights and surpassed the $10 million mark in cumulative funds raised. But in addition to holding the event, we identify 10-20 new major gift prospects nearly every year at Festival. Do these prospects all turn into major donors? No, but after these prospects attend our events, we wealth screen them, do additional research if appropriate, and follow up with them personally to try to establish a relationship. We’ve had excellent success with this approach over the years.

If somebody were to ask you how to go into an event and use it to identify major donors, what are some of the practical steps they could take?

Let me give you an example to answer your question. Our most recent special event, “Hops for Hospice,” has been focused on our hospice program and its inpatient facility, Taylor House Hospice. We started “Hops” about 12 years ago to publicize the new Taylor House Hospice and build community awareness about our hospice program. In the first year, approximately 75 people attended, and we netted about $10,000. In 2018, we had over 400 people at “Hops” and our net revenue exceeded $120,000. We are now attracting better and better major gift prospects for our pipeline to raise funds for Taylor House and our hospice program. “Hops for Hospice” has proven so successful that another UnityPoint Health affiliate has now started its own “Hops” special event for their hospice program. The hybrid model has worked for us in the past and we anticipate identifying even more major gift prospects through all of our special events in the coming years.

It sounds like it is a lot about the follow-up after the event, and not just the lead up to the event.

That’s exactly right. When I first came to UPH-DM Foundation — and I’ve been here 18 years — my initial reaction to the foundation’s special events wasn’t really that positive because they take so much time, just like many people are saying now. But, I’ve changed my tune over the years with the changes we’ve made in our approach to major events. I’m lucky to have an exceptional team that has executed this strategy very well. And I’ve been very fortunate in that we’ve had very little turnover of staff over the years. For example, our VP of gift planning has been here nearly 40 years; our directors of development have been with us for over 20 years, 15 years, 13 years and eight years respectively. Our director of grants and development has been with us for only a few years but was with Blank Children’s for eight years prior to her joining us, so she knows the system very well. Our support team also has a number of people who have been with us for five or more years, and they are invaluable to our success.

This type of longevity pays dividends in the long run. We’ve also added new staff as the foundation has grown and we’ve been fortunate to hire some very talented younger people. Our team has done an excellent job of working together and there’s great comradery among them. In fact, one of our millennials created a hashtag for us — “#BestTeamEver” — and I use that phrase to describe our team every chance I have.

It’s rare to have staff who have stuck around for such a long time. How do you hire with longevity in mind?

I always ask for a five-year commitment from new staff because it usually takes at least two years for someone to establish a relationship with a donor to ask for a major gift. The average turnover rate on a national basis for fundraisers is under two years, and that’s a real challenge to any fundraising organization. I tell my team members that part of my job is to help them be successful, so I work with all our fundraisers to offer them educational opportunities, new challenges in their jobs and fair compensation for their good work. I want them to stay with us, grow during their time here and see a career path ahead of them.

I also stress teamwork. I’ve been an athlete my entire life and still am, even though I’m not competing on the field or court anymore. I’m proud to say that our staff functions as a team at all our fundraising events as well as our donor recognition events. They show up for everything. My philosophy is “We win as a team, we lose as a team.”

The foundation staff is recognized across the campus as an outstanding team. My counterparts on the senior management team at UPH-DM recognize that we have an excellent, functioning team, and are very supportive of what the foundation team does for UPH-DM. That’s one of the reasons people stay — a true sense of belonging and trust. We have an incredible culture here at the foundation as well as at UnityPoint Health-Des Moines as a whole.

What is the most important piece of advice you give to a new hire right as they’re starting out?

Number one is to get to know the area for which you’re going to raise funds. Learn as much as you possibly can about the services, meet the staff at the hospital where you work or whichever entity for which you’re raising money and learn from your foundation colleagues. When we bring in a new staff person, we have them spend time with each of our team members. They tour all our hospitals, learn about key service lines and meet physicians, nurses, other staff and volunteers. They learn how we develop direct mail pieces, run our special events, different ways that we interact with prospects and donors, and of course, get acclimated with our data system.

Second, I encourage people to call or visit other hospital foundations and network with other professionals through AHP and The Advisory Board. One of our newer team members, who just was named senior director of development at the Cancer Center, started with us five years ago as an annual giving director. One of the first things she did was attend the International AHP Conference in California with me. That was very helpful; she met lots of top-notch professionals and learned a lot from many of the sessions she attended. We encourage people to take advantage of educational opportunities because there are very few new ideas out there, and if you can borrow great ideas from other people, do it.

Finally, I encourage both new staff and current team members to have fun. Celebrate your successes and learn from those times when things don’t go your way. Be positive and confident in yourself — and most of all, work hard!

I’ve been very fortunate throughout my career to have worked for top-notch nonprofit organizations. But, the best years of my career started in 2001 when I joined the foundation here. I absolutely love what I do — of course, I enjoyed my other jobs, too — but this one has been the best. There’s not even a close second. I’ve said many times that I relish challenges, and in health care, there are new challenges all the time.

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Meet The Author

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Allana Schwaab
Communications Manager
Association for Healthcare Philanthropy

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