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AHP Connect Member Profile - Eric Dean

Published:  06/06/2018


AHP Connect Member Profile


Eric Dean, FAHP

CEO, RVH Foundation

Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre Foundation

Barrie, ON


AHP member since 1991

What is your favorite part of your job?

Working directly with donors. I think most of us would say that. I really get a special satisfaction out of working with donors who are working on their legacy or gift of a lifetime. When you get that opportunity to work with a donor, a family and their advisors on gifts that really wrap up a family’s value and impact, that’s really meaningful. It’s a powerful match-making process of making sure there’s something we can achieve together that has lasting value.

Do you have an example of a particularly meaningful donor relationship?

I think one of the most impactful conversations we’ve had was with a fellow named Don who had lost his wife, Joni, to Alzheimer’s. Theirs was a classic love story. They were both trained opera singers, and they fell in love the first time they were on stage together. When Joni got Alzheimer’s, it was just devastating to Don. Don’s advisor brought us into the conversation to help Don figure out how he wanted to use his legacy to live out some of the values he and Joni had talked about.

So we sat down, and instead of talking about the gifts, we asked him about Joni. He spent half an hour crying and telling us about his Joni. He talked about how they felt about charity and what they had wanted to achieve with their estates. We coached him about how to go back to his lawyer and make sure Joni’s name was in all the language, so in whatever charities he wanted to support, Joni was a part of it. It was powerful. He ended up giving a great deal more than he had originally thought of because he found more matches within our programs that perfectly lined up with what he and Joni wanted to achieve. It was a meaningful time, and Don has remained a real part of our family here at RVH.

What area of giving is Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre Foundation currently focused on?

We’re just finishing a campaign called Hearts and Minds, which was mainly focused on cardiac care and youth mental health. We’ve just gone over the goal of that $25 million campaign for the project, and the projects are already open.

We’re moving directly into our next effort, which will be broad-based and focused on the history of RVH and the generations of care and innovation in our region. We use broad-based campaign structures that allow us to focus primarily on unrestricted gifts. That gives our health centre a lot of flexibility in being able to respond to emerging ideas and priorities. Working on a theme instead of working on a project has helped us a lot in engaging our donors with the overall vision of RVH and the opportunities for their philanthropy.

We saw the RVH Regional Health Centre recently opened the Centre for Education and Research, and the RVH Foundation committed $1million to supporting teaching and research through the Hearts and Minds campaign. What is the strategy behind that campaign?

Well, we’ve only been officially named the RVH Regional Health Centre since 2012, as we now have a number of regional programs. With that larger mandate, there’s a real commitment in strategy to expand on teaching and research. We are not a full academic centre, but we’re also not a community hospital anymore. So this is really about amping up our ability to do translational research that touches on patient care and quality. The focus there has been on growing a research institute, clinical simulation teaching, being able to support centres around us with more education and teaching and we’ve also started a university affiliated family medicine teaching unit at the same time. The Centre for Education and Research really helps us create a space for that.

And where are you headed with these successes in place?

We haven’t branded our new campaign yet, but the next stage of evolution for RVH will include a complete rebuild and renovation of some of our core programs — maternity, neonatal intensive care and intensive care for the larger population. It also includes a lot of next-generation innovation — next-generation cancer care, next-generation diagnostics, etc. We want to keep it very broad-based and talk about the generations that have been treated at RVH, the generations of staff and generations of our auxiliary. We want to remind people they’re part of a long-term legacy in our community and region. We’re moving into a lot of intergenerational giving, and we’re seeing our donors work on getting their kids and grandkids involved in giving as well. Our real focus is on helping our donors make the transition from the last campaign to the next campaign and then bringing in more generations of their family into that work.

How do you engage younger donors?

We’ve started doing a great deal more on social media. We had a powerful social media campaign last year focused on child and youth mental health. If you look up Zach Makes Tracks, this was a 12-year-old who decided he wanted to follow in Terry Fox’s footsteps and ended up mostly riding his bike from Barrie to Ottawa with the goal of meeting the prime minister and raising $10,000 for youth mental health. He’s at $110,000 now. That was really social media-driven by Zach’s own family.

For us, it was not a matter of running that campaign for him; it was a matter of getting out of the way and making sure he could have his own voice. His mom did all the social media work, and we just coached, supported and cheered in the background. It was a terrific partnership and a nice way to let a family take control of the conversation around reducing stigma [of mental health issues]. The family was able to speak their own story and attract different conversations than we could have corporately.

I think that will be our continued focus — to look for other youth champions and help them do what they’re trying to do. We can’t speak in that voice with any authenticity, so we’re learning to ride along with just helping others take the voice for us.

Tell me about your experience teaching the Advanced Course at AHP Convene Canada.

It was a fun return. Ian Fraser and I have done this a couple of times. There was great energy in the room — a lot of great questions. We had participants from a lot of different structures, from regional health structures, from solo foundations, from large teaching centres and small shops. It was great to see the amount of group interaction, the questions, the networking and the opportunity to incorporate current experience to challenges and solutions. That’s all really valuable.

I think the real primary reason why people should get out and attend things like the advanced course and the primer is to build a network, but also to get that shared experience that’s on the table. Ian and I were both committed to covering the curriculum, but also to bringing in lived experience and examples.

What advice would you give to someone new to health care philanthropy?


  • Learn as much as you can from your clinical colleagues: Being able to learn the clinical language and the motivations of the clinical team — managers, physicians, frontline staff — is crucial. Our approach is to come in and say, “Teach us what we need to know to tell your story. We’re just translators. The donor is here looking to support your work, so tell me about your work in a way that I can then translate to donors to inspire them to support what you’re already doing.” We really work on trying to create the mutual respect and let them know our real job is to translate their needs into opportunities. You can’t really do that without being in the health centre and learning who the champions are. A lot of our best work is done in introducing frontline staff and caregivers to donors and then letting that enthusiasm, trust and relationship take place.
  • Generalize as much as you possible can: I grew up in a small shop. I’ve done every role. I’ve entered gifts, I’ve hand signed thousands of letters. So as somebody who grew up in that small shop, I’ve needed to work in everything — every level of donor, every piece of administration — and that’s been invaluable in leading and coaching colleagues and teams that I’ve had the honor to work with. Work the trenches wherever possible.
  • Get involved with AHP: The first thing I did when I got my first leadership role was go to an AHP conference in Canada. I sought out the people who were leading and volunteering and started to network with them, eventually becoming a secretary for the Canada cabinet. The networking and mentorship with colleagues is invaluable. I don’t know if there are enough starting professionals who realize the value of that association. As with all volunteer work – you gain far more than you invest when you get involved with AHP.
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