AHP Connect Member Profile - Eric Heininger
Des Moines, IA
AHP member since 2018
What was your first position in healthcare philanthropy?
Well, I need to think about where that starts - I had worked as an engineer, and then I dove into non-profit realm by doing work for international human rights and advocacy programs. This is a sensitive one, but my very first position within healthcare philanthropy was working with an organization that supported refugee women who had experienced female genital mutilation and cutting. The organization provided the women with any of the physical and mental health care needs they had. From there, I moved into disaster relief and refugees’ rights, then to campaign consulting. It was part of that first campaign consulting that lead to hospital campaigns and feasibility studies. When it comes to hospital-based fundraising, my first experience was with the Children’s Hospital in New Orleans, Louisiana and their feasibility study ahead of renovating the pediatric hospital.
It seems a lot of prospective philanthropy professionals have the soft skills to do the work, but don’t have the hard skills to match. How did you get your foot in the door of health care philanthropy with a background that may not directly match the skills some employers look for?
That’s an easy one. I think I’m one of maybe five CFREs in the United States who have an engineering degree, so it is definitely few and far between. When it comes to fundraising, I find a lot of similarities with a technical background. You need to be able to use, analyze and understand a ton of big data. Along with that big data, you need to be able to write in a clear and concise way. You have to be able to use problem solving and critical thinking to solve some of the biggest problems the hospital has through philanthropy. Being able to use the data while writing clearly and effectively is something I received from my engineering background, and it really made a difference.
You’ve worked to help build campaigns in metropolitan areas and small towns across Iowa. What have you found to be greatest difference between fundraising for city communities as compared to rural communities?
In rural communities, neighbors take care of neighbors – it is wonderful. Fundraising in these communities – for me - is easier and more rewarding because you have the back-up of an entire community who knows that this is a necessary thing for them to survive. These rural communities must have health care in order to survive. We’ve seen municipalities go under and dissolve because they don’t have the support, the schools, the fire and police, but if they don’t have health care in an aging population of farmers, suddenly they can’t survive on the family farm any longer. They understand it is important to have great, critical access care in their neighborhood.
How do you draw out fundraising from rural communities? Do you have any specific advice that work best for those communities as compared to larger cities?
The advice I would give is to remember that these folks have a lot of civic pride. When you talk about what that means for them, and you talk about the fact that they don’t have to drive into the big city for care - where they can be proud of having care truly in their backyard – that is what is going to make a difference. It is not necessarily about having the biggest and best new equipment, it is about making sure they have true access to quality care. Rural communities are such an important part of America that often gets overlooked. You have to think about what is important to them, which is often a preservation of legacy. If grandma and grandpa suddenly get really sick and the farm has to change hands, that is a point of pride that people forget about. Grandma and grandpa would rather stay on their farm for as long as they can rather than come into the big city and have 50 radiation treatments. Access to care is something they need for their livelihood, and it preserves a sense of dignity for some folks.
Do you have a favorite moment from any campaign?
I love the moments where you see a multigenerational impact with the donor. When you see someone who had their experience of being cared for, and then their next generation being impacted by the hospital and then the generation after that, you see how families can come together. They share one purpose – to make a big difference. You see it most in settings where families stay close – in some of the massive, metropolitan areas you see less of it because it is hard to see three generations staying in one town. When you think of the mid-sized or rural communities, people are still where they are because of their families, and they get to make an impact together.
I saw in your spare time you were the top fundraiser for the Special Olympics 5K Run in Iowa. What was that experience like, and what were some of the obstacles you faced in the planning process?
It was wonderful. I very rarely get to do my own personal fundraising for something that is completely directed by me, so to see my friends and family support an organization that is so near and dear to us made a big difference. We know that it is important to other families, which is why we do it. To be honest, I didn’t have that many obstacles. Quickly mobilizing my donor base through Facebook messages and quick texts saying; “could you give $50 this time, $100 this time,” was a change in the mass approach of trying to get support on digital platforms. It was still that personal approach, but with new technology.
There seems to be a trend in health care philanthropy concerning using technology to help facilitate fundraising opportunities and connect with donors. Have you used technology or social media in any other campaigns?
We are seeing a lot more communication via text to start conversations. If you have met someone who has a very busy schedule – whether they are a physician or an entrepreneur in town – it can be hard to catch their eyes. We know that they are looking at their phones on a regular basis. It is a lot more disarming to send a text saying “thank you so much, we had a great time and want to follow up on talking about the new linear accelerator” - or whatever the topic may be - and asking to schedule an appointment. It works because it puts the ball in their court. It is much easier to do that coordination because you are connecting in a way that they are comfortable with.
Getting people through the door to have those conversations can be the biggest blockade to locking in a gift. Have you found any other strategies that help make prospects feel comfortable talking about become donors?
This is where I use a cliché within my office – I ask fundraising staff to put on their “little D-donor hat.” In health care we tend to talk about the “big D-donor,” who is the faceless, nameless person. When you put on the little D-donor hat, you think about yourself – what is going to bring you into that situation? Often it is either a friend who makes you feel comfortable stepping into a location you’ve never been or some really interesting thing that creates value. If I want to see a lecture on cerebral palsy and its effects on children, it will draw me in. You can’t treat fundraising like an ATM – building those relationships is what makes a big difference.
What does being a part of the 2019 40 Under 40 class mean to you, and what are you most excited about leading up to the AHP International Conference?
I’m most excited to meet other peers who have had an impact. My fellow awardees have done incredible things and have expanded my network into 39 other individuals who have had similar impacts in their communities – it is very meaningful. I’m incredibly honored and excited. There are few opportunities for recognition within the philanthropy world, and to be a part of this one is really important. I’ve had folks who may not have a philanthropy background tell me that they know I deserve this, and they’re glad I’m getting a recognition of my career thus far. I believe I’m the only person that works for a consulting firm in this year’s AHP 40 Under 40 class - that is definitely a special part of the honor for me. So many folks come from a hard background where they have spent a decade at a hospital making a huge difference, but there is also an opportunity to work in a variety of small shops where you can run a $10 million campaign for a rural community. Those shops don’t always get the attention they deserve compared to the larger shops. I’m excited to meet the people from those smaller shops representing their communities.
Coming from an unconventional career path and getting the title of a 40 Under 40 honoree, what advice would you give to someone with aspirations to achieve the same?
My advice would be to use the skills you have and turn them into problem-solving skills that address the needs in our communities. I don’t expect people to suddenly become the best in their field if they haven’t done it before – but they probably have skills that make sense and can translate. Once you understand that, it is incredibly important to get the fundamentals through formal education or independent study – there is a wealth of academic knowledge about fundraising and philanthropy that makes everyone better at their jobs. That is something you can control as an aspiring fundraiser.