AHP Connect Member Profile - Jesse Dees
Jesse Dees, CFRE
Collingwood General & Marine Hospital Foundation
AHP member since 2015
Jesse Dees, CFRE, is the Development Officer at the Collingwood General & Marine Hospital Foundation. In this role, Jesse is responsible for the strategic execution and management of the Collingwood G&M Hospital Foundation’s Annual Giving and Communications programs and assisting the Executive Director with the management of the Planned Giving and Major Gifts Programs. She also leads the creative direction and content management & technical management of the Collingwood G&M Hospital Foundation’s website and social media platforms.
When did you realize health care philanthropy was a career option for you?
In my final year of university, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do upon graduation so I decided to volunteer for charity in my hometown to see if I could get some direction and inspiration. In my first meeting with a volunteer coordinator, she said to me within the first minutes of our meeting that I would be a great fundraiser. So that’s where my introduction to fundraising came from.
What does being one of our 40 winners in our inaugural Forty Under Forty class mean to you?
I was incredibly honored and proud to have been selected as one of AHP’s Forty Under Forty winners. To be included as one of the few honorees from a small shop and being one of just 12 from Canada was especially exciting. It was so great to be recognized along with so many other amazing leaders in the field — some of whom I have had the pleasure of getting to know over the last couple of years at AHP conferences and events. AHP is such a great organization, and I am so proud to be a member and recipient of this honor.
One of the reasons that you’re a 40 is your Giving Tuesday Campaign, which started with a very small budget and obviously was a huge success. Tell me about that and how you approached that campaign.
I started at the Collingwood G&M Hospital Foundation in early 2015, and noticed that they didn’t have a large presence on social media. I grew up in the generation of social media and I know how to use social media for marketing and fundraising. I also learned about online fundraising during my Post Graduate Certificate in Fundraising and Resource Development, so I was very comfortable with running an online campaign through social media to raise funds.
It was a little hard to convince Jory Pritchard-Kerr [executive director of the foundation] about raising money through social media at first, because it wasn’t something they had ever really tried at the organization. I told her I wanted to raise money on Giving Tuesday using social media and, in the nicest way possible, she basically said to me she didn’t think it could be done and she didn’t think we had the market for that here — but if I could raise $1,000 that day, she would be absolutely blown away and she gave me a budget of $100 to promote it. So I got to work and created a schedule a number of weeks before Giving Tuesday to really amp up our content and to get some loyal followers on our social media channels. Then, I went and interviewed frontline staff in the emergency department to share their perspectives on why the wheelchairs were needed in that department. The cost to purchase the wheelchairs was $11,000, and we ended up raising $12,000 on that day.
What were some of the tactics you employed to get them engaged on social media if they weren’t engaged before?
What I did, and what we have continued to do since then, was use the faces and direct quotes from frontline care providers, volunteers and patients in our hospital. So, it wasn’t just saying “We need wheelchairs.” It was the elderly volunteer who pushes patients between departments in those wheelchairs saying they struggled to push patients around because they were broken. It was from our chief of emergency saying there isn’t a lot of space in our small emergency department and the wheelchairs we were hoping to purchase were stackable so we could be more efficient with the small space we have. So instead of using our voice on social media, we were using the voices and photos of frontline care providers, and that really made the difference.
What campaigns or projects are you focused on right now?
As I am sure a lot of other fundraisers from small shops can relate to, my portfolio includes a number of programs. I am currently responsible for annual giving, mid-level giving, communications, social media and our website, so I am usually focused on a number of different projects within those programs. Currently my biggest focus is on our end-of-year direct mail campaign, which last year brought in over $1 million, and on my mid-level giving program, which has been a really great lead in for major gifts and planned giving — which I am currently transitioning into taking over those portfolios in the new year.
What do you hope to do with major gifts?
We are in the planning stages for a major capital campaign. We are hoping for a redeveloped hospital in the next 7-10 years in our community, so I am going to begin working on the pre-work required for that campaign with the goal of being the campaign manager.
As outlined in my Forty Under Forty profile, I started a mid-level giving program that really helped make my transition to major gifts easier (this is what I presented on at Convene Canada in May 2018). I spent a lot of time talking to other organizations about their programs, researching online, reading and analyzing data to come up with a solid plan for our mid-level donors. I used a specific ranking criteria to determine our top/most loyal mid-level donors and designed a program to personalize their stewardship actions and cultivate the relationships. A number of the donors in my mid-level program became major and planned gift donors and resulted in two 7-figure gifts.
My hope with major gifts is to use elements of my mid-level giving program to ensure the donors feel appreciated and to cultivate positive relationships with those engaged in our upcoming campaign.
What do you gravitate toward the most?
I gravitate toward social media, online giving and analytics. One of the projects that I undertook in the first year I started here was redesigning our website and making it more user-friendly. This involved ease of use for online donations, which we have seen increase in recent years. So, I usually gravitate more toward technology and how we can use that to leverage our fundraising.
I also really enjoy new challenges and am always looking a few steps ahead. Right now, I am transitioning into a major gifts role, which I am very excited about. This involves more face-to-face interactions with donors, so it will definitely be a new challenge moving from annual giving-based fundraising to major gifts.
What are some of the challenges you face daily and how do you overcome those challenges?
I would say being in a small shop can be challenging and dealing with the fact that we don’t have huge departments handling various tasks. As I mentioned before, my portfolio is broad, and I handle everything from annual giving to website updates to billboards and social media posts. It’s all about finding the right balance between all those things and working well with the rest of the team in the office on each of our respective programs and filling in when one of us needs help.
For example, at the end of the year, I manage our direct mail, which is my biggest priority right now. That starts with a newsletter, which would usually fall under a communications silo, and it goes into the two direct mail pieces, and then I am also responsible for booking all the media. We do radio, print media and billboards. It’s challenging to balance your time and priorities in a small shop, and while it can be difficult at times, if you are organized and you like what you’re doing, it’s manageable.
Is there a moment or story anywhere in your career that sticks out when you thought “Wow, I’m really good at this”?
There have been a couple of those. When I first started working and volunteering at that organization that I mentioned at the beginning, that helped me find me path in fundraising. When I first started helping with the fundraising at that organization, I realized I had a passion for fundraising and I loved what I was doing.
Through the post grad that I did in fundraising and resource development, I honestly feel that the one year I was in that program was the best year of school I have ever completed in my life. I really felt like I was doing the right thing and I enjoyed the course work and assignments because I was doing fundraising plans and learning about how to raise more money.
For somebody who is just getting into fundraising or health care philanthropy, what advice would you give that person so maybe at some point they can see their name on the AHP Forty under Forty list?
Never be afraid to speak up when you have a new idea. Like when I brought up to Jory that I wanted to do an online fundraising campaign, I knew it was a crazy idea and I was taking a big chance. It’s about bringing those ideas to your boss and being confident in your ideas to raise money in new and innovative ways, even if it hasn’t been done in your organization before.
And if your idea doesn’t work, analyzing every piece of data to figure out why and adapting your strategy to find a solution or better way to do it next time.
What do you like to do in your free time?
My husband and I have a very active lifestyle, and we really like to travel. We have been to a few places already this year and any free time or any time that we are able, we are off and traveling. I am also a kickboxer, so I do that about 4 times a week.
What are some of the best places you have visited?
We went to Hawaii on our honeymoon, and that was by far our favorite place we have ever been. We are hoping to go back there for our anniversary and for anniversaries after that because it was so amazing. Dublin, Ireland is also one of my favorite places and one of the most memorable trips I have ever taken.