AHP Connect Member Profile - Todd Peterson
Senior Director, Corporate and Distinguished Partners
Be the Match Foundation
AHP Member since 2017
How did you get started in your career?
I started my career in philanthropy in 2006 with the American Cancer Society’s Relay For Life. As many know, it is a community-based fundraising and engagement approach and thus was an incredible training ground because early on I was introduced to the important notion that things can be different yet successful across markets and groups of people. It was a great learning experience right away; to know that success doesn’t always have to be a one-size-fits-all approach. The other takeaway this provided me early in my career is that the Relay For Life model thrives on volunteer leadership, and so I’ve never known it any other way. That experience has served me well over the years and something that I always go back to and apply many of the lessons I learned.
Tell me a little more about your time at The American Cancer Society.
At that time in my life, I was in my mid-20s and I had started my career in social services. Someone close to me was diagnosed with cancer, and it was the first time I had witnessed the effects of a serious disease as an adult. That experience turned my attention to a career in health care philanthropy in a way that it might not have otherwise appealed to me. In that instance, the individual died three months after diagnosis, and it was one of the most incredible things I had ever experienced. I was introduced to Relay For Life through that experience and I remember vividly how it felt to participate in an event that was solely altruistic. It has had a lasting effect on me.
When you started to work for The American Cancer Society, what was it like to have that personal connection and then start to do work for the organization?
I think what was so clear for me early on was how important representing an organization like that was. The role I could play for a family who had gone through something quite horrible and then decided to take some of that experience and energy and turn it into such a positive wasn’t lost on me. It’s a special experience to be able to work in that unique space and to know how important you are to others. This is something I hope I’ve never taken for granted and I’m always grateful to be able to work in that sacred space.
What does being one of our Forty Under Forty winners mean to you?
I’m so honored. I don’t think anyone does this work for recognition, and if you do you are probably in the wrong field. That said, anyone who works in development works extremely hard, so to have that be recognized and to know that you have done enough to have it be noted is really validating and obviously a huge honor. Beyond that, what that means for Be the Match is that we now have a specific connection to 40 more organizations and 40 more excellent professionals who we can learn from and collaborate with. I am excited about having an even stronger connection to AHP and the development world in the way that we can all learn from each other and make each other better.
With your work at Be the Match, what campaigns or projects are you currently focused on?
My role is leading our corporate and foundation partnerships and distinguished events teams. At Be the Match, we are evolving our strategy from a peer-to-peer model as an anchor of our foundation to a model of cultivating and growing significant investments from individuals and corporate partners. So, task number one is aligning and calibrating our team to achieve those results. We’re reallocating resources and at the same time evolving our strategies to produce the philanthropic outcomes our patients depend on.
It sounds like there are a lot of challenges that come with that, how are you working through those challenges?
Absolutely. I would say we are a mid-sized foundation, but we aim to produce work that is best in class. Evolving our strategy means we must be lifelong learners to make sure we keep a pulse on best practices and new strategies that allow us to grow. It’s very important for us to challenge ourselves and each other so that we can produce the philanthropic results we aspire to. We aim to do enough learning outside of our foundation and connect to other professionals through organizations like AHP.
There are some impressive success marks on your Forty Under Forty profile. Tell me more about how you hit those success marks at Be the Match.
Thank you. There are a couple of things we as a team are very proud of. We’ve tried to identify and cultivate corporate partners that have a strong mission match with Be the Match and engage in partnerships that are nontraditional, unique and evolve into shared valued and equity for each partner. When we aim for that, we’ve been able to grow into partnerships that are valuable for us and also bring brand value to our partners. That is something that has really enhanced our corporate partnerships within the last couple of years. Similarly, with distinguished events we aim to provide the very best understanding and experience of our mission so that contributors and partners leave knowing they’ve made a real life-altering impact by supporting Be the Match.
We have also brought in a high level of new experience and knowledge into our foundation through new team members. We’ve worked hard to build a strong team so that we make sure all of their experience and knowledge is on the table. That has been a ton of fun, but it’s also been a big challenge and is engaging on a daily basis for all of us.
Bringing in new team members, how are you able to attract the best talent to your organization?
We’ve really focused on hiring experts; first, knowing exactly what we want to do strategically and then hiring to that specific skill set. There is always value in developing and growing internal talent and we do a ton of that, but we’ve also made sure we bring in experts and individuals who are experienced, practiced and have been successful in a specific field. They’ve brought in new concepts, strategies and cultivated new experiences into our organization.
For someone who is hoping to land on our Forty Under Forty list in the future, what advice would you have for them?
The best advice I ever received in the world of philanthropy was that you must make your own way and carve your own path. What I have learned in the 10 years since I received that advice is that notion demands you be a lifelong learner and that you pick up little things from different arms of philanthropy wherever you can. I’ve also learned to spend time doing the very non-glamorous tasks and learning that has helped me evolve own personal model of how I do business and what works for me. I would encourage anyone who is starting their career in philanthropy to take advantage of AHP and other development opportunities that exist within their organization.
Additionally, the very best development professionals that I have ever met and who I work with on a daily basis never forget that when you work in this field it’s all about service. If you begin to believe you are the star of the show, you’re really at risk of going down the wrong path. I would encourage others in this field to remember that this is about the mission you serve and the people and partners you work with to achieve that mission.
I see your fun fact here is that you live with your family in the house your wife grew up in in St. Paul, Minnesota. How did that happen?
Ha! Yes. That was total happenstance. My wife, Tammy grew up in St. Paul and her family lives nearby. For us, being grounded in St. Paul has really anchored us as I do a lot of travel in my role. To have our family in a neighborhood that we know and are connected to has been a very good thing for us.