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How AdventHealth Foundation Central Florida Navigated Uncertainty

Samantha Hunter
Published:  10/08/2021
Pink piggy bank wearing a medical mask
Photo by Konstantin Evdokimov on Unsplash

We recently sat down with Roel Yambao, chief operating officer, and Jami Smith, senior manager of special events, of AdventHealth Foundation Central Florida to discuss how they’ve adjusted their fundraising event strategies since the beginning of the current pandemic.

We learned not only some valuable tactics for how to redeploy event resources and keep donors engaged, but we also learned how not to get stuck in moments of uncertainty. AdventHealth’s story is truly one of necessity forcing innovation.  

Here are excerpts from our conversation. 

Prioritizing Based on Impact

AHP: So, we’re here to talk about events. Right now, there are a lot of concerns, questions, and opinions about how to go forward with donor events. But you shaped your event strategy early on. Would you mind sharing that process? 

Jami: When the pandemic hit in March of 2020, we looked at our upcoming events and evaluated deadlines, goals, budgets, and the impact. The team assessed which events could be postponed without leaving a detrimental impact on our bottom line and which events could move to virtual. 

Ultimately, we decided to focus our energy on the events that could make or break our budget. Our most significant decision became how to move forward with our annual gala, our largest fundraising and attended event of the year. 

AHP: So, you didn’t spend a lot of time talking about your smaller events even though they were outdoors, and people might have felt comfortable doing them because they weren’t going to have the monetary impact you needed. Was the decision to cancel really that easy?

JAMI: It really was. Even though a golf tournament is outdoors, we didn’t feel comfortable putting multiple people in golf carts. In addition, golfers can get backed up on the course and cause congregating without social distance. We were also careful with our messaging, stating that we were “postponing” those events rather than “canceling.” 

For our largest event, Golden Gala, we had to come up with multiple plans with several scenarios. We deferred some of the planning decisions, like venue and covid protocols, to our clinical team. We considered many alternatives, but ultimately, we decided to postpone this traditional gala.  

It was no surprise to our donors and vendors when we said, “we can’t do this right now.” We were locked into several contracts, so instead of cancelling we postponed them to the following year and fortunately suffered no penalties. Once we made the announcement, other community events started to follow our lead. 

Pivoting to a New Concept

AHP: So there was no gala. What did you do instead?

JAMI: We didn’t want to host a virtual gala in its place. Instead, we pivoted to an entirely new concept. We hosted a “Drive-In to the Holidays” outdoor concert with Vince Gill and Amy Grant. We secured a large parking lot and created a way for donors to stay in the safety of their vehicle, produced a compelling program and concert while delivering prepackaged meals by our staff in PPE. 

We were also able to record the show and share it internally with our hospital staff. This created an opportunity for sponsors to reach more people and find a meaningful way to give back to our caregivers. 

AHP: You’ve mentioned several times that you chose to postpone vs. cancel. Was that a strategic choice you made or something that evolved as you moved through your plans?

JAMI: It was intentional. Words matter and we wanted to convey that we’re still moving forward. We wanted to keep donors engaged, and saying “the event is cancelled” gives donors the impression that we don’t have an outlet for them anymore. “Postponing” creates an opportunity for donors to remain financially supportive.  

ROEL: Just as important as the fundraising side, our events have been an opportunity to thank our front-line caregivers, and our donors gravitated to that. So, while planning upcoming events, we continue to include this component to thank our caregivers and our community for the sacrifices they’ve made.

JAMI: As we resume our planning for Golden Gala this year, we knew we needed to plan for evolving covid protocols such as social distancing. The traditional ballroom venue would be challenging, and we quickly realized we needed to adjust.

We will continue to work with our clinical teams and solicit guidance from our infectious disease physicians to come up with a plan to provide a safe and engaging fundraising event for our donors and community. This plan will most certainly include the opportunity to thank our front-line teams for the tremendous work they have done throughout the pandemic.

I think all foundations struggle with being recognized, and after including our front-line employees along with a successful holiday drive-in event, Central Florida knows AdventHealth has a foundation. It has strengthened our relationship with our hospital in ways we couldn’t have anticipated last March.

Reassessing Financial Goals and Projections

AHP: You had mentioned earlier that after postponing the gala, you knew that fundraising totals would be below your original expectations. How did changing your plans impact your overall financial outcomes?

ROEL: Canceling and changing events did negatively impact our fundraising. In addition, our overall Foundation goal was $22M in 2020, and we ultimately ended near $16M. However, we examine our fundraising goals on a 3-year rolling average, and that’s working this year because we’re on pace to make our goal in 2021 and make up last year’s deficit.

AHP: How does that work?

ROEL: This longer-term perspective provides flexibility within the system’s strategic framework as they work with administrators to determine funding priorities. We host an annual summer retreat where all the strategic planning for the upcoming year takes place. The team is constantly thinking about and re-evaluating the goals, but goals are formally updated once per year.

All major gift officers at the foundation participate in a mid-year review. We then run reports on a weekly and monthly basis to keep all development staff and leadership updated on where we stand against our goals. Having a weekly activity report encourages attention to detail, and if something looks off, there is time to correct it. 

Advice for Other Foundations, Be Flexible

AHP: What’s inhibiting other people from doing what you’ve done?

ROEL: We have solid relationships with our hospital and foundation leadership. The keys to success are to focus on activity, trust in the process, and the ability to be flexible. Fortunately, our Executive Board and Leadership teams are reasonable if goals are unmet.

This is due to the trust that we’ve built through solid results, an unwavering commitment to accountability, as well as a focus on our three-year rolling averages. This prevents those “knee jerk” reactions and allows us the opportunity to take risks and develop an entrepreneurial culture.   

JAMI: At the start of the pandemic, it seemed like there was a lot of pressure to make decisions quickly. We took a pause to evaluate event options that would be engaging and valuable for both our donors and sponsors. Our success stemmed from being thoughtful, diligent, surveying stakeholders, obtaining clinical guidance, and proactively communicating changes to our donors, board members, and leadership teams. 

ROEL: Our Foundation President, David Collis, says it all the time, “fundraising is cyclical.” It takes so long to materialize a gift. If it doesn’t come in this year, all that work is still there, and if you continue the relationship, that gift will still come in. Just make sure the activity is there – we can’t control if a donor says yes or no, but we can control our ability to go out and talk to people. 

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Meet The Author

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Samantha Hunter
Association for Healthcare Philanthropy

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