Weathering the pandemic while investing in best-practice fundraising [Interview with AHP member Anna-Melissa Cavazos]
Ashley Gatewood MA, PCM
While many development teams struggled to find their footing during the pandemic, Development Director Anna-Melissa Cavazos, CFRE, and her team at San Antonio’s University Health Foundation continually pushed forward. The department invested in its fundraising knowledge and upskilling to ensure they stayed plugged into best practices. Here, Anna-Melissa discusses her passion for fundraising as well as her team’s successes and plans for the future.
- What do you think is the biggest misconception about being a fundraiser? When I tell someone I am a nonprofit fundraiser sometimes their immediate response is, “Oh, I could not ask people for money.”
I always share that our profession affords us the opportunity to engage in meaningful conversations and build relationships with those who want to make a difference in their community. We have the privilege of helping someone’s philanthropy become a reality!
- What is the best career advice you’ve ever received?
To give my best authentic self every day and serve with a heart of compassion towards the mission and those I am entrusted to serve.
- As a Development Director at a health foundation, what has been your most pressing fundraising challenge over the last 18 months? How have you and your team risen to the occasion?
Our team has come through the last two years with an increased dedication to our mission. University Health gave our best and beyond during the pandemic to our community as did many other healthcare organizations.
Our supporters placed a high value and renewed interest in how they could support our mission. Our team has had many changes and growth in the last 18 months with new leadership and team members. This has given us the opportunity to challenge ourselves to raise the profile of our fundraising program internally and externally.
We are in the midst of a campaign for our new Women’s and Children’s Hospital that will open in the summer of 2023. It has allowed us to have meaningful conversations with those who want to transform healthcare for women, babies, and children in our community.
It is an exciting time for our Foundation!
- What is the most rewarding part of your work?
Being part of a donor’s joy as they show gratitude for our mission, and then demonstrating through stewardship the impact their generosity makes for our patients and their families.
- As fundraising professionals move up the leadership ladder, it is easy for their professional development to fall to the wayside. You are a current AHP member and keep up with fundraising education to earn and maintain your Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE) certification. What are your tips for making time for professional development when schedules already feel full?
We have to make the time to invest in continuing education in our profession as other professions do.
Like anything, the more we train and invest our time, the better we can be. Supportive leadership who encourages continuing education has allowed our team to participate in trainings offered by AHP and to individually seek out opportunities that benefit our work.
Our team had the opportunity to attend the Virtual International AHP Conference in October 2020 that provided timely topics such as Major Gift Fundraising During Covid, Trends in Grateful Patient Philanthropy, and Building Pipeline and Bringing Donors Closer. I had the opportunity to attend a virtual AHP Major Gifts mini track last year and our team recently participated in a Grateful Patient Mini Course. I look forward to attending one of the conferences in-person next year.
- Many fundraising professionals think, “I’m hitting my targets. I don’t need to attend fundraising conferences or courses. I’m sure my learning is up to date.” For people with that approach, what would you say to encourage them to take a more active role in their professional development?
I learn something new every day—whether from my office colleagues or other fundraising peers.
The networking and best practices learned from peers is so valuable. Recently, I attended a local fundraisers conference. The room was filled with fundraisers new to the profession up through those with 30+ years of experience! Everyone still had something new to learn and share.
- When did you first join AHP and what do you view as the most valuable aspect of being a member?
As an organization, our Foundation joined AHP in 2018. As our team has grown in the past two years, we have made a concerted effort, especially during the height of the pandemic, to take advantage of the many virtual learning opportunities.
Learning and sharing ideas with fundraising peers regarding best practices we can adapt to our market has been very beneficial.
- In May 2022, you became a CFRE. What motivated you to earn a fundraising certification?
As a Foundation team, we invested much time over the last two years to educate ourselves by taking advantage of AHP trainings and conferences.
University Health is a teaching institution and part of our mission is to improve the good health of the community through innovation, education, and discovery. Every University Health staff member has the opportunity to use continuing education dollars each calendar year. That includes support for certifications.
This was just the right time for me to apply and take the exam to invest in my future with support from my organization.
- What has been the most prominent benefit of being a CFRE?
Being recognized by my fellow fundraising peers in achieving the CFRE has been rewarding. That recognition of achievement in our profession just like any other professional certification is appreciated.
- What advice do you have for others considering becoming a CFRE?
Do it! Take the time to review the AHP webinar on becoming a CFRE and then fill out the application a little at time. I think the hardest part is just starting the application. Give yourself plenty of time to create a study plan and seek out tips to success from other CFREs you know.
- The last two years were full of upheaval and now the word “recession” is on everyone’s lips. What do you think will be the number one challenge for fundraisers in the upcoming 12 months?
We have to steward, steward, and steward.
Keeping in contact with our donors to share the impact their gifts are achieving is so important. I see this not as a challenge but an opportunity for us to increase our communication. That goes not only for our loyal donors but also those who want to know more about how we are transforming healthcare.
Many donors have seen us through the pandemic. Our job is to continue to show them how their philanthropic support is needed and appreciated.