1:1 with Ken Mayhew
Over the course of 2019, Nicole Nakoneshny, KCI’s Lead, Knowledge + Insights, will be going one-on-one with the members of our Philanthropic Trends Advisory Board to talk about the future of fundraising and philanthropy and explore What’s Next for Canada’s charitable sector.
KCI’S “WHAT’S NEXT?” INTERVIEW SERIES – KEN MAYHEW
Ken Mayhew is President & CEO of William Osler Health System Foundation. The Foundation is currently in a $100M Campaign supporting the redevelopment of Peel Memorial Centre for Integrated Health and Wellness, Etobicoke General Hospital, and the ongoing equipment needs at Brampton Civic Hospital.
Prior to his position at Osler, Ken spent over 20 years with the MS Society of Canada culminating in the role of Chief Development Officer. Ken was responsible for all aspects of marketing, communications and fund development for a program with almost 1 million active donors, raising over $50 million annually. He also led a number of campaign cabinets across Canada in the Society’s successful $60 million endMS Capital Campaign. An active volunteer with the GTA Chapter of Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP), Ken has held numerous leadership roles, including Chapter Chair, and currently chairs AFP Canada’s National Communications Committee. He is a proud volunteer with local charitable organizations.
Nicole: What does the future of fundraising look like? How is it the same as today and how is it different?
Ken: It is in a period of disruption as demographics shift and technology evolves. People will choose to give in different ways, and will be more selective in how they give and who they give to. Intermediary entities – those who help channel funds for donors – will need to prove the value they add as never before. This change is normal, inevitable, and will continue to happen. To continue to respond to this change is the responsibility of the sector. For the most part though, fundraising will continue to be personal, emotional, and be about demonstrating impact and gratitude for the donor’s investment.
Nicole: What are the biggest opportunities open to charities / the sector today when it comes to fundraising? Biggest challenges?
Ken: A big opportunity for charities is that they have the power to make people feel purposeful, and relevant. People are clearly seeking impact and value in a societal context in which we know people are feeling more isolated and lonely – despite technology – and wanting to make a difference. The people who want to have a positive impact on society present a great opportunity in a different way that likely doesn’t involve an intermediary like we’re used to, but more likely a group of friends having coffee and figuring out what they can do to change the world. As a sector, I think we’ve been trying to convert these people into the traditional donors we’re used to cultivating, which I just don’t think will work. Rather, we need to figure out a way to adapt our methods and models to include a new way of thinking about and doing philanthropy.
A challenge is that charities, each in their own context (food bank or hospital foundation) need to balance the now and the next – austerity with investment, prudence with boldness, results today with investments for tomorrow. We need to be okay with spending money on things like capacity, infrastructure, staff, and telling our story. This is necessary to be exceptional. While being mindful of spending responsibly, we have to avoid the temptation of the starvation cycle described by the Stanford Center for Social Innovation.
Nicole: Balancing the now and the next is such an important point. How do you do that at WOHSF? How do you meet short term targets and expectations while making innovative plans for future growth and improvement?
Ken: We actually committed considerable attention to “the next” in our new strategic plan. One of the four pillars of our plan is “Innovation and Sustainability”. To achieve results in this pillar, a big part of it is to optimize what we currently have in our now thanks to our team, our success and our reputation.
I try to surround myself with people who have varied skill sets, backgrounds and personal philosophies. What I learned early on is a top performer in a highly structured program or function may not succeed when given ambiguity and a task such as “new business development”. Transformation and innovation happens when the right person with the right skillset and the right mindset is let loose. It’s a bit binary. We could have never asked the taxi industry to create Uber. Job one is to optimize our now and doing so gives us the space to reach for the next.
A challenge is that charities, each in their own context need to balance the now and the next – austerity with investment, prudence with boldness, results today with investments for tomorrow.
Nicole: One of the challenges you and I have discussed on numerous occasions is “institutional impatience”, whether for big leaps forward in revenue, the next mega gift etc. How do we deal with a proclivity for what, in many instances, can be unrealistic expectations?
Ken: I would say that we’re atypically fortunate in this context, especially regarding our foundation-hospital relationships. These relationships need to be more than high functioning. Equity, trust, transparency, and accountability are critical. There needs to be an appreciation of hospital reality that best efforts are not good enough, and commitments must be met. Both organizations exist in a common ecosystem and share a brand/reputation. If our foundation fails it represents the hospital poorly, and vice versa. All of our dashboards are built from hospital templates, so reports from both entities speak the same language. We do not produce narrative that is defensive. The institution and foundation are both part of the issue and the solution – which requires co-creation. The risk of excess ambition is understood and shared by both entities.
Nicole: What’s your sense of what donors want from their relationships with charities today?
Ken: Co-creation, respect, and equity. They don’t want a power imbalance. They want a combination of grass roots efficiency with Amazon-Prime-level customer service. They want their gifts to have maximum impact without feeling they are being manipulated, patronized, or taken for granted. In terms of engagement, what donors want varies depending on who they are. We do a gala, which this year will be very successful, where everyone gets dressed up and comes out to dance and have a good night. Those people may not participate in a medical forum to listen to people talk at a podium, but there are others who prefer that.
Nicole: Your career has been interesting in that you’ve had long tenure at two organizations – the MS Society where you spent about 20 years, and now with Osler. What’s the same about raising money for these two different types of organizations? And what’s different?
Ken: In both helping those living with MS and in supporting Osler’s community hospitals I have sought out those people called to serve. They step forward for many reasons of course, but the common element is a personal desire to leave this world a bit better than they found it. Most want to make a difference – the Sikh notion of “Seva” or service is common not only in most religions but in many donors. Some have an interest in being more involved or to gain stature and influence and are “business like” in the process through which they choose to whom, and how to make their contributions. I think we often seek to convert those who are not altruistic for whatever reason to support either our cause or even the concept of charity as whole…which, if you think about it, is an inefficient and ineffective use of our resources and energy.
What is different is the value proposition between the donor and the charity. If you have a loved one with MS, you profoundly understand the role of the MS Society to you. Whereas, we may not think the same way about a hospital – especially a community hospital – nor make the connection that the majority of your health care will happen in a local facility that needs you to be there for it so it can be there for you. People incorrectly believe the government pays for hospital equipment, so the story is a bit less self evident.
Nicole: William Osler Health System serves a very diverse community and so the hospital foundation has had to forge inclusive relationships with very diverse donor groups. Tell us about your experience in doing that. And is there anything you would have done differently based on learnings?
Ken: One of the greatest pleasures of my job is that many of the people we serve at our hospitals are new Canadians. To nurture relationships with such a diverse constituency takes time and grace. We set up a sophisticated and respectful environment in which people from your demographic who speak your language will talk to you about your giving motivations, and find ways for you to contribute that work for you and us. The motivation for giving can be different – sometimes less philanthropic for example – but the elements of profile, recognition, appreciation, being part of a winning team, being respected – those pieces are common. It’s about what’s in it for them and not what’s in it for us.
What I think we have done exceptionally well is avoid the temptation to “convert” – none of us like being asked to convert, it repels us. For a fundraiser to walk into a Gurdwara and insist a supporter sign a bunch of forms confirming a typical five year pledge could be culturally inappropriate. Doing so may send a message that, despite this donor giving their word, the fundraiser doesn’t trust them. Leaning on our volunteers and their lived experience, we strive to learn and grow and adapt and accommodate. Together and after periods of getting to know each other, we have been fortunate enough to achieve a number of Canadian firsts through large contributions from our numerous ethnic communities.
We have a fundraising board. We recruit with enthusiasm, but also directness and we’re up front about our standards from the beginning. This is not apologetic or a “difficult conversation”.
Nicole: I know you have also done a great deal of work thinking about engaging volunteers, including your board, in fundraising activities. How are you engaging your board in your work? And how are you involving other volunteers in fundraising?
Ken: We have a fundraising board. We recruit with enthusiasm, but also directness and we’re up front about our standards from the beginning. This is not apologetic or a “difficult conversation”. It’s like hiring – we as a governance committee are responsible for a weak recruitment, not the candidate. We also have one year renewable terms and formal review structures which enhance accountability and performance. That said, people contribute in different ways and we celebrate that diversity. In my career I have had many instances of working with leaders of modest means, but strong affinity and passion who have been exceptional volunteers.
Nicole: In addition to your dedication to the charities with which you’ve worked, you’ve also been incredibly dedicated to the fundraising profession through your involvement with AFP. Describe your three wishes for the future of our chosen profession.
Ken: First I would say the need for self-acceptance. I do not know why we want to always seek affirmation from our critics, and we want to be universally liked. We should instead seek validation from those who understand what we do and who we are, while accepting that there will always be nay-sayers and critics. I don’t see physicians or financial advisors awkwardly trying to explain to neighbours and friends that they are professionals who perform an important service worthy of reasonable compensation.
I would also say that with and through others, we as fundraising professionals need to focus on issues that are important to our ability to fundraise and inspire philanthropy. We should be perpetuating the Canadian social construct around giving and ensuring that it is a part of what it means to be a proud Canadian. We could also learn better leverage the generosity that was expressed in the Fort McMurray, Humboldt, and Syrian refugee tragedies… not to mention the thousands of small acts of kindness that happen every day.
And finally, I would say the need for advanced education. An example of this is the Carleton program, which is building on the great work being done to professionalize our sector. As well, we need to be sure we aren’t too insular and look outside the sector for knowledge and best practice. We (business and non-profit) each have something to teach the other.
Nicole: Any issue(s) facing the sector that isn’t getting enough attention in your opinion?
Ken: I’m concerned these days about gender equity, workplace safety, and inclusion. Some of these things are overdue to be addressed. I am aware that I am privileged in literally every possible context, and am interested in better understanding these issues and trying to affect change. Old norms of interaction, especially with volunteers and in cases of power imbalance, need to be changed. People have every right to expect equity, gender parity, and to feel safe in their workplace. AFP through its IDEA initiative is doing some excellent work on these issues.
Where do you look for inspiration?
My family gives me so much inspiration. They make me better. My wife Suzanne and I strive to impart grace and courage with a touch of dry humour into our daughters. The reality though, is that they are the teachers. I find I learn so much from them. Osler’s hospitals, our clinical teams, and those we serve inspire me every day as well. I also admire outliers and anyone who has had to overcome adversity.
What has been most challenging for you in your career?
I think most of my challenges have been with myself. Probably 95 per cent of the time, people say no to me. It’s not like occasionally I don’t get what I want, it’s almost always that way. And if you’re optimistic and idealistic, as I am, and you are in a job where people say no frequently… that’s a really hard thing. I’ve had to overcome that with friends, mentors, teaching, growth, and a lot of reading and reflection.
Who (e.g. company, sector) outside of the NFP sector do you think has done a great job of dealing with the disruption they have faced?
The Humberview Group is a group of about 20 car dealerships, and they’re dealing with the disruption that it’s now possible to purchase a car online without ever stepping foot into a dealership. They’ve done an incredible job at responding to this, and remaining relevant and competitive. If a client wants to buy a car from the comfort of their home at 11PM, they can do that. If they want a more personalized experience in-store, they can go get exceptional in-person customer service.
Where / how did you learn about charity and philanthropy?
I learned from my parents while I was growing up. They weren’t quite philanthropic in the financial sense of the word, but they were very charitable in that acts of kindness were always highly important. Terry Fox did his marathon of hope when I was student council president in high school and I remember how I felt when I did that walk or when he was loaded into an ambulance when he had to end his walk. My Mom was ill for a while when I was in high school and I realize in retrospect that had a profound impact on me. I have always been able to empathize with those who need a hand up.
What was your first experience with “charity” – either giving or receiving?
My first experience with charity was likely at church. For fundraising, however, it was hockey. We were always raising money to go on tournaments, and I loved doing it. Then in a “pay it forward moment”, a hockey teammate, neighbour, and best friend lost his dad to cancer. Unbeknownst to me, my parents and others quietly chipped in to make sure he could always play hockey, which was very important to him and formative to me.
How did you become a fundraiser? What was your first fundraising job?
I decided I wanted a job that would “make a difference” to society and help make the world a better place. I started on a contract, as an events coordinator for the MS Society. I assured my dad this was just temporary and that I would go to law school, which had always been the plan. I never left.
What do you love about fundraising?
The power of the individual to make a difference motivates me, as does the power of the collective to impact a community. I love the excitement and change of diversity, which I have in my own family. Above all, fundraising is an excellent proclamation that apathy is futile. It’s the whole starfish-on-the-beach story. Someone says to a kid, ‘why are you trying to put that starfish that is stranded on the shore back in the water, there are thousands of them?’ And the kid says, ‘I’ll make a difference with this one.’ I feel the same way. Fundraising does that. We help causes that change the world every day.
Best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
If you think you can, you are probably right; if you think you can’t, you are probably right. Perception is reality of self – of cause – of impact – of legitimacy.
Piece of advice you wish you had received earlier in your career?
Don’t go gently into that good night – with risk comes reward. Be at risk and go for it in life, and work, and love. All things that matter are hard, and that makes them worthwhile. Also how critical good leaders and mentors are to career trajectory. I am where I am thanks to the generousity of others. I try to pay that forward when I can.