1:1 with Susan Horvath
Over the course of 2019, Nicole Nakoneshny, KCI’s Lead, Knowledge + Insights, is 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 – SUSAN HORVATH
Susan is a seasoned philanthropic executive with diverse leadership experience in the healthcare, education, research and culture sectors. Susan joined the Royal Ontario Museum five years ago as President & CEO of the ROM Governors, inspired by the opportunity to build on her lifelong passion for the ROM and her love of helping donors realize great impact through philanthropy.
In her 29 years in the charitable sector, Susan has served as Vice President Philanthropy for the Canadian Cancer Society; President of the Mount Sinai Hospital Foundation; Vice President External at Robarts Research Institute; Director of Alumni & Development at Western University; and Director, Resource Development United Way of London & Middlesex.
Susan has held leadership positions with AFP, CAGP, CCAE and several healthcare and community organizations. Susan was recognized in 2016 with AFP’s Outstanding Fundraising Professional Award.
Nicole: What does the future of fundraising look like? How is it the same as today and how is it different?
Susan: I’m an optimistic person – I think the future is very bright, and that we’ll continue to build on what is working now and also pursue new creative opportunities.
As for what will be the same, organizations will continue having important impact, donors will keep supporting causes they care about, and there will continue to be excellent volunteer leadership. I also know that there will still be dedicated, creative philanthropic staff who are passionate, sophisticated, and hard working.
As for what will be different, I believe there will be a significant group of major donors with “new wealth”, many of whom aren’t yet known to us today, who will be ready to engage in philanthropy and voluntarism…something that is a tremendously exciting opportunity for us. I also see that there are an increasing number of options available to donors, which can make it challenging for organizations to stand out. This will likely require greater investments in marketing and communications to reach new donors. Another thing that will be different is this ongoing move to digital, which brings with it ever new and evolving forms of communications that we will need to use to connect and engage with our supporters and stakeholders. We will have to stay on top of this.
Nicole: What are the biggest opportunities open to charities / the sector today when it comes to fundraising? Biggest challenges?
Susan: I think one of the biggest opportunities is this group of people with new wealth. The challenge is finding them and engaging them. I find that our volunteers are instrumental in helping us identify who we should be speaking to, which is yet another indicator of the need for diversity on our boards and in our volunteer teams. Without that diversity, our volunteers, and by extension our organzations, will only know the same people we’ve always had as donors.
The other thing I’d say is to focus on mission, not money. Too often we’re talking about what the financial goal is and how much we’ve raised, but not about what we’re actually accomplishing. The impact is what’s important. And this impact is possible because our donors enabled it. So donor impact is what we should be talking about.
Nicole: What’s your sense of what donors want from their relationships with charities today?
Susan: I think the key is that they want just that – a relationship. They want to feel known and appreciated by us. I know we read about and experience greater expectations from donors related to ROI and reporting, and we need to be meeting those expectations. But, I’m still seeing that donors who feel a direct connection with the organization are the ones that are happiest, and most likely to give again. Not every interaction even has to do with their gift. Donors want to feel engaged and involved.
I find that our volunteers are instrumental in helping us identify who we should be speaking to, which is yet another indicator of the need for diversity on our boards and in our volunteer teams. Without that diversity, our volunteers, and by extension our organzations, will only know the same people we’ve always had as donors.
Nicole: You’ve already spoken a bit about how important volunteers are helping to identify new prospective donors. How would you further characterize the role of the volunteer in fundraising today?
Susan: I see them as great and necessary connectors. I don’t need them to be a part of every step of the process (cultivating, soliciting, etc.), but we absolutely rely heavily on them to help identify, cultivate, give advice, and connect us with prospective donors. So we create all kinds of easy opportunities for them to do that. For example, we’ll invite a small group of friends and ask them to invite others in, we do lots of list review with them, and we also proactively reach out if we think they may know someone we want to get to know better.
There may be times later in the process where I will have one of our volunteers have lunch with someone or to be part of a tour as a way to confirm how serious we are about engaging this new person. We’re all very conscious that our best board members are busy people, so we use their time carefully. But I still need them to be these great connectors, because that role is essential for us.
Nicole: Let’s focus in on fundraising for arts and culture organizations in Canada. What comes to mind if I ask you to highlight the top 2 or 3 issues facing you and your sector colleagues?
Susan: While Arts and Culture are important to many people, we aren’t often in the top 1-2 philanthropic priorities for most. I find health is often a top priority, or their alma mater. But it’s interesting that the people who love the museum really LOVE the museum. It’s such a strong and positive relationship, because going to the museum is an inspiring, mood-lifting experience.
Another issue facing arts and culture organizations is the fact that donors who might give to annual appeals might not even think about them as a charity because you buy a ticket to attend. It just doesn’t cross people’s minds that we require philanthropic support.
A third issue that comes to mind is that I sometimes hear people suggest that arts and culture organizations are elitist, and just for wealthy people. I can’t stress enough how untrue this is. Our staff, volunteers, members, visitors, and organizations we partner with completely represent the diversity of Toronto, and Canada as a whole. We all do a lot of work to ensure we’re as accessible as possible.
Nicole: For many years now, we have been seeing donor bases shrink at many charities. We also know that 1 in 2 Canadians aged 18-34 say they are inclined to give directly to causes through crowdfunding than to a charity. How do charities compete and attract young people to give to our organizations?
Susan: I think we need to focus on developing meaningful connections with people of all ages, and not with the immediate expectation of massive philanthropy.
In the culture sector, we are fortunate in that we have a lot of cool programs, exhibitions, and events that can surprise and engage people, especially young people. I think organizations in our sector should use this to our advantage, to help create and nurture relationships with potential supporters.
We are celebrating the 15th anniversary of our Young Patron’s Circle program. It’s a group that gets together once a month or more. Many people who are brand new to Toronto join because they want to meet people – and they find the group very welcoming. I’ve heard them talk about how they miss the environment that University offered them. Not the “party” part, but the learning environment, being inspired, and getting to know like-minded people. They do behind-the-scenes tours, lectures, tours of exhibitions, etc. They’re all current donors, but they tend to think of their gifts more as membership fees. Maybe one day some of them will be major philanthropists!
I think an important role that we have in this sector is to continue to educate donors, funders, government, and the community on the tremendous value and return on investment of our work. We should continue to focus on the impacts over the costs.
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.
Susan: I want us to continue to professionalize in terms of education and ethics. We do a good job of it now and we need to continue to focus on this because people now see this as a destination career.
I also want us to create work environments that are respectful, enjoyable, motivating, and that allow space for new ideas that may even turn current practices upside down. Those kinds of workplaces also enable professional growth opportunities, which I think is important so we see fewer professionals changing organizations to get these opportunities.
And third, I think an important role that we have in this sector is to continue to educate donors, funders, government, and the community on the tremendous value and return on investment of our work. We should continue to focus on the impacts over the costs.
Nicole: You’ve recently become involved with an initiative that is seeking to advance equity in the sector through AFP’s (Association of Fundraising Professionals) program called IDEA. Tell us more about what that is and what you are hoping to achieve.
Susan: IDEA is an international strategy to address different challenges facing our organizations. There are a few different initiatives that are part of this, one of which is the women’s impact initiative, which aims to address the challenges that women face in our sector. There are a couple things they’re doing for this. I will be moderating a panel on October 18 where they will have a diverse group of leaders talking about disparities women face in our sector, the importance of donors who are women, and misconduct/sexual harassment.
I felt this was important because I think it’s completely unacceptable for anyone in any workplace to be put in inappropriate situations. AFP recently did a survey about this, and what I gather is that many fundraisers regularly feel like they’re in awkward and tough situations. According to the survey, this is usually a challenge with either a donor or someone who is higher up in the organization. Everyone should know that they absolutely have license to walk away from that, because putting up with that is not part of their job.
Where do you look for inspiration?
From all the great people I get to work with. Donors, volunteers, museum staff.
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?
I love meeting entrepreneurs who have built companies in environments that are nothing but disruptive. Even though it’s incredibly challenging it always seems like they’re all having fun! They’re intensely focused on this thing they’re passionate about and you can just sense how excited they are about building something together. We should all be thinking that way.
How did you become a fundraiser?
It was when I was working at United Way. Before that, I had been a university professor for 10 years and I had organized one United Way campaign. Then United Way had an opening and I wound up getting the job. From day one, I just loved it. I loved motivating people to accomplish something important, and I loved working with volunteers. I knew that was it for me. This was over 29 years ago now.
What was your first experience with “charity” – either giving or receiving?
As a kid I did all kinds of walks. I was also involved in Brownies and Girl Guides, and we did charitable stuff as well.
Best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
Be persistent. We have really hard jobs sometimes and we have to be courageous. I think the sign of a good fundraiser is persistence. It’s so rewarding to look back on what you’ve accomplished and say wow; I made that happen because of my persistence.
Related to this, another piece of great advice that actually came from a presentation that Marnie Spears (KCI’s former President and CEO) gave a while back is to find something you’re passionate about and stay there 3-5 years. The magic comes when you’ve made a difference, and you can’t make a difference in less than 2 years most of the time. I’ve passed this advice on.