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Featured Non-Profit Interview: Sarah Porter Thayer

Interview by George Williams, Communications Specialist - Planned Legacy Inc.

About Sarah Thayer

In 1986, after five years in international banking, Ms. Thayer joined Harvard Business School as Assistant Director of the Annual Fund. Seven years later, she accepted a position as Director of Development at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University. In 1998 Ms. Thayer became the Deputy Director for the university-wide campaign working largely on internal campaign strategies and with international prospects. Pursuing this interest in international fundraising, Ms. Thayer moved to Beirut in 1999 to manage the development operation for the American University of Beirut. In 2001, back in Boston, Ms. Thayer joined Children's Hospital Boston (CHB) as Senior Director of Campaign and Major Gifts managing a team of 30 people and $40 million in annual revenue.

Ms. Thayer's professional interests lie in major gift strategy, campaigns, management and international fundraising. A graduate of Princeton University, where she majored in history, Ms. Thayer grew up abroad and is fluent in Spanish and conversational in French. She lives in Winchester, MA with her 17-year-old son and 14-year-old daughter.

Learn more about Children's Hospital Boston...

Children's Hospital Boston named #1 Children's Hospital, US News & World Report.Children's Hospital Boston was named #1 Children's
Hospital in the nation by US News & World Report
for the 13th year in a row.

Planned Legacy: Can you tell us a little about yourself and your background in fund development?

Sarah Thayer: I worked in the banking industry in NY the early 1980's - in private banking, managing relationships with high net worth individuals. In 1986 I joined the development office at Harvard Business School - still working with high net worth individuals but on their philanthropy not their financial investments! It was a smooth transition and I received great training. After 14 years in university fundraising (Harvard, Tufts, American University of Beirut) I joined CHB - so I am relatively new to healthcare fundraising.

Planned Legacy: You manage a very large and sophisticated development department. Can you tell us a little about the scope of your team? How do you effectively manage such a large staff of development professionals?

Sarah Thayer: My team is magnificent. Our 10 senior major gift officers have an average of 15 years experience in major gift fundraising. They are a truly outstanding team of professionals, and nice people too. Four of the 10 are also Directors of departments - Research, Donor Relations, Corporate & Foundation Relations and Planned Giving.

Fundraising for children is a very rewarding profession.Managing this group is a combination of regular meetings, use of prospect tracking systems and reporting. We meet weekly as a group for 30 minutes. I meet individually bi-monthly with each MGO for an hour. I am available to discuss prospect strategy, volunteer strategy, review proposals or briefings as they come up, and to guide management situations around performance, retention and recruiting. I use our individual meetings to keep our focus on our top-level prospects using a prospect report which I generate monthly.

I am a big believer in written Contact Reports. I find them to be very important documents and useful tools, both for the MGO and for the manager. They force us to record, write succinctly, review and reflect on what transpired, and develop appropriate next steps (i.e. strategy). They need not be long, but are required of my staff for every significant contact with a donor or prospect.

For performance reviews we look at four aspects of work: revenue, activity, pipeline and stretch. The first three are tracked on RE and are clearly defined. Depending on the stage of your development program any one of these three areas could be stronger in a given year. The balance needs constant adjusting and that is where the manager comes in - helping the MGO balance short term, mid term and longer term activity.

The fourth aspect, stretch, is the enthusiasm and risk that an MGO is willing to take. Reaching higher is an important aspect of continued success.

Planned Legacy: What are the most important aspects to look for when hiring new development professionals?

Sarah Thayer: What you look for depends to some extent on the nature of your organization. At CHB we take an entrepreneurial approach, so we look for individuals who are self-motivated and self-directed. Keeping the team fully integrated and focused is a daily exercise requiring a great deal of face-to-face interaction, listening, discernment, reflection and decision-making. Anticipating issues is great but more often than not issues pop up and that is where an environment of trust and open discussion helps.

Planned Legacy: Can you give us a brief overview of the various types of development programs you currently manage? Which programs do find to be the most successful and why?

Sarah Thayer: I manage Major Gifts, Planned Giving and Corporate & Foundation Giving. They are all successful in different ways, but our heavy emphasis is on major gifts - with eight out of the 10 senior officers focused on gifts over $100,000. We have been very successful in the $1-3 million category with 33 gifts received to date in the campaign. Magazine Look for Children's Hospital Boston in Child Magazine's Best Children's Hospitals in America.

Planned Legacy: How diverse is your Board and how involved are they in your development decisions?

Sarah Thayer: We have a terrific board of very committed and very philanthropic Boston-area men and women. It is a relatively young board with the majority in their 40s. They have shown a real interest in supporting the hospital and have engaged several new people in the campaign.

Planned Legacy: Your Child Advocacy Network (CAN) seems like a great idea, taking advantage of the fact that the real value of a network is its number of members squared. Can you tell us a little about this unique network and how it benefits your development efforts?

Sarah Thayer: I would have to refer you to the person who manages this program. It is one of many excellent programs we have at CHB and one which has received support from some of our high level donors.

Planned Legacy: How important is networking in your other development efforts? How do you utilize the power of the technology and the Internet in your development efforts?

Sarah Thayer: The most important network we have is that of similar institutions - other children's hospitals around the US. This formal group holds regular meetings. The information sharing is helpful. You learn a great deal because you are in the same business.

Planned Legacy: How do you identify, evaluate and manage major gift prospects? Do use any particular donor management software?

Fundraisers see the results of their work everyday at Children's Hospital Boston.Sarah Thayer: We use Raiser's Edge 7 to track our prospects/donors. It works well for us. Identifying and evaluating prospects is complex. Suffice to say that we have many sources for prospects, from our volunteer leadership to our patient family screening programs. Our prospect research team does a good job of rating capacity and then it is our job to engage the prospects and begin to develop inclination. It is an ongoing process and very important.

Planned Legacy: How do you establish and strengthen personal relationships with your major contributors?

Sarah Thayer: Each MGO has a portfolio of 100-150 prospects and donors. They do a great job of keeping in close touch with major contributors and stewarding them effectively. Often we will ask contributors to join councils and committees.

Planned Legacy: Do you run a comprehensive campaign that includes both a capital campaign and a drive to build your endowment fund? What are the keys to organizing such a campaign for ultimate success?

Sarah Thayer: The Cause for Wonder campaign is a comprehensive campaign that includes the following funding priorities: Research, New Buildings, Community Service, Medical Training, Renovation & Equipment, Patient Care and Greatest Need. The key to success in any fundraising endeavor is a great team of fundraisers. After that, it is the right leadership volunteers.

Planned Legacy: What role do you see technology in general playing in the future of philanthropy? How large a role does technology play in your current development initiatives?

Sarah Thayer: We are in constant contact with our volunteer leadership via e-mail! Otherwise technology is used mainly in Annual Support.

Planned Legacy: Are you, in your day-to-day activities, able to see the results of the work you do? What are the most enjoyable parts of your job?

Sarah Thayer: I do see the results of the work I do. I manage a team and their successes feel like mine to a certain extent. That is very gratifying. I also see what our dollars do for the hospital and that is encouraging. The most enjoyable part of my job? There are so many, but probably prospect strategy is what gets me most excited. We spend hours thinking about individuals, what motivates them, how we can engage them in the important work of the hospital, finding the right opportunity for their philanthropy etc. It is challenging because every individual has his/her own reasons for giving - usually a complex set of reasons. It is a bit like a puzzle and once you find the right pieces a picture begins to form.

There is a real urgency and intensity to the giving at Children's Hospital Boston.Planned Legacy: You are a Princeton University graduate. How important has your education been to you in the development field? Do you have any educational resources you regard as integral to a career in development, and/or that you could recommend to your colleagues?

Sarah Thayer: Good writing is very important in development work and I feel lucky to have had good training in school, but perhaps more importantly I had an excellent coach at Harvard Business School, Ralph James, who at the time was the Director of Development. He took the time to revise and edit all my letters, proposals, and thank you notes. Though it was painful, I learned a great deal.

Planned Legacy: Can you tell us any favorite donor stories, patient success stories or great fundraising stories that have really had an effect on your life and work?

Sarah Thayer: Just about every gift we get has an inspiring story behind it. Watching people come forward and give from the heart, as often happens in a children's hospital, is very moving. People give when we save their child, but they also give when they lose their child. There is a real urgency and intensity to the giving at Children's Hospital Boston and the impact of the philanthropy is palpable.

About Children's Hospital Boston

resource for New England, the nation, and the world among New England's many life-enhancing assets, Children's Hospital Boston stands alone as the world's premier pediatric academic. Its reputation for excellence and leadership in patient care extends well beyond the six-state region - for the past 13 years; Children's Hospital has been named the best pediatric hospital in the country by U.S. News & World Report.

In addition to the medical staff's impeccable reputation for providing life-saving care, Children's Hospital Boston's research program is the leading pediatric research program in the world, generating new knowledge that improves the health of children everywhere. And to the children in local communities, the hospital is equally committed, serving as the family doctor to tens of thousands of Boston's youth. Children's brings health and support services into the city's neighborhoods where children face many social stresses that weigh on urban families.

Despite its accomplishments, Children's Hospital's work is never done. Growing public health and social needs of children, combined with reductions in public funding, demand the identification of new resources. At the same time, the hospital remains committed to keeping its doors open to children in need of medical services.

Learn more...

For more information please contact: 

Sarah Porter Thayer
Children's Hospital Trust
Senior Director of Campaign and Major Gifts
138 Harvard Street, Brookline MA 02446
Ph: (617) 355-2875 FAX (617) 738-0874
E-Mail: [email protected]

Children's Hospital Boston
300 Longwood Avenue
Boston, MA 02115 USA
Ph: (617) 355-6000
E-mail: [email protected]
E-mail gifts or letter to a patient: [email protected]

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