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OCHF Director talks about the nature of giving today

Coming up on a year with the Osceola Community Health Foundation, Director Jill Leahy reflects on the Foundation, the transition through the pandemic, successes and challenges, and giving during these tipsy-turvey times.

You have a strong history with fund raising, especially as an independent grant writer, what did you see in OCHF when you joined the Foundation nearly a year ago? 

Osceola Community Health Foundation has been a leader in philanthropy and community engagement for many years and was responsible for the development of the new Osceola Medical Center campus. The success of the organization is the result of strong leadership and strong strategic management. I was drawn to the Foundation’s leadership team for its strong love for Osceola and the St. Croix Valley, strong values on community health and wellbeing, and strong beliefs in a rural hospital and clinic system that provides quality and compassionate care in a safe and modern environment. In coming to OCHF, I saw great potential to further our partnerships in the community as well as compete for potential grant opportunities locally, regionally and nationally.”

Along with pretty much everything, the fund-raising industry was turned on its head during the pandemic, moving from live activities to online appeals and even canceled events. How is it recovering?

While the pandemic turned the world upside down, it led to some unique fund-raising strategies and even some new opportunities. Initially, our Foundation, like most other nonprofits, had to cancel events or get creative. Being creative meant hosting virtual events to reach people in their homes. This was stressful because it was unknown territory, took many months to plan even a single online event and took an army to do it.

OCHF was successful in switching its main fund raiser, the 2020 Holiday Gala, to an online platform but had to cancel the 2021 event. Our annual golf tournament in 2021 was the only live activity we did at the time, raising $30,000 for OMC’s Oncology and Surgery departments. Our Foundation Board of Directors and leadership then strategized a new online silent auction in December and a spring Gala to replace the holiday version, hoping the pandemic would subside and a live event could occur. 

At a new location and with a new theme, our spring Gala Fiesta raised more than $55,000, indicating that the fund-raising industry is beginning to recover as people are willing to attend live events. We are so grateful and encouraged that support for health and wellbeing in the Osceola area is still strong.

How important are foundations and giving today?

 Charities and foundations allow our country the opportunity to do what it does best: Give. Despite the economic downturn, inflation, political differences and wars, Americans find ways to help those in need, and make our communities, country and world a better place to live, work, educate and play. I think it is life changing to be able to give back and change a life, improve an outcome or make something possible. Our Foundation’s mission is to do just that by fostering charitable support for the Osceola Medical Center and the health-related needs of the people in the upper St. Croix Valley.

Pandemic aside, soon after you arrived at OCHF you replaced the Foundation’s retiring director, had to cancel its signature event and refocused efforts for the first few months. What keeps you motivated?

 My joy in life is meeting people, loving people and connecting people for the greater good. I feel privileged to be able to do this through my work at the Foundation. Each day I go to work motivated to make someone else’s day better. I love learning from others and I love being a listener to understand other’s burdens. I am always curious about ways the Foundation can help support OMC and its employees and more importantly, how we can better serve our patients and community. It energizes me when I know I can raise dollars for equipment that makes our employees jobs easier and improves access to care for our patients. It excites me when I get to discuss opportunities with community partners to improve the health and wellbeing in our rural area. It inspires me when I experience a fantastic team of board members and employees who care to give of their time and dollars to make the patient care experience at OMC the best. Finally, I am grateful for the donors who value OMC and its unique model of care: “Your whole life in One Place”. 
 

What success did you have and how did they come together?

The Foundation has raised more than $450,000 for OMC in the past year from events, employee giving and grants. As health-care providers, we are privileged to be part of some of our patients’ most challenging and intimate life experiences. Therefore, we build our fund-raising work around serving people in need. Fund raising is the main part of the OCHF mission. Our leadership is honored to make an impact on patient care and community health on behalf of the many donors who give so generously, including:

  • Our employees and providers, our greatest assets in so many ways, who lead with their hearts every day and raised more than $21,000 in March;
  • The Roots and Wings Foundation and it’s $70,000 grant in December for parent education, birth to 5 parent education, and staff training for suicide awareness and prevention; and
  • The Fred C. and Catherine B. Andersen Foundation for its $300,000 grant in May for the advancement of our chemistry laboratory and upgrade of medical supply carts for several departments.

Where do Foundation funds go?

While the OCHF raises most of its dollars to support OMC, the Foundation’s mission includes giving back to the community for health and wellness. Every three years, the hospital participates in a Community Health Needs Assessment to identify main community health concerns, which have included mental health, addiction, diabetes and obesity. As such, grants dollars have been awarded to such community organizations as the Butterfly House Women’s Recovery Program, Mental Health Task Force of Polk County, Osceola School District Bandana Project and Wild River Fitness. Funds also have been used for health-care careers through the Osceola High School Scholarship Committee and St. Croix Falls High School Scholarship Committee. 

What challenges are still ahead for the industry as a whole and how is the Foundation positioning itself for these challenges?

Most charities operate through gifts from donors and granted dollars from foundations and government. At this time in history, charities are challenged by the economy, loss of small business, limitations in a person’s discretionary dollars, aging of the baby boomer generation and its fixed retirement budgets, and a significant number of charities competing for donors’ support. Even with a strong history within our community, our efforts are very strategic:

  • Our board, which is comprised of business and community leaders thinks ahead and understands the challenges of charitable work in general and in Osceola in particular;
  • We seek out knowledge from industry and business leaders who have wisdom in management during challenging times;
  • We have a narrow focus on raising dollars primarily for capital equipment and the overall patient care experience;
  • Our small staff uses the gifts and talents of volunteers and OMC employees to meet workflow needs;
  • We engage with broad generations of leaders to learn, grow and help lead us into the future; and
  • We are committed to community partnerships to discuss viable and mutual projects to make contributions go further.

What tips do you have for people who still want to contribute even during our current economic situation?

We encourage people to live within their means, and we respect the challenges Americans face. Giving must be from the heart, not out of duty or obligation. Therefore, I encourage you to explore your heart when choosing organizations that align with your passion and will make the impact you desire. As it is important to understand how donations will be used, take time to discover and research charities. A good source for research is www.guidestar.org. Also, “giving” can be time or dollars. Take a look at personal daily habits, and budget for those habits. For example, is there an extra drink or meal out which could be instead saved for giving? Can time you spend watching TV or on the computer be used instead to volunteer a few hours to help?

My door, my phone and my email are always available for discussion, and I love helping people live a meaningful life with purpose and passion. I can be reach at 715-294-5727 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. For more information about the Osceola Community Health Foundation, go to https://myomc.org/give-ochf.

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