Conversation with Bruce Bartoo, CFRE
Eddie: Thank you for joining us today for this podcast! We have with us the great Bruce Bartoo. I hope you know Bruce. If you don’t, you need to get to know him! Look at his career and what he’s done over his number of years. Bruce, we really appreciate you joining us for the conversation for industry icons. You’re definitely one of them! Tell us briefly about your background.
Bruce: Thank you, Eddie. I’m pleased to join you and chat today. I actually started my career working in politics. I had been active in high school as a volunteer in political campaigns. What I realized working in politics was it was a lot more fun to raise money than it was to do political campaign work. So, I turned to become a bit of an expert in political fundraising. I decided to go back and get a masters degree and I had an opportunity to work in the University advancement office while I pursued that degree and have stayed in professional fundraising ever since.
Eddie: That’s great! Well, you’re great at it Bruce. Let me ask you two questions. What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned?
Bruce: Never make a decision for someone else. I learned this lesson actually early in my career in politics. But it certainly has transferred as I worked in political fundraising, in higher education fundraising, and alumni relations and advancement work, and more recently as I’ve spent the last 20 or so years in healthcare philanthropy. We so often think we know what motivates someone to want to become a philanthropic partner with our organization and generally we actually don’t know. So, I learned early on don’t ever make assumptions – don’t think that there’s not something more in someone’s life story that we might never know that might be motivating them and inspiring them to want to be part of an organization. It’s such a strong lesson for me and I repeat this frequently in my career to colleagues, to board members, and others – don’t ever make an assumption for someone.
There’s usually something in their life story that’s motivating them to express interest in your organization and you won’t always know what that is, so don’t make decisions for people.
Eddie: That’s brilliant. How many fundraisers do you supervise?
Bruce: We have a team of 46 on our staff at MedStar Health. We’re spread across 10 hospitals and a number of other care sites across the Baltimore-Washington metropolitan area.
Eddie: How do you convey that message to those that report to you?
Bruce: It’s constant communication. In fact, I have a sign in my office that says one simple word: inspire. I think the sign of a great leader is one who works to inspire. So, in inspiring our team, I hope what I’m sharing with them are my own life lessons from my own career. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve explained to team members how I have failed to pay attention to what people really were looking to do. Or, how surprised I’ve been through a number of stories that donors ended up choosing to become partners in a way that was totally different than where we were strategically trying to go. And, that’s okay.
I think inspiring and leading through storytelling is so important. I also think as a leader you have to be humble and you have to recognize that there’s so much good work happening around you. It really is a privilege, and in many cases a calling, to be able to coordinate all that work as a leader and inspire others to do the right thing. Particularly in the work that we do – inspiring others to be sincere, humble and invitational to folks within our organization and out in the communities we serve.
Eddie: As an observer, Bruce, you’ve gotten a number of gifts, but you have this ability to listen and not interrupt – which, is a challenge for most of us – we want to jump in. I don’t know if it came from your parents or just learned experience – but, you have this gift of truly listening. I would assume that you learn what donors are wanting to do, what their dreams are, what their vision is, is by listening more than talking.
Bruce: It’s absolutely true. I actually learned these listening skills, again I hearken back to my early career in politics, but one of my first jobs as a 21 year old college graduate was to go out across the state of Pennsylvania and recruit people that lived in these local small town communities to run for the State House of Representatives. We’d go into a town and we try to find who were the icons in that community. It might be a school board member, it might be the bank president, it might be a philanthropist in the community. Who are the folks that people look up to that were natural leaders? You spend time, I think about this as a 21-year-old kid, frankly, sitting with someone and saying we’d really like you to consider sacrificing and becoming a candidate to run for a political office. People look at you like you’re crazy, especially as a 21-year-old, you learn to accept rejection pretty quickly. But my point is, you really had to listen to people in the community, and really listen and process and pay attention to what people were telling us or we wouldn’t succeed in finding the right person to run.
I was always a big fan of my father-in-law, who we lost way too early – a couple years after Lindsay and I were married – so I only knew him six or seven years. But he was such an inspiration to me, such a motivating person. He used to take me and we’d go see a motivational speaker named Zig Ziglar. I loved Zig Ziglar. One of the things that struck me in the first session I ever went to that Zig Ziglar was hosting was he said, “there’s a reason God gave you one mouth and two ears. You should be listening twice as much as you’re speaking.” The other thing, by the way, which relates to this, is he also said, “when you point the finger of blame at someone there are three fingers pointing right back to you.” I just love that about Zig Ziglar, such great things to think about as leaders.
I am a really big believer in listening to people. One of the things that frustrates me most generally about the work that we do is we so often feel like we need to learn more about someone, we need to do more research, we need to talk to more people about what their interests are. The reality is all you have to do is sit down and engage in conversation with someone and you’ll begin to see their passion. You’ll begin to understand what motivates them. Visit them in their home and look around. You’ll see pictures. You’ll see things that are meaningful to them in life. And, that’s where the connection comes! You’ll never find that – I don’t care how sophisticated your prospect research function might be – go talk to people, listen and understand what their passions are.
Eddie: I hope people listen. I hope they’ll listen to what you’re saying because it is the key, isn’t it, to success. There’s no way around it. Let me ask you one more question. This is the kind of naughty question, Bruce, but what’s the biggest mistake you’ve made professionally? And, what lesson did you learn from it?
Bruce: Well, gosh Eddie, I’ve made so many and I’ve learned so much from them. I hope that I don’t repeat them, but I’m sure that I do because I’m human.
I am a huge believer that gratitude matters. We talk about this a lot in the work we’re doing in healthcare philanthropy. I made a really big mistake early in my healthcare philanthropy career where I was really dismissive of people when they would talk about the experiences they had had in our healthcare organization because my job was, I thought as a chief philanthropy officer, to understand the needs of the organization and go out and raise money to support those needs. That’s what I was paid to do. So, I was singularly focused and I made this huge mistake of assuming that I knew what people would be willing to support. The reality is I needed to step back and as I stepped back and I talked to people about why they were engaged in our organization almost always I heard, “well, I’m grateful for this physician” or “I’m grateful for this particular department” or “I’m grateful to this team of nurses.” I made the mistake of sort of brushing that off and not realizing how powerful that gratitude was and how it was the gratitude that cause people to be inspired and motivated to want to become more involved in the organization in a meaningful way. We know that people who are philanthropic in their lives use their philanthropic investments as a way to advance things that are meaningful to them. So, this huge mistake I made early in my career was not recognizing how philanthropic investment actually often gets tied back to gratitude.
I’ll tell you a quick story. It’s not just healthcare, by the way. My wife and I went to a small school in western Pennsylvania. We actually met at that college – we met on her very first day, in fact. We are exceptionally grateful to that institution for the opportunity to get the education that we got, but for the opportunity to have met one another and we’ve been together now over 35 years. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve told people who represent that institution – all the way up to the president, by the way – that we are so grateful to the institution for bringing us together and making us a couple and, ultimately the people that we are, including I credit my career, to the great relationship I have with my wife. It all ties back to that institution. We’re intensely passionately grateful – and, that institution doesn’t get it. They don’t recognize how grateful we are! I actually sat at one point and said to a team of people from the institution, there are a ton of alumni couples – and, I’ll bet they all feel like we feel – this intense gratitude. People just dismiss it.
I’ve made a lot of mistakes, but I think my biggest mistake early in my career was not understanding the power of gratitude.
Eddie: I tell you what, Bruce, you have in 13 minutes really dug deep. I just hope we can get people to listen to this podcast – not just once, but maybe every few weeks just listen because it’s so practical.
Bruce is a great man, a great person. If you know him, you know what kind of person he is, but he is also truly a great leader. That’s why he’s one of our icons. Bruce, I really appreciate you taking time. I know you’re busy, but I really appreciate your taking time and sharing practical wisdom with these folks. I can’t thank you enough. You’re a good man, Bruce.
Bruce: Eddie, thank you so much! I’m always happy to do this for a friend and a great colleague and we appreciate our partnership with you. I appreciate my friendship with you more than you know.
Eddie: I hope that everyone will get on and if you ever have a chance to hear Bruce speak or ever have a chance to meet him or just have coffee with him, I would advise you to do so. I don’t think you would mind doing that, would you Bruce, if someone stopped you and asked for coffee or just visit with you?
Bruce: Happy to do that at any time!
Eddie: Do it! Take advantage of this good guy!
Bruce, thank you! Thank you everybody for joining us on this incredible conversation with industry icons.
About Bruce Bartoo. Bruce A. Bartoo is senior vice president & chief philanthropy officer for MedStar Health, a ten hospital health system with hospitals in the District of Columbia and Maryland. Bartoo is responsible for all initiatives to enhance philanthropic partnerships with MedStar Health. He leads a team of 50 professionals through the MedStar Philanthropy Group.
Prior to joining MedStar, Bartoo served St. Louis-based Mercy Health as the chief philanthropy officer and foundation president. He has a diverse set of experiences in professional philanthropy roles in healthcare, higher education and politics.
A Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE), Bartoo has a Master of Public Administration from Drake University.