As health care continues to transform, philanthropy takes on an ever more critical role in the funding of key initiatives including the traditional ones of major gifts and campaigns as well as new areas like population health and initiatives around social determinants of health. Alice brings deep health care industry knowledge and strong marketing skills to the role of CEO, both of which she will employ as AHP develops new educational opportunities and tools to support the important work of health care development professionals.
Alice has devoted the last 10+ years of her career to supporting the health care industry and improving patient care. Most recently, Alice served as Chief Revenue Officer at Knowledge to Practice (K2P), an early-stage company creating an alternative to cardiology continuing education, which is dramatically increasing the knowledge retention and practice by cardiologists across the world. Alice worked closely with leaders at the top training hospitals across the United States.
Previous to K2P, Alice served as an executive director with The Advisory Board Company, a global research, technology, and consulting membership organization that partners with 4,500 organizations and more than 200,000 leaders across health care. She led a team of over 200 and was responsible for the firm’s strategic marketing strategy and execution, from brand awareness to content development. While there, she spearheaded the creation of strategy sessions for member hospital and health system C-level executives which attracted the leadership of over 150 of the leading healthcare providers in the United States and abroad.
Prior to joining The Advisory Board Company, Alice held marketing leadership roles at consumer-driven marketing companies including Kraft Foods and a wireless start-up called Kajeet. Additionally, Alice was a senior director at The Atlantic, leading the marketing and sales team for AtlanticLive, the media outlet’s live events group.
Alice has served on several boards including The Madeira School and Princeton’s Campus Club. She received her MBA from The Kellogg Graduate School of Management and her bachelor’s degree from Princeton University. She lives in Bethesda, MD with her husband and her four children.
Conversation with Alice Ayres
Eddie Thompson: Thank you for joining us! Today, we have with us Alice Ayres, who’s the President and Chief Executive Officer for Association for Healthcare Philanthropy. She has been with them since 2018.
Alice is incredibly bright and engaging in conversation. In fact, we ran a little bit longer just chatting a few minutes ago. Alice has really brought AHP, I think, to a new level. Especially during the time of COVID-19, AHP has really risen as a leader. Alice, we appreciate your leadership so much and we’re thankful you’re on our call today.
Alice Ayres: Well, thank you for having me. Eddie, I really appreciate it, and I’m excited. I took a look at all of the people that you’ve had on and they certainly are icons. I feel humbled to be part of this group, so thank you.
Eddie: It’s our pleasure and you belong! I’m going to ask you a couple of questions and I’m curious to hear your answers. What have you learned in your career that’s really made a difference?
Alice: There are lots of things. But I think as you probably know, I’ve worked in a lot of different types of organizations from startups to major corporations like Kraft Foods and more recently The Advisory Board Company. What I’ve taken from all of those experiences is that a successful organization has to find a balance between being agile and being good at long-term planning.
The startups I’ve worked for are relentless about being agile, which makes sense because you’re already learning new things about your customer on a daily basis. Some of those larger organizations are always thinking about the long-term effect and implication that even a small risk might take and might create. I’ve found that each of those are important. But taken by themselves, they can create blinders to a more balanced approach which is more of a careful blend of being agile and also being able to think about the long-term, which is what I’m trying to achieve at AHP. As a leader, I think you have to understand your own tolerance for risk and your own tolerance for change, then assess whether that’s in line with the organization’s level of tolerance for those things, as well.
I’ve been fortunate that AHP, the volunteer leadership board, and others were really ready for thoughtful change since my tendency tends to lean toward risk-seeking rather than risk aversion. But especially as we’re all facing COVID-19, I feel like that balance is really important right now. We were just talking a minute ago about how in March it was like the whole world changed dramatically and we were thrust into important short term thinking and doing. At first, we all thought this might be over in a couple of weeks, or maybe a month or two. We just had to do what we had to do in order to continue to make things work, whether that was working from home, pivoting to virtual events, virtual donor visits, WebEx meetings with clinical and hospital leadership, all of our members, and AHP as well, were trying to figure out how to try new things and succeed fast or fail fast, so that we could continue to do the work that we needed to do.
But now we’re in month six and no real end in sight, and I feel like it’s time for all of us to sit back and assess how we navigate all of this from a long-term perspective. What changes need to be made to our strategic plans or our annual goals, or the way that we’re interacting with donors? Take what we’ve learned that didn’t work so that we don’t do that anymore. But also take the changes that we made that were better than the old way of doing things, and making those permanent.
I’m doing this at AHP. We’ve done a ton of pivoting. As you said, in the last several months we’ve done virtual meetings and conferences where we had never done them before. We did the virtual institute instead of being in Madison. We’re all working from home—have been since March. So, we’ve done a lot of that, but I’m finding that I need now—and, in fact, I’m going to take a mini time-out next week from the day-to-day to really sit with the path forward for the next several years. It’s so hard. We just went through budgeting, that was incredibly difficult—none of us have a crystal ball. None of us know what’s coming. But I think with some thoughtful planning and careful risk assessment and contingency planning, I feel like we will continue to be in a great place no matter what either 2020, or, I’m almost afraid to say it, but 2021 throws at us next. It’s a balance! We’ve all got to find that balance.
Eddie: You sit in a seat where you have the opportunity to look across the country. Have you seen the impact of COVID-19 different in different regions or has it been pretty consistent throughout the country? What have you seen from your vantage point?
Alice: I think in terms of fundraising, the differences have to do with some basic fundamentals that were either in place or weren’t. The first thing I think about is whether or not the hospital leadership had a real understanding of the importance of philanthropy and had built a culture of philanthropy. For those organizations where that was the case, I feel like they jumped into donor stewardship, they jumped into asking donors for help, and invited them to be part of the hard work of caring for COVID patients, and also, continuing to try to care for all of the other aspects of health care that they had all cared about in the past.
For others, that fissure, that hospital leadership didn’t understand how important philanthropy could be, meant that people were told by hospitals that they really shouldn’t go out and talk to donors or they shouldn’t talk about the needs of the hospital right now because they didn’t want to be seen as needing in the midst of a crisis.
Those who had that relationship and have the understanding of how important philanthropy is really doubled down. They understood that it was a diverse revenue stream—that it was something that might actually help stem some of the losses from elective procedures and regular chronic care. Then, just watching the ways in which fundraisers have figured out how to connect with donors in truly meaningful ways. Lots of them have done things like bring clinical and hospital leadership to a virtual meeting of donors. Because donors are hungry right now for what is going on. What is the truth? And they look to health care to give it. There was a study done by Edelman that I saw pretty recently, I’m not going to remember the numbers, but it was pretty clear that of all of the places that people had to go for information—news outlets, government entities—health care was the one they trusted by leaps and bounds above all the others.
We’re in a position to really make a big difference for people in their own lives and donors in their own lives, and to invite them to make a big difference in the work that we’re doing. So, I think the differences are less geographic and less system versus small hospital foundation, and more about the culture that’s been built.
Eddie: I have one more question I want to ask you. This is a hard question, it’s kind of a naughty question, but what mistake have you made in your career, and what did you learn from it?
Alice: I had a hint that you might ask this question, and I spent a lot of time thinking about it. I honestly think the big one is that I, like many, many other women, and men, too, but many women in particular, felt my fair share of imposter syndrome, especially early in my career. That’s a feeling that at any moment someone is going to realize that you’re not qualified to do what you’re doing, like you’ve snuck your way into the role that you’re in rather than earned it. And, when I say that out loud, lots of people laugh at me and say, “Oh, come on, Alice, you went to Princeton, you have a Kellogg MBA. Give me a break!” Yet, I still felt it. So, for me, the mistake in feeling it was that it closed me off to soliciting good, helpful feedback, and held me back from jumping into new or bigger opportunities.
I’m glad to say that as I’ve gotten older, I’ve sort of relaxed into knowing what I know and knowing what I don’t know, and asking questions and getting good feedback from people, and being open about where my own gaps of knowledge or understanding are. That’s increased my ability to grow and to learn as a leader and as a person. It’s also allowed me to bring a more authentic, whole self to the roles that I’ve taken. As I mentor people and especially younger women, I encourage them to recognize their own tendency toward imposter syndrome in the hopes that I can help them get to where I am now, which is more comfortable in the things that I’ve been able to accomplish. I’m now also relentless in seeking feedback and advice—I think of those as gifts. I’m grateful to AHP’s members for engaging with me in sometimes tough conversations about what we’re doing not so well so that we can, as an association, serve the members better. It’s nice to be in a place where I feel now I’m able to own the things I don’t know and ask for help in ways that perhaps I might not have when I was younger.
Eddie: Boy, that is insightful wisdom. I hope people are listening. Because it’s easy to do, for anyone to do, depends on where they come from, and their background, but it’s also gender specific, too, so I really appreciate you mentioning that.
Alice: Yeah, absolutely!
Eddie: That was helpful, Alice.
Alice: Good, I’m glad. It always startles me. I see all of these incredibly accomplished, remarkable, often younger women in my universe, and they’ll sort of whisper when do you stop worrying about whether or not you belong? I feel that earlier version of me and realize that there are lots of things that we can all do to help all of us feel more like we belong where we are.
Eddie: I’m really appreciative for you mentioning that. That’s something we’ve not heard before. Alice, you’re a great leader for AHP. We appreciate you. We hope that you have a long, long term there, and that you keep helping the association improve and grow, and I believe you will. You’re a great leader!
Alice: Thank you, it is truly a pleasure. I appreciate the time with you, Eddie, as always, thank you so much.
Eddie: We’ve had a chance today to hear from Alice Ayres, who is the President and CEO of Association for Healthcare Philanthropy (AHP). Alice is a tremendous gift to all of us, whether you’re in the industry of health care or not. She’s a great leader. Any opportunity you have to hear her speak or read something she’s written, you ought to take advantage. Alice, thank you.