Currently, Alex is the Senior Director, Gift Planning at Northwell Health Foundation in New Hyde Park, New York, where she has worked since September 2008. Alex previously worked at the Pennsylvania State University, Pace University and Stony Brook University during comprehensive campaigns. Earlier in her career she focused on estate planning and administration as a member of the Delaware, Pennsylvania and New York bars.
Alex is a President Emeritus and mentor of the Philanthropic Planning Group of Greater New York in New York City. Alex is a past Board member and Treasurer of the National Association of Charitable Gift Planners, and served a 2-year term as Chair of its Leadership Institute. She is a frequent lecturer across the United States on topics related to charitable giving, and has had articles published in several national publications.
Alex earned a B.A. from The Pennsylvania State University, Phi Beta Kappa, a J.D. from Georgetown University Law Center, and an LL.M. in Estate Planning from the University of Miami School of Law. Alex has three published books: Zen and the Art of Fundraising: 8 Pillars of Success and Zen and the Art of Fundraising: 8 More Pillars of Success, both published in 2018, and Zen and the Art of Fundraising: The Pillars in Practice, published in 2019 by CharityChannel Press.
Conversation with Alexandra Brovey
Eddie Thompson: Thank you for joining our podcast today, Conversations with Industry Icons! We have an absolute icon with us today with Alex Brovey.
Alex, thanks for taking time to be with us this morning!
Alexandra Brovey: Oh, sure, it’s my pleasure Eddie! Thank you so much.
Eddie: Many of us know Alex and her work and we have been impressed. She is a skilled professional, and is really a unique and amazing person. While Alex is younger than most the icons we’ve had, we felt like she was definitely an icon in our industry we wanted to include.
Alex, I’m going to ask you a couple of questions. The first question is what have you learned in your career that’s really made a difference?
Alex: I can think of many ways to answer that question, Eddie. But one of them, which resonates especially so in the past year throughout the pandemic, is the importance of not giving up and with being resilient.
Eddie: It’s easy to do!
Alex: Oh yeah! I’ve been a gift planner now for 21 years. I know people that are listening have been gift planning longer, and some have been in gift planning for less time. But, after 21 years, what I realize is that you kind of set a pathway, you think you know where you’re going, and then the path changes. And, what you need to do is keep following the path. Every once in a while, you need to pause and look around you and see what’s going on and re-evaluate, and then put your feet right back down on that path and keep going. You never know where it’s going to take you and it can take you to some magical and wonderful places.
Eddie: You know, even when you find you’re in an unusual situation, you’re uncomfortable… that’s when the most important lessons are learned. Great lessons I don’t think are learned when it’s easy, I think you learn great lessons when it’s hard. You’ve pointed out the single most important lesson in success is to persevere; push through it.
Alex: I call it being resilient. I focus on a couple things in a few books that I wrote about pillars of success and one of them is the pillar of resilience. I was reflecting on that the other day because I came up with three questions that I like to ask myself when I get into a difficult or uncomfortable situation. We’ve all been put in that situation recently, right?
I always pose these questions: Can I find anything funny about this situation? Sometimes, the answer right away is no; no, not at all. Then I ask, am I going to let this ruin my day? That’s a choice; you can choose to let something ruin your day or not. Then finally, let’s say the answer is “there’s nothing funny” and “this is going to ruin my day.” The third question to ask yourself, is there anything funny about this if this were happening to someone else? Oftentimes, that can pull and lift you right up out of your well of darkness.
Eddie: Excellent! This brings back a couple memories for me. I remember when Sheryl and I first got married, I was going downtown to open an electric agreement and my car broke down right in the middle of the interstate, and people were passing and very unhappy with me. Of course, there’s nothing I could do about it. But, all of a sudden, it struck me as being funny! Especially some of the activities of the people—who were telling me I was number one and various things. That’s really excellent advice!
What has been the biggest mistake you’ve made and what did you learn from it professionally?
Alex: I’ve made a lot of mistakes and I probably will continue to make mistakes, but those are the opportunities for growth. Those are the things that move us forward in a leap or a bound rather than just a mini step when we do something right and we can pat ourselves on the back. So, I would say my biggest mistake early on as a fundraiser was trying too hard to get in front of someone. This happened to be a personal visit, but it could be the same thing with trying to get someone on the phone or trying to get someone to respond. If you push too hard, you might tend to topple things over and then you’re in a worse situation than if you had found that right pressure point. It’s hard to know where that pressure point is because it’s different for different people.
I had a couple early on, I must have tried 5 or 6 times to reach them, and my brain kept telling me to stop, and my heart kept calling me to go based on their information that I had. Finally, I got them the sixth time and they were really grateful. They said, “we got all your other messages and cards and e-mails, but we just weren’t around. But, this time, you got us!” As a fundraiser, part of your brain is thinking, well, why didn’t you acknowledge any of those calls?
There are other cases where I pushed a little bit too hard. You can get a nasty e-mail back or a nasty letter back. I guess for the boss of a fundraiser, it’s probably OK for the boss to get a note saying your fundraiser pushes too hard. The boss is probably thinking, “well, that’s what I pay them to do!” And they can only get results if they push. But there’s a fine line between pushing too hard. That’s a mistake I made early on with one couple and I’ll never forget that. So, there is a fine line and I’m always trying to tip toe up close to that line with some people.
Eddie: That’s great advice. Alex, we really appreciate you taking some time today and sharing with us insights. You are a skilled professional and we respect you and appreciate you. We’re so thankful that you took time today to join us and share your wisdom.
Alex: Eddie, thank you so much, and best wishes to everyone.
Eddie: This has been a conversation with an industry icon, Alex Brovey. We really appreciate you taking time. We look forward to spending time with you, again, in the near future. Thanks for listening!