2022 was a pivotal year in many ways—not only for Community of Hope, but for many local and national nonprofit organizations. While many were still trying to catch their post-shutdown footing, Leah has been forging ahead with innovative ideas and strategies to maintain funds and increase the organization's visibility.
"We are so pleased to share that Leah Garrett, Vice President of Development and Communications, has been recognized as Fundraiser of the Year by Nonprofit Pro. In the past eleven years, Leah has quintupled funding for the organization with foundation grants, individual giving and government funding, increasing the budget from $8.3 million to $41.9 million. CEO Kelly Sweeney McShane says, "Leah is the most talented development leader I have ever worked with. I am so grateful for her leadership, passion, and talent."
Read a fun Q&A with Leah here:
What motivates or drives you to do this work?
When I first came to Community of Hope, I wanted to ‘fundraise for a face’ – meaning get a chance to meet the people impacted by the mission. As a young mom (back then), I couldn’t stand the idea of a mom and children having no safe place to sleep. Then my little sister got cancer and had to rely on Medicaid and SSI – giving me an intimate view of the need for comprehensive and compassionate healthcare provided to all, regardless of insurance status or ability to pay.
Last year, Community of Hope served about 17,000 “faces.” We are embedded in neighborhoods in DC where, if we could serve every person who needs healthcare, housing, or crisis prevention, we’d grow another 5 times in the next few years. I’m still fundraising for a face and will continue until everyone has equitable access to care.
Why do you think your fundraising strategy has remained effective?
Our fundraising strategy is about the people we serve. We center their needs and as much as possible their voices. My team tells Stories of Hope from our patients and housing clients each month. But we also work to center our funders and donors. You are the ones who fuel the daily work of providing healthcare and housing. You fund our innovations and have grace as we learn what works and doesn’t. You give us the flexibility to pivot to meet unmet needs.
What has been the most rewarding side of your work with Community of Hope?
I love being able to work with a bunch of visionaries – our CEO, Kelly Sweeney McShane and my colleagues in Health and Housing – who always know just what we need to tackle next to mitigate and transform the challenges of homelessness and health inequity that our community faces. And our Development/Communications team is a joy. They are an All Hands on Deck team, achieving big moments together – from inspirational events and film projects to elevating a participant’s story. The most rewarding part of my work is what we achieve together as a team to advance our work to make DC more equitable!
What’s the biggest lesson you have learned in your tenure at Community of Hope?
I keep learning every day. The lesson that is hardest is balancing opportunity with capacity. We have countless brilliant ideas, and everyone is very motivated, but we are just humans. At a leadership level in the organization and the team, we definitely dream together while also managing some difficult prioritization.
Every workplace has had to make major changes in the past 2+ years of the pandemic and Community of Hope has often been ‘out ahead’ of other organizations. What is your proudest accomplishment in this pandemic flexibility?
In summer 2019, I developed a capital campaign plan for our Healthy Beginnings, Hopeful Futures to expand and relocate our Family Health and Birth Center – which had to move in 2022 and construction had to begin in 2020. I estimated that we would raise our largest private fundraising goal and we were close to getting our lead investment, launching the silent phase. We planned to go public in spring 2020. And then … the pandemic. Funders were calling to ask what we needed, and the answer was everything – pandemic support, gap funding, and capital funds. The clock was ticking on the building project, but the world was changing so rapidly. We re-forecasted the campaign, estimating $10.5 million and stayed in the silent phase of the campaign until spring 2021. In that year, we raised $1.6 million and when we wrapped up the campaign a year later, our donors had given $12.3 million. This was our largest private campaign, achieved in the two years of a global pandemic. What never ceases to amaze me is how our supporters helped us out in every way – they heard and responded to our vision for the new Center while also stabilizing our mission during the pandemic and expanding COVID-related programming!
You’ve secured top-tier media placements to increase the organization’s visibility, including CNN’s series, “Champions for Change;” on NBC’s morning show “Today;” and in “Birthing Justice,” a documentary about maternal and child health disparities. What is your dream project that would raise COH’s visibility?
I would just love to have Michelle Obama visit Community of Hope with a whole host of national news crews. But if I cannot get that, then having the NY Times do a full-length feature on Community of Hope’s mission and our CEO would perfect!
What does being named the ‘Fundraiser of the Year’ mean to you and for Community of Hope?
Some years ago, I heard someone say that fundraisers are to be transparent intermediaries - connecting people in a moment of needing assistance with people in a moment of being able to share. Getting an award feels a bit at odds with ‘transparent intermediary.’ But if the award means that our donors make my job easy by being responsive, thoughtful, and compassionate and if it means that more people hear about Community of Hope, our strategic team, and our resilient patients and clients – then this award is the first of the best news we will have all year!
Read the full announcement on Nonprofit Pro here.