NephCure Open Access: Spotlight On Deborah Pollock, National Director of Advancement
Deb joined NephCure last fall, but she is such a natural fit within the NephCure family that it feels like she’s been here with us all along. We’re so grateful to have her on the team, and she’s already made a huge impact on our work. We spent some time with her recently to learn more about what brought her to NephCure and what her plans are for the future of NephCure’s fundraising.
NephCure Kidney International: You have a deep and varied history in the fundraising profession. Could you describe some of the roles that you lean on in your position at NephCure?
Deborah Pollock: I started my career in fundraising, gosh I can’t believe it—23 years ago—kind of by mistake. I fell into it. I started with a part-time, temporary fundraising position at the National MS Society. I dove right into it and did pretty well, so that by the end of the summer they had hired me full-time. That was my first full-time fundraising position. I then started managing walks and some of their other campaigns. Within about two years, I had become a regional manager, overseeing staff and events.
From there, I had similar roles but kept trying to continue to learn and grow. I’ve also worked for the American Diabetes Association, the American Red Cross, and March of Dimes. In those roles, I did almost everything from being an area manager to executive director for a region and also working in major gifts. Those roles led me to loving this field, continuing to learn, and having the ability the ability to manage events, staff, and volunteers all at the same time. It was all great experience.
As a manager or director, I’ve always been what I call a “coach player.” Not all directors play this kind of role: I would oversee the chapter or the area, but in addition, I also always had a few of the signature events that were my own. I think that helped me understand the role of those who are coordinating events and those who are on volunteer committees—by continuing to have to work in those roles has helped me to empathize with every step of planning an event.
In the nonprofit world, you really are a jack of all trades. No nonprofit has a ton of money where you’re hired to just play one role. Even if you’re coordinating walk sites, you’re still doing the communications, you’re still doing the marketing, you’re the recruiter, the sponsorship writer, the team-builder, the logistics lead. I’ve always had to do all of that, and it’s been a wonderful learning experience.
NephCure: You’ve been part of the team for close to nine months already. So you have quite a bit of time under your belt here. What has surprised you the most in your time at NephCure?
Deb: What has surprised me the most has been what this organization has accomplished with so few people. I look at all that we’re doing and have done, and I just can’t believe that this small team has accomplished it. That’s really been my biggest surprise. When I first started looking at this position and looking at the website, and all the different events and webinars, I thought to myself, “Oh this must be a big organization.” Then I realized that it’s really just a small group of passionate, intelligent folks working with great volunteers. That is really what has surprised me the most.
NephCure: What has been your favorite NephCure event so far?
Deb: That’s a hard one, because each event you go to where you meet patients and volunteers, you just love every one of them. I really enjoyed Countdown to a Cure NYC—how beautifully run it was and the folks who spoke and shared their stories. As far as a fundraising event, I really loved that. I also really loved the Los Angeles, CA Walk. They had a Lunch and Learn part of it that was really well done.
The other thing I loved was the NephCure Leadership Summit. But really, everything I’ve been to has been so meaningful and well-run, it’s hard to pick just one!
NephCure: What about the NephCure community inspires you?
Deb: Having been in this field for so long, at every nonprofit and every disease-related organization I’ve worked for, you meet the patients, and you meet the families, and you meet the volunteers, but I’m really not just saying this: I have never seen the level of passion among families and volunteers that I’ve seen here. Even just being on a committee phone call, they’ll spend time talking about the event, but then they’re all connecting on a personal level—because they’re all patients or parents and they enjoy having that time to connect together as well. I’ve been on hundreds of committee calls with other organizations, and even if there were patients on the calls, it was mainly about business. Here, you become a family. I’ve never experienced something like that at this level.
NephCure: What exciting plans do you have in mind for the future of fundraising at NephCure?
Deb: The most exciting plan we have is taking us to the next level. I’d like to see a future where everyone knows who NephCure is, and we grow our brand and our fundraising efforts and really become well-known. Everyone has worked so hard for 18 years to bring some great signature events and walks together, and now’s the time to bring a lot of these events to the next level and really shine a light on our brand.
NephCure: Can you think of any events that are run by charities that are not necessarily well-known, but the event itself becomes well-known and surpasses the awareness of the organization itself?
Deb: When I started with the National MS Society 23 years ago, I think there were about 400,000 people who had MS in the US at that time. So though it wasn’t necessarily a rare disease, it’s not something that millions of people had. They had started an event called the MS 150s—two-day bike tours of 150 miles each. I remember the finish line at those events, even if you were the last cyclist in, there was still the same amount of volunteers cheering you on, and a lot of them were patients. You’d see people in wheelchairs at the finish line. Every rest stop, every gathering point was integrated with with making the riders and volunteers feel great. They branded those events so well and became such experts in logistics, I’d say that 90% of the cyclists weren’t necessarily riding because they knew someone with MS. But because they made it such a wonderful experience and such a professionally-run ride, those events were able to bring MS into the public light a little bit more. Once the MS 150s started, they kind of catapulted awareness of the organization.
I think there’s an opportunity to make NephCure and Nephrotic Syndrome more well-known. And I’m excited to be here to help play a role in that.
It’s a pleasure and a privilege to welcome Deb to the NephCure family. If you’d like to speak with Deb, please feel free to leave a comment below, or send her an email at DPollock@NephCure.org. From all of us, welcome to the team, Deb!