Sunnybrook Foundation

Q&A with Kelly Cole, President and CEO of the Sunnybrook Foundation

Kelly Cole

Starting any new job can be a big transition. But starting a new role as President and CEO of one of the largest hospital foundations in Canada in the midst of global pandemic? Now that’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience!

Sunnybrook Foundation’s new President and CEO Kelly Cole has hit the ground running since she began her role in November 2020. Kelly brings a wealth of experience to guide the team, having previously served as Vice-President, University Advancement at Western University, as well as President and CEO of West Park Healthcare Centre Foundation. Alongside her expertise, she also brings her genuine enthusiasm for becoming a Sunnybrooker.

We asked Kelly to share her first impressions of Sunnybrook, thoughts on the year ahead and a few insights into her personality. Read on for more from our conversation.

What are you most excited to take on in your new role at the Sunnybrook Foundation?

What excites me most is working with donors. I love that part of the job. I love hearing their stories, understanding their interests and passions, learning how they are trying to make a difference – and then finding that perfect point of intersection between the Hospital’s needs and what the donor’s interests and cares are.

I’m looking forward to getting to know more of the donors and the different areas of the Hospital, and bringing those two together for great impact.

Now that you have been in your role for the past few months, what has stood out to you? Has anything surprised you?

It’s a very interesting time to join an organization in the midst of a global crisis. You get to see people at their best, and in this case for us it is really our best.

During the interview process, I had a strong sense of the spirit of the people that make up Team Sunnybrook. I’ve been overwhelmed by people’s support of each other and the way that they have come together as a team; their collaboration toward a common purpose – I see it both in the Hospital and in the Foundation. And the team and the Foundation Board of Directors have been so welcoming.

It’s also been remarkable to see how Sunnybrook has been adapting and innovating in response to COVID-19. A great example is the new Virtual Emergency Department, which allows patients with a non-life-threatening health concern to book an appointment with an emergency room physician over Zoom. It’s just so inspiring to see all the ways Sunnybrook teams come together to improve care while keeping patients and staff safe.

What is the role of the Sunnybrook Foundation, and how does philanthropy directly impact patient, family and community outcomes at Sunnybrook?

The role of the Foundation is to support the mission and vision of the Hospital, full stop. We exist to support what the Hospital is trying to accomplish.

We do that by building up a really strong community of donors and volunteers. Our role is to connect that community to the institution, but also to each other to create a sense of belonging and engagement. If we do that well, then the support comes, because our donors get to know the organization and understand how they can make an impact.

The Foundation Board of Directors are so vital to this process, and it has been encouraging to see how connected they have remained throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

Can you share some examples of what donors are enabling the Hospital to do?

While I’m still in my early days at Sunnybrook, I have already encountered a range of what our donors are supporting at all different levels.

We’ve had a great response from donors toward our COVID-19 efforts and ensuring the Hospital has the right resources: whether that’s helping to provide educational opportunities, supporting research initiatives, or contributing to personal protective equipment (PPE) and other equipment like iPads so that patients can connect with their families.

Even over the holidays, there were a few donors reaching out to see how they could support the resiliency of our staff. That really speaks to the understanding and commitment of our donors to Sunnybrook when they reach out and say, “What can I do to help right now?”

There’s also immense support for projects such as the Garry Hurvitz Brain Sciences Centre, the Family Navigation Project for youth mental health, our electrophysiology suites in the Schulich Heart Program, the technology and infrastructure to support personalized care at the Odette Cancer Centre – and so much more to advance the way we deliver care. It’s so inspiring to see this type of investment in the Hospital and the impact that donors are having on health-care delivery now and into the future.

What lessons or insights do you bring from your previous role as Vice-President, University Advancement?

Hospitals and universities are both complex organizations. And in these types of institutions, building partnerships with teams across the organization is critically important for us to be successful. At Western University, our engagement with deans, professors and leaders helped to articulate issues and needs as well as their passion and vision to donors.

Similarly, Sunnybrook Foundation’s relationships with Hospital leaders and individuals delivering care is essential to driving philanthropy to the institution. We can’t do it alone, and that partnership is so very important. It’s about the whole team working together for fundraising.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

I don’t have one greatest achievement when it comes to work. Everything that I have accomplished I have done with a team. There have always been people supporting me from all directions, volunteers included. Possibly my greatest achievement is building thriving, successful teams.

In my personal life, certainly I would say my kids, together with my spouse, Jeff. I have two wonderful kids and they are bright, caring, loving individuals, and I hope that I’ve shaped them to be that.

As the COVID-19 vaccine becomes widely distributed, what are you most looking forward to enjoying that may have been on hold during the pandemic?

I can’t wait until I can sit face-to-face with donors. There are a number of donors to Sunnybrook who live in the neighbourhood – and wouldn’t it be fabulous to pop over for a cup of coffee and get to know them a little better, and understand their connections with the institution and what they’re trying to accomplish with their philanthropy.

Equally, I miss the daily banter inside the office with the team. There is something you miss in Zoom meetings, like some of the humour that comes when you’re live – on Zoom, it’s really hard to be funny! A huge part of my job is building relationships, and I really miss it. I’m looking forward to that.

On a personal note, just having people over for dinner would be lovely.

Now, for five rapid-fire questions to get to know you better:

  • What was the best book you read in 2020? Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
  • Best show you watched in 2020? Schitt’s Creek
  • Who would you most like to invite to dinner? My family. We have an extended family of about 24 people, and we’re used to getting together maybe three or four times per year, which we haven’t done since the pandemic arrived.
  • What’s your top travel destination once we are able to travel more regularly? We were to go on a safari in Kruger National Park in South Africa and Chobe National Park in Botswana with my two kids who have graduated from university as one last trip together. I’m hoping we still get to do it.
  • What three words would you use to describe yourself? Kind, persistent, collaborator. 

Our thanks to Kelly for sitting down with us to share her insights, reflections and hopes for the year ahead. We are delighted to welcome her to the Sunnybrook Foundation!