CEO Q&A: Joe Quinsey, CEO, CMRF Crumlin

Interviews | Thu 4 Jun | Author – Niamh Mac Sweeney
Joe Quinsey

Joe Quinsey speaks to Niamh Mac Sweeney about the challenges across the funding landscape.

Q: For people who don’t know about the Children’s Medical & Research Foundation (CMRF) can you tell us about it?

A: Over the past 50 years, CMRF Crumlin, the principle fundraising body for Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital Crumlin and The National Children’s Research Centre, has contributed an impressive €100m towards the care and cure of sick children. We are driven in our belief that: ‘Every sick child deserves every chance.’

We focus on four main areas: redevelopment, research, medical equipment, and patient experience. Successes over the years have  included: the redevelopment and expansion of a five-storey outpatient department – The Medical Tower; a Teenage Den on St Michael’s ward; the complete upgrade of the children’s cancer ward; the creation of a world-class Children’s Heart Centre; the establishment of the Giggle Fund which ensures children have something to smile about when they are in hospital; the funding of paediatric medical research into immunology, cancer, cardiac and CF amongst others; and the redevelopment of the radiology department and purchase of equipment.

Q: Can you tell us about some of the funding projects you are working on at present?

A: We currently have an urgent appeal to help save a facility that goes right through the heart of our country’s largest children’s hospital, Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital, Crumlin. For years Crumlin has delivered world-class care in less than ideal conditions, but many of our facilities are struggling with new roles, and increased demand. The outpatients department – an incredibly vital component of our hospital – is the perfect example of this. Built over half a century ago, this department was never designed to sustain the kind of traffic, or procedures, that it now has to deal with on a daily basis. It’s now falling apart at the seams.

Over 80,000 children visit the department each year, with sick children all over the country travelling to Crumlin every day. For children with chronic or long-term illnesses, it’s better for their recovery to be able to stay at home if they can, and only travel to hospital periodically. For some children, this could be several times a month – and the facilities they are forced to endure are simply not good enough. We hope to have raised enough money to fund the redevelopment of this facility in 2015.

Q: What is the Irish funding landscape like at the moment?

A: The fundraising landscape in Ireland has changed dramatically over the past two years, with new challenges for the fundraising team, against a backdrop of donors (correctly) demanding transparency in terms of where their donation goes, and a clear connection to the net impact created by their donations. We welcome this ‘brave new world’ and there is a direct correlation between ‘ease of fundraising’ and the trust the donor has in us, as an organisation responsible for creating the best impact with that donation.

Q: Is there a feeling that people have lost trust due to a lack of transparency and if so how is this trust being rebuilt?

A: We cannot communicate enough with our donors in a very open and transparent way about all aspects of the charity’s operations. I do believe that the donating public have a growing appreciation that it does cost money to run a charity – and the demand for more stringent governance and transparency will drive up the cost base of charities. To build trust, the best thing to do  is to clearly layout your aims and ensure the donor has access to the information they require to help them build that trust. At CMRF Crumlin, we spent a lot of time during 2014 preparing for the adoption of the Governance Code for Charities, and our Board is determined that we are amongst the best governed charities in the country. This, in turn, I believe, helps build trust with the public.

Q: During the recession did you find it challenging to raise funds?

A: In some ways yes – it was challenging, as giving to charities is a use of one’s discretionary income, and this income dropped dramatically during the recession. In other ways the fact that there was a recession – and a recognition therefore that public funding was not readily available – in some ways helped us highlight our needs and  garner public support, particularly through our Fix Crumlin campaign whereby we re-built and reviewed the in-patient facilities for patients with cancer and cardiac illnesses. Indeed, from 2011 to 2013 we enjoyed strong growth in our fundraising income.

Q: Has the fundraising landscape improved recently?

A: I believe it has certainly stabilised but it is hard to say it has improved. Donors are still cautious and it is a long road back from the charity scandals of 2014. Like so many areas of the economy, the charity sector is defined by change, innovation and entrepreneurship. An example of this from our perspective is the extension of fundraising to the US and beyond.

Q: What have been some of the high and low points over the past 12 months?

A: Starting with the lowest point – it was definitely through the whole of the first half of 2014 when I witnessed four hard-earned years of growth vanish before my eyes as we faced into the charity scandal storm. Offsetting this, the high was receiving our largest single commitment from a donor. The donor visited the hospital and in one day we were able to commit to re-building a brand new ward because of one person’s generosity. That is so motivating, especially when you understand the impact the new facilities will have our country’s sickest children.

CMRF logo

Q: How important are partnerships to CMRF and how do you identify and nurture these relationships?

A: Creating partnerships between the CMRF and business is very important. At one end, we have a strong partnership approach between our charity and the organisations we support:  Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital Crumlin and the National Children’s Research Centre. I like to think we then extend these partnerships to connect the business community to the needs of these incredible organisations.

Charity partnerships with businesses should be just that, a two-way street, with both parties gaining from the partnership. We have many examples of this with the businesses who support us. On the one hand, we benefit from their ability to raise funds, not just the ‘company cheque book’ but from staff fundraising, supplier involvement, volunteerism, retailing, to name a few. On the other hand, whilst all of our business partnerships are fundamentally grounded in making a real difference for sick children, we can help with an organisation’s CSR goals, staff engagement and team building. The fact that I spent almost 30 years working in a multinational environment helps us see things from both perspectives.

Q: What are the challenges you face in your role as CEO and how do you overcome these?

A: I think as a charity CEO, there are a number of unique challenges.  Three of the biggest ones are: how do I spend my time;? how can I ensure our donor’s money is spent in the best way?; and how can I influence the impact desired by our donors with their donations? It is difficult to balance these dimensions at times.

In terms of my time, I am a believer in delegation and I am blessed to have a hugely capable team. Therefore, I try to spend my time on opening up new possibilities. For example, over the past year, I devoted significant energy into our governance agenda and building our international fundraising capability – both areas will hopefully pay dividends through 2015.

Q: How important is your team to the success of the organisation?

A: The team is everything to the success of the organisation. I am a believer in investing and growing an individual’s capability so as to maximise their contribution, and to help their own sense of achievement. From my years working at senior management level in the Diageo Group, I have applied the same model here. I also believe in building a performance culture.

As a charity, we do not have monetary bonus or incentive schemes but we do set a high bar for ourselves, grounded in a picture of the results we can get and, therefore, the outcomes we can achieve for sick kids.

Q: Do you have a leadership style and how do you motivate the team?

A: My style is to lead from the front. I’m a straight talker and value honesty. I believe in investing my time with individual team members to help nurture and develop their talent – but I have high expectations. The money we receive from our donors is a precious gift, and we cannot apologise for asking  hard questions of ourselves as to how we spend those funds.

Q: What do you hope to achieve in the next 12 months?

A: In terms of our fundraising, 2015 is about reversing our 2014 decline into a year of growth – and we are targeting growth of +10% across our fundraising mix. This is a major challenge, but I am hugely enjoying crafting the plans with our Board and my team in climbing this mountain. I am also excited about formally signing the Governance Code and being amongst that relatively small but growing number of Irish charities to do so.

Against a challenging funding agenda, I do hope that we can fund some very large scale, ambitious hospital infrastructure projects including the planned refurbishment of the outpatient department (treating 80,000 children every year), a new gastro intestinal in-patient facility and a new cardiac day ward. Along with this, we hope to be able to maintain our level of funding into paediatric research, currently running at over €5m per annum. It’s going to be a busy year.