Leaders who share a vision and inspire others to be better tomorrow than we are today. Our goals always reflect the greatest needs facing our communities.

For someone who wants to set aside money to establish a philanthropic foundation or fund, what does it take to make sure your resources are being impactful and truly effective? In this interview series, called “How to Create Philanthropy That Leaves a Lasting Legacy,” we are visiting with founders of philanthropic foundations, charitable organizations, and nonprofit organizations to talk about the steps they took to create sustainable success.

As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Brian Lally, senior vice president and chief development officer at Northwell Health.

Brian Lally is the senior vice president and chief development officer at Northwell Health, New York’s largest healthcare provider and private employer, with 21 hospitals, 850 outpatient facilities and 80,000 employees. Lally launched the organization’s first comprehensive fundraising campaign in 2016, which recently announced surpassing its goal of $1 billion for capital, programmatic and endowment initiatives as well as extending the campaign and increasing the goal to $1.4 billion. Prior to joining Northwell in 2014, Lally served as chief development officer at the University of Michigan Health System and before that, as chief advancement officer at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center/Dartmouth Medical School for 12 years where he ran the most successful campaign in the institution’s history. He also held numerous positions in the development program at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center over his 18 years with the organization. Lally holds a BA from Queens College and an MBA in finance from St. John’s University.

Thank you for making time to visit with us about a ‘top of mind’ topic. Our readers would like to get to know you a bit better. Can you please tell us about one or two life experiences that most shaped who you are today?

My career in development was kickstarted after I was fired by a former president of the United States. I was one of the 11,000+ air traffic controllers who lost their jobs in 1981 and was forced to make a career change at a relatively early age. Transitioning from that role was challenging since the only ‘skill’ that seemed transferrable was the ability to work well under pressure. The real pressure was the need to provide for my family, so early on I was glad to just have work. A friend helped me get a temp job at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, where I began moving up through departments. Ultimately, I landed a position in fundraising there, and soon learned that it’s really a belief in what I’m advocating for that fuels my passion for this work.

When I moved from New York to Hanover, New Hampshire to take a job at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center/Dartmouth Medical School, most of our friends and colleagues were shocked that I’d leave the city to go to a town with a population of 13,000, but that move just reinforced for me that you need to take risks to grow.

You are a successful leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? We would love to hear a few stories or examples.

  1. Tenacity; what that means is an ability to get beat up and keep coming back. In this business in particular you can’t give up. You have to build relationships, and I say you have to get at least three no’s before giving up. If you are still talking after no, that is a conversation.
  2. Never being complacent.
  3. Always having a good sense of humor.

What’s the most interesting discovery you’ve made since you started leading your organization?

I wouldn’t call it a discovery but an affirmation of the power of many working in unison, relying on each other to achieve a shared mission. This is especially true in the Northwell culture and was evident in the fight against Covid-19. When you truly have 80,000 team members pulling on the oars together, and a community behind you, nothing is impossible.

Can you please tell our readers more about how you or your organization intends to make a significant social impact?

Northwell is truly a special place. We go where others won’t, and we’ve always focused on how we can help solve the greatest needs facing our communities by creating programs in areas such as food insecurity, scholarships, mental health care, and most recently, gun violence. When you hear about gun violence, you might not immediately think of the role of a healthcare organization. But firearms are now the leading cause of death among children and adolescents, and at Northwell, we feel a tremendous responsibility to take an active role in reducing gun violence in America. That’s why we’ve created the Center for Gun Violence Prevention and we’re rallying healthcare leaders across the nation. Northwell hosts an annual Gun Violence Prevention Forum to mobilize the collective efforts of leading executives, clinicians, researchers and policymakers around gun violence as a public health emergency.

What makes you feel passionate about health care more than any other cause?

I went through several jobs — including almost becoming a firefighter — before I landed in fundraising. Early in my development career, I learned about one of our researchers who discovered a molecule involved in a rare childhood disease, and it was all very experimental and wildly expensive. Then we learned that a child was seeing results from this experimental work — and that was because of philanthropy. I remember thinking, this is a child who’s alive because of my job. That’s a pretty cool way to earn a living. It’s all about helping people; what could be more rewarding than that?

Without naming names, could you share a story about an individual who benefitted from your initiatives?

More than 2 million people benefit from the care Northwell provides each year. At some point, we all require care — our families, our neighbors, ourselves. There are so many stories that have stuck with me. I think of our youngest patient to receive a heart transplant on Long Island, and how at 19 years old, he almost lost his life, but thanks to this campaign and our donors we opened the Sandra Atlas Bass Heart Hospital and this patient is back to living his dream of being a dancer. I think of another patient, who received lifesaving surgery at Cohen Children’s Medical Center as a child and found himself reacquainted with Northwell Health when on his 40th birthday he was admitted to North Shore University Hospital after being diagnosed with Covid-19. He shared with us how grateful he was to Northwell for saving his life twice, and he fundraised more than $10,000 to give back and support our fight against Covid-19. And then there’s a student at the Donald and Barbara Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell who received a scholarship — philanthropy played a huge role in removing barriers and allowed him to pursue his passion in medicine.

We all want to help and to live a life of purpose. What are three actions anyone could take to help address the root cause of the problem you’re trying to solve?

  1. I would point first to our mission. Give to the best of your ability, no matter how big or small that support is. You can also start a fundraiser for an area of health care that matters most to you at give.northwell.edu/fundraise.
  2. Support our Outpacing the Impossible campaign. We recently announced reaching our $1 billion goal. But we know that our work is never done. There is tremendous need and we have a responsibility to deliver on that for our communities. We are extending our fundraising campaign to tackle four key areas — behavioral health, health equity, cancer and expansion of care in Manhattan — in addition to ongoing priorities across Northwell’s footprint including continued support for employee wellness initiatives and advancement of care at community hospitals. You can visit give.northwell.edu to learn more and support our work.
  3. Advocate and engage others. Even if you can’t do it alone, inspire someone else. Don’t sit on the sidelines.

Based on your experience, what are the “5 Things You Need to Create a Successful & Effective Nonprofit That Leaves a Lasting Legacy”?

  1. An organization with people who are talented and dedicated and who want to make a difference. We actively recruit the best and brightest, and Northwell was just named among the country’s top five best places to work in health care by Fortune magazine.
  2. A committed base of donors who believe in and actively support what you are trying to accomplish. More than 170,000 people from all backgrounds and walks of life gave what they could to our campaign.
  3. Leaders who share a vision and inspire others to be better tomorrow than we are today. Our goals always reflect the greatest needs facing our communities.
  4. A culture that emphasizes trust, empowerment and innovation. In return, our team members are directly invested in our goals. More than 11,600 of our employees — including 100 percent of Northwell’s leadership — have contributed more than $15 million to the campaign so far.
  5. An organization that is adaptable. So many nonprofits don’t adapt to the changing times. They get singularly focused. Our core mission has never changed at Northwell, but we remain prepared and ready to pivot to address emerging, critical needs.

How has the pandemic changed your definition of success?

At Northwell, success always means improving health care for the communities we serve. When Covid-19 hit, the doctors and nurses who came to work every day, especially in the beginning when people were dying frequently and the risk was unknown, inspired our team to dig deep. The pandemic reinforced our commitment to ensure quality health care for all New Yorkers, while also supporting our team and making sure they have what they need to provide the highest level of care to everyone. We raised $36 million through our Covid-19 Fund to support our frontline healthcare heroes.

How do you get inspired after an inevitable setback?

This goes back to tenacity; you have to keep going despite the hurdles. When we started the campaign, no one could have anticipated a pandemic that would shut down the world and lead to more than a million deaths in the US alone. Northwell was in the epicenter and facing a healthcare crisis we had never seen before. Our courageous healthcare heroes rose to the challenge, taking care of more Covid patients than any other health system in the nation at the height of the pandemic — while also caring for everyone facing all the other health challenges that didn’t go away. People depend on us. That makes it easy to remember why we do what we do, every day.

We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world who you would like to talk to, to share the idea behind your nonprofit? He, she, or they might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

MacKenzie Scott. She is clearly deeply committed to helping the underserved, and the impact that her support can have in this arena, through Northwell, is truly profound.

You’re doing important work. How can our readers follow your progress online?

We are so grateful to our donors for their support, and their generosity has made a significant impact by supporting capital projects, improving hospitals and clinical programs, advancing research and fueling endowment. But we are a nonprofit — our needs are great, and there’s more work to be done. Stay connected and learn about what we are up to by visiting give.northwell.edu or follow us on Facebook and Instagram. I also invite you to connect with me directly on LinkedIn.

Thank you for a meaningful conversation. We wish you continued success with your mission.