I met with Jennifer Van Noort, Vice President of the Ottawa Hospital Foundation’s philanthropy team, not long after having caught Dan Pallotta’s TED talk The way we think about charity is dead wrong.” With Jennifer being part of that fundraising world, I brought up the subject for discussion. What followed was a connection with this warm hearted champion of healthcare, and I was left feeling truly inspired. The Sister Leadership team has followed up on that first conversation, and we’re so honoured to be sharing her approach on great to excellent service, problem solving in the field of fundraising and education, and stories of support that have touched her heart.

Problem solving from a spiritual sense is to find solutions that focus on the greater good by addressing the bigger picture as well as considering how emotions and values play into the decision making process.

Jennifer has her own interpretation of how spirituality fits into fundraising:

“I believe that spirituality really does influence so much of fundraising. At the heart of fundraising is relationships building. Making connections, gaining trust, having the most genuine dialogue possible. It is what informs every aspect of what I do.”

Jennifer’s daughter and daughter’s friends help raise funds for women’s health, inspired in the knowledge that every bit helps.


So, let’s dive into the interview! This is part one of a two part series.


Jennifer, with The Ottawa Hospital Foundation supporting so many different health services, how do you coach others to find solutions to their needs?

“I have been with the Ottawa Hospital Foundation for eleven years. I have seen the gamut of priorities at the hospital run the course, certainly. There are no shortage of priorities that are needed.

You may be aware that the Hospital is funded by the government and what we often say to the community is that government does fund great care. It provides great care. The role that my colleagues and I at the Ottawa Hospital Foundation play is that we want to provide excellent care. If you or your loved ones are facing a health crisis, even great care is not enough.

Time and time again, we work to inform and inspire the community to invest in that gap. So if there’s a piece of equipment that we know would help save lives or provide better patient outcomes, we work with the community to try and rally that support.

We spend a lot of time trying to play a role in helping to find solutions, to be honest. So part of that is education. It always breaks my heart when I speak with someone in the community who feels they have to leave our city to get the care that they need.

Picture from Ottawa Community News of the unveiling a robot-assisted surgery system, Jennifer is 3rd from the left.

Perhaps they feel they need to go to the US, or Toronto, or Montreal. It’s heartbreaking because I know how valuable it would be to get that care here at home with their family and friends here as support. At the heart of some of the campaigns that we do is assuring the community that the access they have here is excellent. The OH is providing some of the best staff, some of the best resources, some of the most modern equipment, and so we consider that coaching to try and educate the public.

What do you feel is bigger than you, and what’s your role in contributing toward that?

For me, it’s working in the hospital environment. The reality is that our physicians are saving lives, and our researchers are finding cures. And I witness that every day.

There are times when I am completely humbled and awestruck by the reality that what they are doing is so much bigger than the work I am doing. What we try to do on our foundation team is to remind ourselves that we are an important part of that, though. WE do play a role to help them do the life-changing work that they do, and in a small way we influence that by informing and inspiring the community.

Pretty much every day, I witness life on such a grander scale than my part and it’s humbling. When you ask, what is it that my colleagues and I do to make the world better, sometimes that is hard to answer. I think, we’re not doing what the hospital staff and researchers are doing, but that it is a partnership between the hospital, the community and our team.

That’s what really will make change possible.

On a personal level, what drew you toward fundraising for the Ottawa Hospital? Was it related to that sense of being part of something bigger than yourself?

In fact, I got into fundraising for health care because of spirituality and a challenge beyond what my husband and I had ever faced.

I was a successful fundraiser at Carleton University, and enjoyed it very much. Then my husband and I had my first child who was born prematurely. She spent her first ten days in the hospital, and I just had this profound desire to give back to the doctors and nurses who cared for her. At the time I was feeling invincible, in my mid twenties, I’d never had a health issue whatsoever. But I just felt this need to give back to the physicians, to give back to healthcare in some way.

That need really has stuck with me for so long, and does drive so much of the work that I do.

If you can believe it, when we had our second child, I developed a blood clot. So my son was born four weeks early, and spend his first seven days in the hospital. And I always think, there’s a reason for that. There’s a reason that those things happened, and they remind me of how precious health is, and that this is what I should be doing.

How did the Dan Pallotta video affect you as a fundraiser likely facing similar challenges that he touched upon in his talk. And what’s your takeaway from that?

I’m a huge fan of Dan Pallotta. I believe wholeheartedly in everything that he is saying. The notion of investing not only in money but also in time, in spirituality, in innovation, investing in every way to raise funds is to actually be a part of solving the problem. That is universal in terms of whatever the cause might be. What speaks to me is, he asks the questions: How do you possibly put a price on allowing a child to smile? On feeding people who need food? On saving people who are fighting a health care crisis?


How do you put a price on all of the work that the charitable sector is trying to do?

The facts are that, right now, there is such an imbalance in how the non-profit sector is viewed, that, as a society, we are not willing to invest in all of the ways I mentioned to ensure that the great causes that need support can, in fact, flourish and solve problems and find results.

Dan Pallotta has absolutely affected a lot of the work that we have done. We shared that video with our board about a year ago. Our board has been so tremendously supportive. We just know that if we want to be able to give back to the community, we will need to spend the time and the resources to get to the places where we want to go.

Your foundation was ranked second for efficiency, governance and transparency. How do you know when you’ve hit the right amount to both grow and also get the hospital from great to excellent?

There have been many charities that have been challenged because as overhead costs rise and the need is still great, there’s less of an appetite to have your charity spending that money. It then becomes an even greater necessity to show an impact but with less overhead investment. I recall vividly that Dan spoke about the fact that society sometimes takes a while to catch up to the necessity for investment.

I don’t begrudge that society is watching. What I hope, though, is that if the impact is so profound, that there is an appetite to have the investment be a little bit greater. I know Dan Polatta shares the example of breast cancer fundraising, and what the initial investment multiplied into – and it was raised 554 times. Can you image? I can’t even imagine what multiplying that investment at that rate would mean.


Thank you so much to Jennifer for her candor around fundraising for the Ottawa Hospital Foundation. We are going to hear even more from her next week as we look at women’s needs in Ottawa and how the foundation is pushing to bring amazing services to our city. Stay tuned!

Till next week,