Q&A: Up close and personal with Jennifer Bernard, CFRE

2018-08-10 1:35:55 PM

A passionate advocate for the advancement of healthcare and health equity, Jennifer Bernard joined the Foundation as President & CEO on August 1, 2018.

A highly accomplished fundraising executive, Jennifer has a track record of outstanding results. Prior to joining WCH Foundation, Jennifer was at McMaster Children’s Hospital Foundation, a part of Hamilton Health Sciences Foundation, which also included responsibility for the Women and Newborn Programs. She played a key role in developing new partnerships while doubling the annual revenue and extending the philanthropic reach of the Foundation. 

We recently sat down with Jennifer to talk about what inspired her to join WCHF and her vision for the future of the Foundation.  

We’d love for our readers to get to know a bit about you. Can you share why you decided to become a fundraising professional? 

My entrée into fundraising was through volunteer work for community events around the city, specifically the Caribbean Cultural Committee, which hosts Caribana. I am originally from Trinidad and Caribana is a huge part of our community, so I was excited to be involved. At the time, the Committee was very grass roots – they had a big parade but had little sponsorship. I initially focused on securing in-kind product such as pop and water but quickly realized that while product is great, money is even better! I’ll never forget the charge of securing that first big grant. Supporting an organization that I deeply believe in was so powerful - that’s what got me hooked. 

I’ve continued to have moments like that throughout my career that reinforce the power of advocacy and philanthropy. For me, this work has always been very personal. That’s why I can get up every morning and feel so good about what I’m doing. 

How did your career path lead to the healthcare sector? 

One of the things I’ve always wanted to do was test the waters in different areas of my passions and I have been lucky enough to do that throughout my career. My move to healthcare followed the same trajectory. Around the time I was having my second child, I was looking to be closer to home, and was beginning to realize how important health is. If you’re not healthy, everything else is affected. I came across an opening at Trillium Health Centre Foundation and was so inspired by the opportunity to make my home hospital great. I applied, got the job and completely fell in love with healthcare: the challenges, the opportunities and the life-changing results. What is more powerful than life and death? 

What is your vision for the future of WCH Foundation? 

My vision for the future of WCH Foundation is to inspire investment in healthcare equity and to own the women’s platform. I want to give marginalized communities the voice they deserve across healthcare. Women are almost always at the forefront of transformation and now more than ever we are in need of a healthcare revolution. If we are going to be sustainable and take advantage of the technology available to healthcare, we need a system transformation. We are uniquely positioned to do that. 

We will also be known for being different, special and as unique as our pink cube. As a Foundation, we will be as innovative as our hospital. This includes our outreach into marginalized populations. I want our community members who are not traditionally invited to the table of philanthropy to feel like they are at home here. That means we will work with them in the way they want to work, and celebrate them in the way they want to be celebrated. This revolution is a journey we will take together, and I really see us being a beacon of light. 

What inspires you? 

Dr. Emily Stowe inspires me, I have to tell you! In reading her story while preparing for this role, she had so much bravery. I always tell my two sons, “You’re not brave if you’re not scared. It’s ok to be scared.” It’s difficult to imagine what it took for her to endure in the face of so much adversity. I can’t help but reflect on how incredible it is to work for a place that was founded by someone who had that kind of grit. To work in philanthropy - as in any industry where you’re pushing the bar forward - you have to be prepared for people to say no but still be willing to take the risk anyways. I am inspired by people who are willing to take on the challenge, never give up and who are unafraid of what opening a new door may mean.