John Donald spent years raising money to improve healthcare outcomes in Red Deer, but the full impact of his efforts didn’t quite hit home until he was at the hospital with his mother Joan several years ago and his wife Joan more recently.
He was able to see first hand the difference the money he had helped raise as a member of the Red Deer Regional Health Foundation board made – from the digital screens in the ICU to specialized beds and more recently the automated medication dispensing stations.
“I think health care is something that everyone needs. Unfortunately our system provides, I am going to call it basic health care, and if you want more than that, then you have to go out in the community and raise the money and make it exceptional. You take it from basic to another level.”
Donald, who is retiring from his role on the foundation board, has been with the Red Deer foundation since its inception in 2008, during which time the foundation raised $22 million for the Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre and other Central Alberta health centres.
Pride of place for Donald is the annual Festival of Trees, which has grown over the years into a premier must-attend event, not only raising funds but enriching the lives of Red Deer residents. Donald was also instrumental in helping raise more than $3 million for the hospital’s paediatric unit with the foundation’s Love for Children Golf Classic, which ran for more than a decade. Televisions and Game Boy consoles in a specially designed Edmonton Oilers-themed room are all there because of the money Donald helped raise. While not directly related to health outcomes, the room is designed to give sick kids who stay there a lift, a fun place to be in the midst of their pain, thereby fulfilling Donald’s goal to take healthcare from basic to exceptional.
The 61-year-old has been on the health foundation board since 2008, with a 2.5-year-long break during that time.
“We grew from basically zero into a foundation that raised $3-million-plus a year,” said Donald.
If you ask Donald the secret to his fundraising success, he credits the people he has worked with, especially the volunteers who are integral to the success of events.
“The only reason you’re successful at anything is you surround yourself with the right people – and the reason our foundation was successful was because of volunteers and the board. And we did. And we made the hospital a better place and I am proud of that but I am proud of them. It’s easy to have a board meeting and make decisions but the reality is volunteers are where the rubber meets the road.”
Although the doctors at the Red Deer hospital have been at the forefront of the fight for a cath lab that would increase survival rates for heart attack victims, Donald has worked for 12 years behind the scenes to make it a reality.
Even with the most recent Alberta government funding announcement promising $100 million for a hospital expansion in Red Deer, Donald was in contact with government officials pushing for details, such as, is the cath lab slated for the first or the second phase of the project. He also met with the group that was working on the business case for the hospital.
While Donald is hopeful, he’s concerned that projects like Red Deer hospital expansion can be subject to the whims of government or even health minister changes. In the past 12 years, Donald has met with six different provincial ministers asking for the same thing.
While many might be frustrated with the process, Donald says his parents taught him from a very young age that failure isn’t an option; that you pick yourself up and start again when there’s a setback. And that’s exactly what he does every time.
“In my business career, my parents did not help monetarily. But the one thing that is invaluable in business is to have a mentor and to have advice. It’s a line in a Pitbull song I ask for money, and get advice. I ask for advice, get money twice.
“And a lot of people when they hit a troubled spot they ask their parents for money, and of course parents will give you advice but if you actually listen to it you will make the money twice. And advice is free, it’s an amazing thing. And my father was a wonderful mentor and my mother is very philanthropic.”
Giving back was also something that was instilled in him from childhood and that’s why today Donald makes time for the community.
“I was brought up thinking when you have some success you pay back the area and the people who gave you that success. You can’t just continue to take, you have to give back.”