This is the third post in our “Project Your Voice” series where we talk to meetings professionals about their experience in the industry, what advice they have for others and their hope for the future.
In this Q&A, we sat down with Paula Eichenbrenner, executive director of the Academy of Managed Care Pharmacy (AMCP) Foundation. With a background in foundations and fundraising, Paula brings a unique perspective on the social impact that associations can make – in both their specific industries, and society as a whole.
Q: How did you find your way into this industry?
A: I always knew I wanted to be in the business of building communities.
I did my undergrad at Tulane University and landed my first job in non-profits at Independent Sector, a membership organization encompassing a wide variety of nonprofits and foundations. It was a short-term position supporting learning at their annual conference, but it exposed me to a broad spectrum of nonprofits. I loved it. From there, I went to a trade association in community development, then to the American Society for Nutrition, and from there to a pharmacy association.
I have the very best job in association management because I’m very much a part of the business – membership, meetings and events are a great example of the business of an association – and I have the joy of working on the mission-driven programs. At AMCP and AMCP Foundation, that has sometimes been scholarships or other types of opportunities for student pharmacists, or supporting research done by members. I get to learn from and collaborate with a variety of incredible organizations – associations, charitable entities, and companies. I’m in that sweet spot.
Q: Did you have impactful mentors that you have emulated throughout your career?
A: One of the driving forces of my career has been working for CEOs who are supportive of staff’s volunteer engagement and leadership in organizations like the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE). I joined ASAE very early in my career, became active in a couple of committees, and eventually chaired a committee. As my foundation and fundraising career progressed, I joined the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP), and the Association Foundation Group (AFG), which supports association-based fundraisers and foundation execs. I have been on the board of AFG for about seven years, and just completed a term as president of that professional society.
For me, engagement in my own professional societies and in their social responsibility programming has had a tremendous impact. I’m grateful to have worked for exceptional CEOs who supported those efforts, including Susan Cantrell and John Courtney.
I also really adore Debra BenAvram, CEO of the American Association of Blood and Biotherapies (AABB) and AABB Foundation. I love to point to Debra as an association CEO who started in a foundation context. She began her career at the American Occupational Therapy Foundation in their programs and fundraising space. Since she’s a CEO with that type of association foundation background, she is passionate about elevating and supporting other leaders like myself in the foundations space.
Q: What is your role and mission at AMCP?
A: AMCP Foundation’s mission is to invest in future-oriented research and inspire the next generation of managed care pharmacy professionals. My own role is fully devoted to AMCP Foundation and I work closely with our Board of Trustees. Sitting as Secretary on the Board, and working with our fabulous governance team, gives me a voice and lets me effectively implement our strategies. Personally, I do a lot of new program conceptualization and implementation along with fundraising. We have a small team on the foundation side, but we share staff with AMCP to support national conferences as well as the special events for the AMCP Foundation, and for other roles.
Q: What do you love about the industry?
A: One of the reasons this position at AMCP Foundation appealed to me is I am very interested in healthcare, and pharmacists are amazing healthcare providers. I like to say, “I’m not a pharmacist, but I’m the president of a pharmacist fan club.” Managed care pharmacists are so smart, interdisciplinary and involved in so many facets of population health management and care delivery. I’ve been really privileged to learn more about both the history and the current practice of pharmacy.
Q: What do you find challenging?
A: Fundraising on behalf of professional organizations is always a second-level giving decision, so in times of crisis (like during a pandemic, or when a recession may be looming), our supporters often have to rethink their charitable causes. I’m proud that our donor system has remained so strong over the last few years, but it has certainly been challenging. People tend to give first to their community, whether that’s their children’s PTA, the local scout troop, or their alma mater.
Giving back professionally is a little bit less universal. I hope that some of the ways that the associations sector is doubling down on social impact and coming together for good makes it more and more commonplace. I want it to become natural for people to not only ask: “What associations do I need to join to advance my career and professional development goals?” but also: “How can I give back to those organizations?”
Q: What advice would you have for others that are just starting out, or thinking about setting out on a path that is similar to yours?
A: Obviously I’m going to say: Find a way to give back! If you can’t find a way to give back, invent a way to give back, and then invite others to give back alongside you.
When given the opportunity, most people will happily opt in to make a difference. Try adding an optional donation line item on your conference registration workflow. Give attendees the chance to donate to the association’s foundation during events. Do a community service event with those physically attending a meeting.
I think what’s really going to change the world in the future is partnerships between the public and private sectors. Associations and association foundations are uniquely well-qualified to lead in those types of partnerships. We’re not quite there yet, but that’s where the future is, and where I would encourage professionals new to the foundations sector to look.
I would also encourage people to get out there. You should know your members and your donors, and visit them when possible. Don’t let a virtual-first environment keep you from connecting and understanding the field your stakeholders work within. Devoting time to relationships always brings a good return. When you really understand the impact that your profession or trade has on society, it strengthens your case for giving.
To fundraise in an association-based context, you have to be very curious about what people are doing outside of your discipline, too. For instance, although I have no professional connection to them, I am always really interested in the Leukemia Society’s Man and Woman of the Year Campaign. I like to look at the fundraising and community engagement initiatives of other organizations; you never know what will spark new ideas for you.
Q: Is there anything that you wish you would have done differently in your career?
A: I think what I would really change is to get started on the hard things sooner. It is sometimes difficult to take the first step towards those big hairy goals, like grad school. We will always eventually get around to the things that are really important to us, but how much further along would we be if we began now? Even if it’s just sending an initial email or telling someone your idea, do something today to jumpstart your next big thing!
Q: Any specific resources or groups you want to share with readers to help spread awareness?
A: The Association Foundation Group is the only organization in the country dedicated to association foundation professionals. They do some incredibly useful benchmarking and research surrounding DEI programming and other impacts associations can make. You can find more information about the AFG here, or join our LinkedIn group here.
I also want to recognize Projection’s support of the ASAE Research Foundation, and encourage other vendors within the events space to lead similarly. Just this year, the ASAE foundation released new information about the way associations can drive innovation outside of our own internal organizations. These types of insights are so important because we need more of a data-driven mindset as we tackle social responsibility. Our industry partners are ahead of the curve and we have so much to learn from companies like Projection!
Q: What is your hope for the future of the industry?
A: I see more and more focus on social impact and corporate responsibility within associations, and I would really like to see that trend continue.
There are a lot of interesting experiments that can be done to lead social change. For example, we have done sock drives at AMCP meetings to share with local shelters or other charitable organizations. I have seen associations provide donations to an industry-oriented charity as an incentive for participating in surveys. I would like to see more ideas like this, so that it becomes universal to incorporate giving into all of our events.
I would love to see the same ingenuity that we have applied to virtual meeting attendance broadened to include virtual engagement with social responsibility initiatives. We have to continue to lean into social and charitable programs even as the world shifts.
Associations, from the very beginning, have been cognizant of the ways that collectively we can do more than we can individually. A lot of times we’ve focused that collective effort on policy change, or preparing the next generation of the workforce––which is really critical work. I want to challenge us all to take that collective action and consider how we can apply it to philanthropy and social responsibility. That will look different for every association and every foundation based on the industry and the members that they serve, but asking that question of ourselves can be done at every organization no matter the size and no matter the subject matter.
If you or anyone from your organization would like to be a contributor to the “Project Your Voice” series, please let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
More from “Project Your Voice”
[Part One] Talking About Inclusion, Diversity and Finding Your Niche with Josh Henry, SPIE
[Part Two] Talking About Connection and Responsibility with Cassie Mancera, AAOMS
[Part Four] Talking About Growth Through Facing Down Fears with Yolanda Simmons Battle, AHIMA