Joy Howard (she/any)
Senior Director, Publications
Brigham and Women’s Hospital
We caught up with Joy Howard to discover more about her, what she’s up to, and what we can learn from her.
Briefly describe your current role.
I lead a four-person team that produces two donor-facing publications: a biannual donor newsletter and an annual magazine. These unique cornerstones of our institutional advancement have distinct and different approaches to educating, inspiring, and thanking our benefactors, hospital staff, and volunteers.
The Breakthroughs Because of You donor newsletter celebrates gifts to the hospital of $100,000 and more, as well as fundraising events and other donor-focused celebrations. It provides readers with many examples of ways to engage with the hospital through philanthropy, participating in events, or organizing fundraisers.
Brigham magazine is a journalistic exploration of various aspects of our hospital’s work, typically organized around a central theme. Previous themes include mental health, prevention, racism, and sex- and gender-based health disparities. Brigham magazine seeks to draw readers into a broad array of hospital initiatives in patient care, medical education, research, and community health through compelling stories, design, illustrations, graphics, and photography.
Briefly describe your career journey and what led you to institutional advancement in academic medicine.
While my career journey has been a zig-zag, the through lines are translating ideas into stories (and occasionally poetry or songs) to make them accessible to a wide range of people. After graduating college in 1981 with an English degree, I spent a year in publishing before getting laid off during the recession of the early 1980s. After nine months of unemployment, I pivoted to information technology, where I spent 17 years as a programmer/analyst and technical writer, seven years in business controls, and three years in marketing. After getting laid off during the “jobless recovery” of The Great Recession and another nine months of unemployment, I pivoted again to development communications in academic medicine. I’ve been here 12 years and counting, and I often tell people I have the best job in the department!
What achievement in your current job are you proud of?
I am proud of and inspired by my team’s willingness and ability to tackle difficult subjects and write about them in ways that invite people into conversations and learning they might otherwise avoid. I love seeing people be brave at work, and the folks on my team routinely inspire me with their courage.
What success have you achieved with limited resources?
We have yet to find any peer institutions that use the same staff to produce a magazine and a donor newsletter—each of which regularly receives high praise from readers and hospital leaders. My team and I are particularly proud of our work on the magazine as it is not a typical publication from a fundraising office. Brigham magazine’s 2023 GIA Awards for Excellence Gold award affirmed for us how vital the magazine is to our institutional advancement and impact beyond our community.
What is a challenge that you/your unit/your institution is facing and how are you addressing it?
When we started our bi-annual donor newsletter nine years ago, it was an eight-page publication with 15 stories about philanthropic gifts. The newsletters are now usually 24 to 32 pages long, with 40-50 stories about philanthropic gifts. This wonderful challenge reflects our hospital’s tremendous growth and fundraising success. To help manage the growing volume, we hired a production officer four years ago to oversee all aspects of production and scheduling. And we continue to work with our colleagues to develop more efficiencies.
What was a mistake you made and how did you learn from it?
I’m a circular thinker, so my most frequent mistakes come from ill-conceived attempts to be efficient. At work, this can look like my assuming someone wants me to edit or review something because playing with words is my wheelhouse. But it’s always better (and more efficient!) for me to take the time to clarify what precisely I’m being asked to do before I get all spun up playing around with the words.
A few years ago, I replied to a review request at work with, “I see no typos, but if I had my druthers, we’d say it this way…” and I made multiple suggestions for improving several paragraphs. The requester immediately replied, “Thanks, Joy, but this is a druthers-free zone! We have to send this today!” Life always gives me opportunities to learn whether I’m in druthers-free zones, so I’m gradually getting better at choosing clarity over assumptions. Still, I harbor no illusions of being an efficiency expert!
What innovation or trend in the field inspires or motivates you?
The increasing emphasis on storytelling to develop and deepen relationships with donors, within institutions, and across institutions. I feel like academic medical centers are story factories, and for storytellers like the folks on my team, they are endless sources of inspiration and motivation.
What is the best career advice you were given and how have you used it?
At age 64, I’ve collected a lot of fantastic career and life advice over the years. These are some of the most evergreen nuggets of wisdom I’ve gathered:
- Don’t be afraid of failure—that’s where you’ll find the most growth and learning. And never let others’ disagreements with your perspectives silence you.
- Whenever you see an elephant in the room, acknowledge, identify, and describe it. Maybe someone else has seen it or has no idea it’s there. Courage is contagious.
- Seek diverse perspectives and stay curious, even fascinated, about them. One person’s nirvana can be another person’s purgatory.
- When giving negative feedback to someone, never use the word “you.” When giving positive feedback, use the word “you” frequently.
Every day invites me to model these insights. For me, collecting and using great advice is a lot like coming out as queer: the opportunities to do the work never end!
What advice do you have for other institutional advancement professionals in academic medicine?
In every relationship, lead with curiosity and gratitude, be specific with each, and pay attention. Who doesn’t want to be seen, heard, and appreciated for what they add to life and work? Who doesn’t want to share some part of their story? Stewardship is good for everyone, not just donors!
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