New York City

enCourage Kids Interview with Michele Hall Duncan

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I had the honor to interview Michele Hall Duncan who began her career at enCourage Kids as a volunteer and joined the foundation staff full-time in 1996. I can see why her passion and warm personality, combined with her leadership expertise, led to her rise in the organization. Duncan wears many hats as the CEO & President and oversees all of the foundational Programs and is at the helm for the vast growth of the Pediatric Hospital Support Program. Duncan is also responsible for the creation and development of the Tablet program, which became one of the organization’s most sought-after and valuable programs. The relationships she has fostered over the years with Child Life Staff and all levels of hospital administration, have helped her to develop an integral understanding of their needs and has helped position the organization to be on the forefront of state-of-the-art programming

I sat with Michele and asked her about her day to day at enCourage Kids Foundation and how she stays motivated. “I really spend the day trying to amplify, expand and procure resources to fulfill the mission of the enCourage Kids Foundation. There are days where we are focused on branding and ensuring that our messaging is consistent and compelling and days in which we are focused on donor development and ensuring that our donors understand the impact of their investment in the foundation. I’m blessed that my team understands their roles and how they fit into the big picture. As far as my motivation, I can honestly say that it is my team that motivates me to show up every day. I lead a great group of talented individuals who bring their A-game every day. We have great synergy and are all in love with the mission. And of course, the kids we serve motivate me. Our kids and families are the toughest, bravest, strongest individuals I know.” I asked Duncan how she stays positive when dealing with children and their families who are severely medically challenged and if telling their stories comfort her. Without missing a beat, Duncan explained, “My job is to tell the stories and to be the voice for these children that we serve. You have to breathe life into your mission language and storytelling does that. Of course, I get attached to the kids and their families. I have watched many of them grow up and flourish despite their medical challenges. We’ve also lost kids, and that is always so tough, but I console myself with the knowledge that we made their lives better while they were with us.” Now that is a true inspiration knowing that you make their lives and days here on earth, easier.

Duncan and I went on to talk about the challenges that nonprofits face. The competition is fierce and so many organizations are doing such incredible work. “Competition in the nonprofit marketplace is the biggest challenge. There are many great nonprofits realizing tremendous impact for their constituents. However, there are dozens and dozens of nonprofits whose missions overlap one another. Donors can have a difficult time knowing whose mission matches their specific goals. Your messaging must rise above the competition and resonate with potential donors.”

I know that people working in the nonprofit space are constantly asking for funding and I often wonder how do you expand your donor pool? “It’s a never-ending challenge. We use the traditional methods of direct mail and special events and newer avenues like Facebook to expand our footprint. Online fundraising will continue to be a huge part of our development plan. We also use different voices to tell the mission story. The story can be different when told by a sick child or the physician trying to manage that child’s illness. Both stories are compelling, but vastly different.”

That leads me to the fundraising topic of the United Airlines NYC Half last month. Congratulations as I know you completed it and did an excellent job of raising funds and awareness for enCourage Kids. “Thank you and yes, I did. As well, we’ve been lucky to obtain charity spots for the full marathon for the past three years and will have participation from several supporters this November. Our marathon runners have collectively raised over $114,000 to the mission. I admire them greatly. I promised to run if we ever obtained spots for the half and I was delighted and surprised, when we obtained five spots this year. I ran with six other great supporters of our mission including a long-time volunteer who has run the full marathon twice for us. It is so incredible and such a fun and exhausting way  to raise additional funds for a great cause.” I asked Duncan what she wants the spectators to understand as they line the streets for miles in support of the runners. “There are so many individuals running to bring resources and awareness to causes all over the globe. The world is full of kind, loving people who will go out and brave the cold and participate in an endurance event solely to help someone who probably cannot.” Well again, another amazing act by you and your leadership is just incredible.

The trajectory of the organization is to expand globally and to continue to help sick children all over the world. “Yes, indeed! We are in the middle of an explosive expansion. In three years, we’ve added over 30 states to our programming reach. Last year, we partnered with Johnson & Johnson to deliver nearly a million band-aids to hospitals across the country. We took our organization through a rigorous strategic planning process in 2018 and are implementing those strategic outcomes on a daily basis. That investment is going to take us to the next level and allow us to work with national and global brands in the corporate social responsibility area.” I commend you for your vision and diligent efforts on a daily basis of you and your team. All of the hard work the scientists, doctors, nurses and many academia studying cancer researches, are in the hundreds of thousands. I often wonder about this disease in particular because I have lost way too many friends and family members and have many people in my life right now battling this disease. Do you think that they will ever find a cure? “I do think there will be a cure for cancer. Think back to the AIDS epidemic or the incredible progress that’s been made in curing ALL (acute lymphoblastic leukemia). About 90% of children are being cured of ALL. Science will triumph over cancer too.” I pray to God that we get to see that happen in our life time.

This has been such a meaningful and informative interview and I know that there are many ways people can help. “Thank you!  Yes, people can simply visit our website and meet the kids that we serve. Look at the critical programs that we are funding and see what interests you. If you are in the New York City area, please consider volunteering or joining our Young Professionals Committee if you are interested. If you want to stand in the gap between a sick child and the trauma that illness can inflict, consider joining us to bring joy, hope, resilience and healing to kids all across the country.” Thank you Michele for your time and I hope we can do this again soon. Keep up the great work! “It is my pleasure and thank you for your time and helping us spread awareness of the enCourage Kids Foundation.

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