Member Spotlight

Tom O'HandleyTom O'Handley
Charitable Giving Officer
QEII Foundation
AFP member since 2018

Why did you join AFP NS? What has your experience been like so far?

I joined AFP because I believe in ongoing professional growth and development. I also enjoy the opportunity to network and collaborate with others who are also passionate about fundraising and making a difference in the lives of others.

My experience in AFP has been very positive and has been instrumental in enhancing my career in philanthropy. In 2019, I attended the AFP Maritime Fundraising Conference and I was provided with an excellent networking opportunity as well as an opportunity to hear from some of the greatest speakers in philanthropy from across the country. Attending the conference provided me with additional professional opportunities and I credit this experience with assisting me to obtain my current position at the QEII Foundation. I’m exceedingly proud of my colleagues, as well as the work that we do at the QEII Foundation. We have a shared passion for helping others, advancing healthcare, and making a difference. I am therefore incredibly grateful to AFP NS for the professional opportunities and development it has provided me.

Tell us about your current role. What is your favourite part of the job?

My current role at the QEII Foundation involves working with a group of generous and inspiring mid-level donors. As author Brene Brown says, “Many people making large and small donations means more eyes and hearts on the problem”. The collective generosity of these donors has been incredibly helpful in advancing our healthcare system through improving the lives of, and providing additional resources for, many patients and their families. One of the most rewarding aspects of my role is reporting back to these donors on how their contributions have helped make a difference in the lives of patients and families.

I also love the culture and team environment at the QEII Foundation. It is comparable to a big family, where everyone helps, volunteers, and supports one another. Our Ride for Cancer event is a great example of our teamwork, as we raised almost $50,000 with all team members either actively participating in or volunteering for the event. A shared comradery that consists in conjunction with a healthy positive work culture has provided me with the most rewarding professional opportunity of my career.

What inspired you to pursue a career in fundraising?

The desire to do meaningful work through helping others started at an early age. I grew up in rural Cape Breton, in a close-knit neighborhood where people really looked out for each other. An example of this is when I graduated from high school, the neighbourhood came together and gifted me with a few thousand dollars to help me in my first year at Saint Mary’s University. This custom of giving to high school graduates is offered annually to all graduates in the neighbourhood.

After graduating with a business degree, I pursued a career in the corporate sector. However, I found that the work did not provide me with any sense of meaning or passion and ultimately found myself feeling disconnected. This sense of disconnection is what inspired me to pursue a career in the charitable sector. I obtained my first position in fundraising at Easter Seals Nova Scotia, an incredible organization that offers programs & services to Nova Scotians with physical and intellectual differing abilities. It soon became apparent to me, that fundraising would be a rewarding & meaningful career because it provided an opportunity to make a difference and improve the lives of others.

What’s the best advice that you have ever received?

The best advice I have ever received was while listening to my favorite fundraising podcaster, Joan Gerry. She spoke about conceptions of the word philanthropy and her insights changed my perspective. Like most people, I had always assumed that philanthropy was a term used to describe the generosity of extremely wealthy people like Bill Gates or Warren Buffet. However, she said, “Philanthropy stems from Greek origins relating to kindness, humanity, and the love of people.” This definition really struck me and I remind myself every day of what an honour and a privilege it is to work in an industry whose purpose is “the love of people”.

What’s your favourite seasonal thing to do in Nova Scotia?

I love exploring this beautiful province all year round. The opportunities for day trips and weekend trips are endless. My wife and I love visiting Lunenburg and the South Shore but there are also many hidden gems to be discovered. Last year we went to visit Advocate Harbour for the first time, it was one of the most beautiful and enjoyable trips we have taken so far

Do you have a favorite book, blog or podcast that has been very helpful in your career that you’d like to recommend?

The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World by Melinda Gates
The Most You Can Do by Peter Singer
Charity Case and “Uncharitable” by Dan Pallotta

Amazingly Ultimate Fundraising Superstar by Simon Scriver
Nonprofits are Messy by Joan Garry

In your opinion, how has COVID-19 impacted the fundraising sector?

COVID-19 has proven to be an incredibly challenging and trying time for everyone. However, it has also demonstrated the importance of everyone working together in combined effort to decrease the spread of the virus. It’s provided us with an opportunity to recognize the importance of our collective efforts in fostering positive change. The same lesson can be applied to the charitable sector. When you consider some of the major challenges our society is facing such as ending poverty & homelessness, and improving healthcare & education, we will need to work together collectively to inspire positive change. We have capacity to initiate positive change in these areas, when we recognize that we are all connected and is it through our collective actions that we will ultimately make the difference.