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Community Champions: Scaling Hospice of Waterloo Region

Posted by abwr

As Social Venture Partner’s 2014 Investee, Hospice of Waterloo Region, is now transitioning to a SVP Alumni, they’ll still receive the hands-on support of SVP Partners for the next few months, just not the funding that we’ve granted them over the past three years.

It’s been a pretty amazing few years for this organization; their workforce has grown exponentially, and they’ve recently started building a new residential hospice in Waterloo. We sat down with Lead Partner Glenn Smith (who serves as a liaison between Hospice and Social Venture Partners), and Hospice of Waterloo Region’s Executive Director, Judy Nairn, to talk about what the relationship between the two organizations has been, and where Hospice is headed next.


What has been Hospice of Waterloo Region’s evolution since coming on as a Social Venture Partners Investee?

Judy: It’s just been kind of a whirlwind for the last number of years. When we joined with SVP we were growing so fast that we didn’t have one single area that we could get really focused on, we had lots of little things that needed Partners in-and-out. As a result of that first grant and going through the [capacity assessment that SVP does at the onset], we invested in strategy which for us meant investing in growth again.

Glenn:  I think one of the differentiators from some of the other Investees is the growth trajectory that Hospice is on. When we first started out, if I recall correctly I think there were 4 on staff and you were expanding that rather dramatically. [There are now more than 20.]

Lead Partner, Glen Smith; Hospice of Waterloo Region Executive Director, Judy Nairn, and Social Venture Partners Waterloo Region Executive Director, Rose Greensides.

Lead Partner, Glenn Smith; Hospice of Waterloo Region Executive Director, Judy Nairn; and Social Venture Partners Waterloo Region Executive Director, Rose Greensides.

Glenn, what was your initial interest in Hospice from a Partner perspective?

Glenn: From the beginning it was of interest to me from the standpoint that Hospice broke the mold from my own understanding of what hospice care was all about, in that they worked with people long before what my understanding of hospice care had been; not just the people directly impacted but the families and kids, and extended families. The other piece that was of interest to me was the integration that Judy and the organization has done with all different types of health care facets, and the different ways that they can serve their client base. And the other piece is that they were on this growth trajectory.

Judy: That growth trajectory would have been unusual from nonprofits that organizations like SVP usually get involved with. And I think that was a learning curve for both us….we didn’t have six months to do something, we needed help with it next week. And maybe for two or three times, then that was it. We’ve had IT things that have come up, marketing, HR, strategy, and each time that they come up you reach out to SVP and say “Do you have somebody who can help us with this?” and if there isn’t a Partner available, often I get connected to somebody else who can help.

What’s the sum of the parts of all these little projects you’ve needed help with?

Judy: Well I truly do think that the sum of those parts is where we are right now. I think that what we did in almost every aspect of the organization was laid all the foundation and made sure all the parts were right so that we could successfully manage the growth opportunities that came. I think that for some nonprofits, they get growth opportunities but they either get in way over their heads and they fail, or they’re not in a position to take advantage of an opportunity. I think our partnership with SVP helped us immeasurably and positioned us to be ready to take on and do what we needed to do.


Glenn, from your perspective, what has been the most worthwhile part or impactful part of SVP’s and/or your personal involvement with Hospice?

Glenn: From my perspective it’s being exposed to their work. During visits to their office, you see some of the ways in which they interact with clients. And I don’t mean there was direct interaction there, but you see the rooms, you get a sense for how they engage with their client base, you get a sense for the types of people involved in supporting clients, so it’s been…whatever I’ve been doing, it’s been less about that and more about the exposure to the work that hospice does.

Now with the formal SVP relationship coming to an end – you received your last cheque last year and are now transitioning to alumni – how would you describe where hospice is right now and where they are headed?

Judy: I think Hospice is in a place right now where we are continuing to experience a lot of growth but at this point the growth is coming as a result as an increasing demand for services. What we did is grow the organization and build capacity, and now the capacity has filled up with an increasing demand for service. When SVP was first involved with us, we were probably serving 700 – 750 people, this year it’s over 1200. And we’re serving them more in different ways, to better meet their needs.

I’m starting to feeling like I’m at a tipping point, where we need to expand again, to be able to create more capacity to meet these demands that are coming. How do you refer to this, Glenn, with start-ups? You build to a certain point…and now we’re ready to scale up again. We’ve grown and now we need to scale up.

And so within our strategic plan, of course, is our new building. And that will be a focus now for the next year or two, to get us into a new building where we have more physical space to do what we need to do. So when we started with SVP we didn’t have the people, now we have the people and we need the physical space!

It’s about a maturing of the organization, and I guess that’s what I’m talking about. The organization has moved from being a small organization to…I don’t think we’re quite mid-sized yet but we’re working towards becoming a mid-sized contributor to the community that will be able to manage the demands that are coming for the services. And that maturing of the organization has happened in all different ways, all of which were supported by SVP.

Anything else you think Partners or the community should know?

Judy:  I don’t know if it’s about us particularly, but I think SVP is such a cool concept. And I think that one of the things that Partners need to know that even though they may not be directly involved in some specific project that we’re doing, the fact that they are interested to hear our story, and in being a community champion for us, lends so much credibility to nonprofits. It truly does.


This interview has been edited for length and clarity.