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Joanna Scott of ‘The LiFT Network’: “Network like crazy! ”

Network like crazy! — When we started, You Care. We Care. was a new organization with zero funding, zero donors, and no website! We had some major hills to climb. We needed to get scrappy. I reached out to anyone where I could tell the story of these amazing kids and our programs because I knew we […]

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Network like crazy! — When we started, You Care. We Care. was a new organization with zero funding, zero donors, and no website! We had some major hills to climb. We needed to get scrappy. I reached out to anyone where I could tell the story of these amazing kids and our programs because I knew we just needed a megaphone to be successful.


I had the pleasure of interviewing Joanna Scott, Director of The LiFT Network at Family Reach.

As the director of the LiFT Network, Joanna Scott interacts with a wide variety of nonprofits nationwide and understands intimately how these nonprofits can scale and what it takes to be successful. The LiFT Network is all about collaboration between like-minded organizations and Joanna exemplifies this by providing guidance where she can, as well as bringing in outside consultants. Joanna works with cancer nonprofits to help them optimize their impact on the cancer community. She is also a yoga and meditation teacher.


Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit. Can you share your “backstory” that brought you to this career?

I was raised in a small town in the South Shore of Massachusetts. As a result of my older brother being a star hockey athlete, I was able to attend a top tier private school. I had the opportunity to live in the world of privilege and the world of humble origins. What this experience did for me was create a sense that there was opportunity beyond what I was familiar with and if I put myself outside of that zone I could create some remarkable outcomes. At the same time, where I came from, money or power wasn’t my goal. I’ve always found more fulfillment in connecting with others and building opportunities.

Can you tell me about the most interesting projects you are working on now?

The millions of families fighting cancer each year are in the middle of a health crisis which is all too often followed by a financial crisis. The financial burden of cancer creates tremendous stress that negatively affects well-being and can significantly impact a cancer journey.

The good news is there are thousands of cancer nonprofits across the country providing critical financial resources to families already! The challenge is these resources can be difficult to find, and have unique and sometimes complicated ways of applying. It puts a significant amount of time and burden on the healthcare providers and patients to search for resources, weed through websites and eligibility requirements, only to find themselves filling out multiple applications with the same information.

Our concept of a common application unites these resources in one place, streamlining access to the national network so healthcare providers and families can easily apply for support!

This gives critical time back to social workers, who’s expertise is best used to provide psychosocial support to families. It allows patients to receive earlier interventions, which can mitigate financial stress as quickly as possible, thereby reducing the probability of deeper financial distress in the future. Families can focus on healing instead of the financial impact of cancer.

Family Reach’s nonprofit program, The LiFT Network, has allowed us to pilot the first phase of the common application. Today, 12 nonprofits leverage our program delivery backend through The LiFT Network using one application. This means that when a patient or social worker applies to Family Reach, they are essentially applying for support from all of us.

As we continue to welcome additional cancer nonprofits to The LiFT Network, the impact of the common application on the healthcare community and the families and patients we serve will be exponential. It will offer a vast array of resources and provide quick, easy access to individualized solutions that reduce their financial stress.

It’s a massive undertaking, but is crucial to solving so many obstacles in the patient support services in the healthcare system. Though ambitious, we know it’s possible, thanks to our early adopters through LiFT!

So how exactly does your organization help people?

Family Reach provides financial support and programs to families and patients battling the unthinkable, a cancer diagnosis. The enormous expense of cancer and the loss of income when a caregiver or patient has to stop working can create an immense level of stress that has the potential to greatly impact health outcomes. Family Reach steps in to reduce that burden as quickly and effectively as possible.

There are thousands of nonprofits that share Family Reach’s mission. However, the problem we are trying to solve is so far reaching that it will take many of us to make a dent. We realized that we cannot make a real impact and create change at the policy level if we are operating independently. When Family Reach realized the next step in reducing and preventing the financial burden of cancer was to create The LiFT Network, a small group of believers joined us to pilot the initiative.

The LiFT Network launched in 2018 with the goal of bringing like-minded nonprofits together, connected by a shared belief that together we can do more for the cancer patients and caregivers we serve. Through The LiFT Network, Family Reach offers service delivery, program improvements, and resources to members, ensuring cancer nonprofits don’t have to reinvent the wheel or waste limited resources. In short, it helps nonprofits thrive and survive.

Joining forces means reaching families more effectively and efficiently, and deepening our impact on the cancer community.

Can you tell me a story about a person that you helped?

A few years ago, I found myself traveling to Haiti during the start of a very contentious election in the country. It was daunting watching tensions rising and rioting in the streets. It felt incredibly unsafe not only for a visitor, but certainly for the Haitian people.

Two years before that trip, a good friend came to me and said she wanted to start a project in Haiti. The project would be based in Petite Riviere De Nippes and provide children with access to early intervention services, such as speech, physical therapy, and occupational therapy. At the time, my friend was expecting her second child and also did not have funding nor the time to launch the project. But, there was a sense of urgency because we had intimate connections to the community and knew there was immense suffering. I offered my time because that was what was needed, someone with nonprofit experience and start-up experience to help plan, build and launch the foundation.

So, we planned! And then we shifted dramatically once we came to really understand the culture and the systems in place, and the needs of the community. We had to build brick by brick and listen carefully to those who had way more experience than us. What we learned was that the children indeed needed therapies, but what they needed first and foremost, was a residential program that provided access to food, healthcare, and shelter. We were fortunate to have a tremendous team on the ground in Haiti that helped us course correct.

The children are safe and thriving thanks to You Care. We Care. The organization is beginning to expand its scope of services. I feel honored to have been trusted with helping to bring my friend’s vision to life.

This was one of those all too familiar experiences, of being asked to help and coming out the other end being the one who benefited tremendously. It’s a reminder that if someone asks for something, always say yes. They wouldn’t ask if they didn’t need it and there’s always a lesson waiting for you in the experience.

This obviously is not easy work. What drives you?

There are millions of nonprofits in the country that not only create millions of jobs, but also play a vital role in society. Nonprofits educate, heal, shelter, inspire, and enlighten people of every age, gender, race, and socioeconomic status. They drive the economy, foster civic engagement and strengthen the fabric of our communities. Every single day. That drives me on a macro level.

On a micro level, it’s the honor to be trusted by our LiFT Members, whose mission is important but also always incredibly personal, to help grow their organizations. One of our members is Hands for Holly Memorial Fund in Charlotte, North Carolina. Before her passing, Holly Wade co-founded Hands for Holly with her mother. At the age of 12, while fighting for her life, Holly had empathy for others and generosity to create something that would help alleviate the suffering she saw around her. She has made an enormous impact on many families in her community and beyond, and we are incredibly grateful for her bravery and inspiration.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

Nonprofits can amplify their impact and build solutions to overcome challenges, but only if we all embrace the proven wisdom that more can be accomplished by working together than by working apart. Nonprofits and corporations must come together in order to solve the most important and complex problems.

For that to happen, we need:

  • Investments in partnerships and collaboration
  • Nonprofit curriculum in the educational system
  • To abandon competitiveness in business and philanthropy

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?

Betsy Meyers was a student in my yoga class five years ago. Betsy is a leadership expert with an eclectic background. She has worked for two presidents, one in the white house, and was the Chief Operating Office for the Obama campaign in 2008. She also ran the leadership center at the Harvard Kennedy School. She has a tremendous amount of non-profit experience.

She started as my student and the tides changed, and I became hers. I was just beginning my nonprofit career and learning quickly that nonprofit work is an uphill battle and can be uncertain based on limited funding and resources. Everyone around me was skeptical about my decision to volunteer and later join as a director of a new emerging nonprofit, You Care. We Care. Everyone except Betsy. Her enthusiasm from the very beginning gave me wings. She also gave me a MUCH needed crash course in nonprofit leadership and development, and has been incredibly generous with her time, expertise, and advice! I am eternally grateful.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Network like crazy! — When we started, You Care. We Care. was a new organization with zero funding, zero donors, and no website! We had some major hills to climb. We needed to get scrappy. I reached out to anyone where I could tell the story of these amazing kids and our programs because I knew we just needed a megaphone to be successful. This outreach included the yoga studio where I taught classes. I went to the local business networking group at 7 a.m. here in my hometown of Watertown, Massachusetts. And I reached out to my high school to see if there was an opportunity to introduce the students to our work.
    This landed me an invitation to present at their Career Day. These three moments at the time felt really small but each one led to something game changing. I met my mentor Betsy who has provided immeasurable professional development. I met a woman who joined our board and connected us to the Haitian community in Boston. And the last experience introduced me to Family Reach.
    You never know who you are going to meet that is interested in your mission. If someone cannot directly help you, most of the time they can and are willing to introduce you to someone who can. Keep a grassroots perspective no matter how big you get!
  2. Seek experienced allies. — Before you start something new, check to see if there is someone that shares your goals. This can lead to some game changing collaborations. It’s much more work to reinvent the wheel and it’s likely someone else has been there before and done it better than you will on your first try. This practice is core to the LiFT Network.
    Family Reach delivers programs to over 400 hospitals to help families reduce their financial burden of cancer. Through the LiFT Network, we are able to offer our 25 years of experience and program delivery to the nonprofits who share our mission. This means that instead of making the same mistakes we made in the past or investing in resources for program development and delivery, they are able to partner with us, reduce redundancies, pool efforts, and make a deeper impact.
    This works in reverse as well. Our LiFT members provide deep knowledge of the needs within their respective communities. This allows Family Reach to access feedback and insight and incorporate it into our program improvements. We remain patient centered and connected to the needs of the cancer community.
    We are leveraging the blood, sweat, and tears of each other’s real-world experience to improve the odds of your own success. Allies are our mentors, advisers, and those with first-hand experience. They help us recognize common challenges and barriers, and navigate them more quickly or more graciously.
  3. Plan A LOT, but then be prepared to throw it all out the window! — None of us predicted a 2020 like this one. We projected tremendous growth for each of our members in the LiFT Network this year. We were prepared to expand our programs to support more healthcare professionals and reach more families. But many of the cancer nonprofits that were going to join us in the fight saw their programs literally come to a screeching halt and their big revenue generating events cancelled.
    Together, we reset our expectations, we ramped up our communication, and we stepped bravely into the world of virtual events. We committed to a plan of feedback and learned from one another. As we were all wading into new water, we had a communication stream set up where we were able to provide each other feedback on all of our burning questions, such as which platforms performed the best for a virtual experience? Does that differ for a virtual gala versus a 5k run? What duration of the event performs the best? What kind of promotions were most effective? And what timelines worked well in this new environment? We all received an accelerated crash course in virtual events!
    This year reinforced for all of us that we can only control what’s in our control. We make plans but are prepared to pivot when the rug gets pulled out from underneath us.
  4. Don’t let change scare you, let it empower you. — To survive and thrive, we have to embrace change. We need to stay laser focused on our mission, but how we get there may change often and completely at times, and for good reason.
    For example, our mission is to reach cancer families with financial support before they hit critical breaking points. This requires a TEAM of people who are there for the patient and family at time of diagnosis to recognize there is a need and reach out to Family Reach for support.
    Earlier this year, many families and patients postponed treatment because it was too dangerous to visit the healthcare facility and patient support teams were either completely working from home or operating with reduced staff. This made it nearly impossible for patients and families to connect and share that they were struggling financially. The methods we used prior to COVID needed to change and adapt to the environmental changes that threatened our programs this year. We realized we needed a heightened way for patients and caregivers to reach out to us directly to apply for our Financial Treatment Program. So, we launched our online application and made sure that no one would fall through the cracks.
    As leaders we have to adapt to the changing needs and circumstances of the community we show up for and always ask ourselves if we incorporating recent and relevant feedback into how we deliver on our mission.
  5. People want to help you! — When we started building our program in Petite Riviere, Haiti, we had this incredible mission and I was getting really good at telling our story. I knew the kids, the community, and that we had the ability to offer something valuable to the community. But I was sooooo hesitant to ask for anything. I wish I knew sooner that people generally want to hear your story, they want to say yes if they have the capacity to, and they expect you to ask for something if you are in a nonprofit!
    I wasted time in the beginning letting some opportunities pass by because I was afraid to ask. When I started to become more courageous enough to ask for someone’s time, an introduction, or a donation, the answer was almost always a yes! From that point, there was no stopping me, no one was off limits!
    Recently I asked a yoga student of mine, who’s an investigative journalist on a local news station, to pitch a story about Family Reach. The holidays are a time that should be joyous, but can be particularly fraught for cancer families. I knew she had the platform to help us raise awareness for these families during a critical time of year.
    In the beginning I would have thought the ask was too big, too intrusive. But I knew we had an important message to get out, that she had the power to do it, and if she didn’t want to she would simply say no, and as a result I would be grateful and respect her boundaries. And, I’d trust that a ‘no’ would still lead me somewhere.
    Just recently, the story aired on the evening news, and it told a beautiful story of one our families who received financial programs from Family Reach, raised awareness for the problem, AND immediately raised money!
    I now know overwhelmingly that people are generous with their time and experience, and it is my job to listen carefully to try to understand what the person has to give. There’s no better feeling than making someone feel that they contributed their unique gifts to something in a meaningful way.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

There are a lot of people saying we need to say no more, to set boundaries and take care of ourselves. While I agree that healthy boundaries are important, I’d like to flip that on its head, and propose, we say YES more often. Think about the great things that have happened in your life because you said yes. For example, because I said yes to speaking at my high school career day panel, I met my colleague who introduced me to Family Reach.

If we all said yes a little bit more, I think great things would be possible. Say yes when asked to show up, to help someone, to give something away. When we say yes, we put ourselves out there more, and we grow. Saying yes is a door opener. It opens an opportunity for us to connect, to learn, to have a new experience that can lead to growth. And, the cherry on top is that saying yes, means you are answering a question where someone is asking you for something or asking you to show up. So it’s a great way to be selfless.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this. 🙂

Jane Ferguson is one of my heroes. She is an award-winning international journalist and Special Correspondent for PBS NewsHour. She is based in Beirut, and reports from across the Middle East, Africa, and South Asia. She fearlessly travels to some of the most contentious, war town climates to report on conflict, diplomacy, and human stories, to share important news and information with all of us.

Her bravery and passion brings us into the worlds of others, and opens our hearts with her compelling and thoughtful storytelling. She faces growing challenges and dangerous reporting in the Middle East, but she is still doing it!

In her lifetime, I imagine she has met some of the most extraordinary ordinary people, and I would love to meet them all, through her stories. I’m curious who has influenced her the most in her life and her work.

What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?

@yogainboston on Instagram

https://www.linkedin.com/in/joanna-converse-scott-a4287421/

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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