AFP Member Spotlight Q&A: Dzenan Berberovic, MA
June 27, 2018
Dzenan Berberovic, MA, Executive Director, Development
Avera McKennan Hospital and University Health Center
AFP recently named Dzenan Berberovic, MA, as one of AFP’s 2018 Outstanding Young Professionals. He’s committed to making lives better, but his own life story is remarkable. Born and raised in war-torn Bosnia, a refugee in Germany for six years, and later an immigrant to the United States, his humble beginnings were a stepping stone that helped shape him into the successful fundraising professional he is today.
We sat down with Dzenan to ask him a few questions about his career, experiences, and the acts of generosity that inspired his life’s work!
Q. What’s your professional position now, and what are your responsibilities?
A. I serve as Executive Director for Development at Avera McKennan Hospital and University Health Center. Headquartered in Sioux Falls, S.D., Avera Health is a regional health system comprised of 340 locations in 100 communities throughout the Upper Midwest (Iowa, Nebraska, Minnesota and North Dakota). We serve a population of nearly 1 million throughout a geographical footprint of 72,000 square miles and 86 counties.
In my role, I develop and implement development strategies to ensure philanthropic gifts to support the mission, patients, and families of Avera McKennan Hospital and University Health Center.
Q. What do you enjoy most about your job?
A. Our mission isn’t just a promise—it’s delivered and lived out each day. Joy comes from visiting benefactors and grateful patients and families who are thankful for the remarkable care they or a loved-one has received. We have nearly 18,000 employees, nurses and physicians who touch a patient through their most vulnerable moments in their lives.
Q. What do you consider to be your biggest accomplishment to date? What are you most proud of at this point in your career?
A. The relationships that I’ve built with benefactors and the impact they have had for organizations and in people’s lives.
Q. What is your leadership style like?
A. I’m a simple person. I love to lead with positivity and compassion, traits often found in servant leadership. One of the greatest gifts that someone can give you is the chance to lead them.
Q. What are some of the challenges or trade-offs in being an executive director for development?
A. I’m involved with many different facets of the organization and prioritization is key. You must prioritize so you can best give your time in serving the organization.
Q. You’ve were selected as an Outstanding Young Fundraising Professional. Congratulations! What went through your mind when you first heard the news? How did you feel?
A. So very humbled by it.
Since I was young, I have felt a calling to impact others' lives. As a three-year-old, my mother and I escaped war-torn Bosnia after my father tragically passed away during the war. I was raised in poverty, but I became the grateful recipient of a stranger's generosity—when we came to the United States through the support of Lutheran Social Services, and again, when I received a scholarship to attend college. I have never forgotten those experiences. They changed my life. They allowed me to see firsthand what happens when we come together to help others. In turn, my life’s work was born. I have a commitment to make lives better. This passion led me to a career in philanthropy.
Q. You knew from a very young age that fundraising was your passion and the best opportunity for you to transform lives. What drives you?
A. Since I was a teen, I’ve been working in the nonprofit sector. I didn’t know my journey in development work would lead me to pursuing a career in philanthropy, but I am driven by the idea that people committed to a cause can make a difference.
Q. Tell us a little about your educational background.
A. I have an undergraduate degree in Public Relations and Communications, and a graduate degree in Philanthropy and Development, from the Saint Mary's University of Minnesota. I’m fortunate to have had wonderful academic advisors. Education is critical—through university and courses, as well as the ability to learn from other philanthropy professionals about best practices in our sector.
Q. Do you have a specialty or type of fundraising you most enjoy?
A. Individual giving. I love being able to meet with individuals face-to-face to build a relationship and learn about their mission and what inspires them. There is no greater joy than being able to do that with someone.
Q. How do you stay engaged with AFP?
A. I attend monthly programs, conferences, workshops, and networking events with other individuals across the country. I also serve on the chapter board as the Mentors Program Chair, providing new professionals the opportunity to be mentored by another individual who has worked in this profession. It makes huge difference. When we work in fundraising, we see the best in people because we want to help others.
Q. What advice would you give to young professionals looking for their first job in fundraising? What would you say to them?
A. Working in philanthropy is inspiring. It is important to choose an organization that closely aligns with your personal passions and values. Amazing things happen when you intersect your passion and work. Benefactors and prospective donors will feel your energy and commitment. In turn, they will be inspired to support.
Q. How could AFP better serve young professionals?
A. AFP’s ongoing commitment to better engage young professionals is to be commended. As we look ahead, the opportunity to offer discounted – or free – webinars, educational programs, and workshops will be important in attracting and retaining a growing number of young professionals. My hope is that AFP’s commitment to the next generation continues as we welcome future fundraisers.
Q. What has your experience with AFP been like? Has it been easy to find and network with other your professionals?
A. Joining the South Dakota Chapter in 2012, upon beginning my work in this profession, has played an important part in my career. Through monthly educational programs and the South Dakota Chapter’s Mentorship Program, I met other professionals and gained a better understanding of our sector.
Q. How do you envision the future of fundraising?
A. This is an exciting time for all professions – especially philanthropy. The third sector has embraced technology and innovation. Our willingness to innovate in the technology space will allow organizations to better attract, engage, and retain benefactors. The future of philanthropy is bright.
Q. What’s the most challenging issue the profession faces right now?
A. At this time, the greatest challenge that faces our profession is the lack of education for new professionals entering the sector. Thankfully, there are undergraduate and graduate programs throughout the United States and Canada that are educating our entering workforce. Personally, obtaining a graduate degree in Philanthropy and Development from Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota,was life-changing for me because of the relevant curriculum that is focused on best practices in philanthropy. Additionally, the cohort model allows students to create lifelong friendships with other philanthropy professionals from around the world.
Q. How can future fundraisers and philanthropic leaders continue to advance the profession throughout the United States and Internationally?
A. Our profession will continue to advance as organizations highlight the impact and the positive results philanthropic commitments have on organizations and the individuals served. The stories of the lives changed and the difference made through philanthropic support must continue to be shared.
Q. What were those first jobs in fundraising development at the University of South Dakota Foundation like, when you quickly excelled and succeeded in each role? What excited you the most? Did anything surprise you?
A. From the start, working in philanthropy has been a blessing. Building relationships and engaging others in the life and mission of an organization is a true honor. What excites me most is the opportunity to change lives through partnering with individuals, corporations, and foundations. Their generosity creates lasting impacts. I was surprised how generous individuals are to support worthy causes and campaigns, no matter their capacity to give. People are willing to make philanthropic commitments that “stretch” them financially because of their belief in an organization. To me, this is incredibly inspiring.
Q. To what do you attribute your sincere commitment to building relationships and inspiring others?
A. Kindness and a genuine interest in people. I strive to be positive and kind to each person I meet. I receive my energy from being around people. For as long as I can remember I have loved people—meeting them, getting to know them, and developing a friendship. My mother, Emira, has often told me that I’ve never met a stranger—only a potential friend.
Q. What do you like to do in your spare time?
A. I’m a newlywed. I’ve been married for two and a half years. I enjoy family activities and outdoor activities. Additionally, I love to travel and cook.
Q. How do you balance work and your professional life?
A. I represent the organization I work for. So, my life and work are integrated into one. I stick to an early morning routine by taking time for myself, which allows me to focus on the day ahead and personal wellness.
Q. Any fundraising books that you’d recommend (or speakers who inspire you or make you think)?
A. Grateful: The Transformative Power of Giving Thanks by Diana Butler Bass
Q. What about a few of your favorite podcasts?
A. Oprah’s Super-Soul Conversations by Oprah, featuring the world’s top thinkers, teachers and luminaries.
TED Radio Hour, hosted by Guy Raz, featuring thought-leaders, best-selling authors, health and wellness experts.