Achieving change

Brian Canavan brings passion, community focus to philanthropy

Brian Canavan has always had a goal in mind.

Spending his earliest years in Minnesota, he’s been a hockey player since he was 5 years old. And when it came time to pursue a career goal, Canavan found an even higher calling: philanthropy.

Today, Canavan is the chief philanthropy officer for Novant Health Rowan Medical Center Foundation. He comes to the role with more than a decade of experience driving transformational change at the American Cancer Society, Habitat for Humanity and Muscular Dystrophy Association. In his new role, he is excited to build on the positive momentum generated by the newly opened Novant Health Wallace Cancer Institute, and he was especially struck by the facility’s mission: to provide advanced care that is miles ahead, not miles away.

“I’ve been very impressed by the culture of philanthropy that exists in Salisbury and Rowan County,” Canavan said. “We’ve got an incredible healthcare center and team that cares deeply about their patients. My goal is to immerse myself in the community and work with both the hospital leadership team and stakeholders of the community to ensure we are able to provide remarkable care to Rowan County.”

He likes that Novant Health is a large organization with a deep local presence.

“Rowan Medical Center is an organization with a tangible impact in the community, meaning what we accomplish with our supporters will quite literally save and impact the quality of lives locally,” Canavan said. “But we also have the resources and expertise that come with a system like Novant Health. It’s the best of both worlds.”

Canavan comes to the area from Ohio with his wife Meg, their two hockey-playing daughters Maggie and Abby, and their golden retriever Ellie. He has been grateful for the Southern hospitality.

“Everyone has been so incredibly welcoming and friendly thus far,” he said. “It’s been really, a really positive experience.”

How he found philanthropy

Canavan parlayed his love of hockey into a marketing role with the NHL’s Boston Bruins. He soon took a position with Marshall University Athletics where he also earned an MBA. Brian didn’t know if sports would be a long-term fit for him and found an opportunity to utilize his skillset with the Muscular Dystrophy Association. The organization was looking for someone to develop corporate partnerships and major gifts. Canavan was eager to make an impact.

“I devoured all of the books I could find on major gifts, and I realized it’s all about relationships,” Canavan said.

Remembering his favorite philanthropic moment


Over the course of his career, Canavan has enjoyed connecting individuals seeking to make meaningful gifts with investment opportunities. “I strive to partner with a donor or family to achieve their philanthropic dreams and make an impact,” Canavan said.

At the American Cancer Society, Brian matched passionate donors with the brightest young researchers through out the country to fund groundbreaking research. He found linking funders to research projects gave a tangible way for people to “take a swing back” in the fight against cancer that can make anyone feel powerless. His favorite research project that he helped fund was led by Xiaoting Zhang, PhD, at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine.

“His hypothesis was that if he could find a way to target the Med1 gene, he could put the cancer to sleep and it would stop growing,” Canavan said.

Brian was able to work with a donor to maximize their gift potential and created a challenge grant to make the project funding possible. Canavan engaged a local high-end steakhouse to host an event and brought Dr. Zhang to speak to attendees about what his research could achieve. Brian challenged people in the room to step up to the funding challenge and the event was a success, the project was funded. This research has led to innovative therapeutic approaches targeting MED1 in Cancer treatment.

How he views development

Fundraising can be a difficult vocation, and not everyone is comfortable with being at the center of the conversation. But Canavan relishes the opportunity. His trick? He doesn’t think of himself at all. Instead, he concentrates on the goal.

“To be successful in fundraising significant dollars, you have to change your mindset,” Canavan said. “You are not reaching your hand out for money for yourself. You must remove yourself from the equation and imagine you’re reaching out as the organization. You represent the change and impact that donor wants to achieve. We are in the business of impact philanthropy and not charity.”

Today, you can be a part of achieving change in your community with a donation to Novant Health Rowan Medical Center Foundation.

Each gift helps Novant Health team members provide remarkable care to everyone. Together, we can make a real difference and enable others to live happier, healthier lives. Donate today.

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