The American Heart Association will host its annual black-tie Heart Ball on Saturday, Feb. 27. WashingtonExec spoke with Rob Franklin about his own personal journey to becoming involved with the AHA, how the money raised supports the Association’s various initiatives and what attendees can expect from this year’s event.
WashingtonExec: Can you tell us a little about yourself and what made you want to become involved in the American Heart Association?
Rob Franklin: I am one of the co-founders of MorganFranklin Consulting, and we started the business back in 1998, and as we were growing and having some success in the business, we wanted to give back to the community so we started working with some charitable organizations that were important to us. Our criteria for that was really choosing those organizations that had a positive impact on people.
If you look at the statistics, it [heart disease]is going to affect each of us either directly or indirectly at some point in our lives. We got really excited with the AHA as one of our choices for our CSR event. It began with just doing a table sponsor at the Heart Ball. Personally, I just had such a great time at the event, it was a great opportunity for my wife and me to get out and get all dressed up. We had a good time while supporting something really important that was doing something good for other people.
A few years into that – that was probably around 10 years ago at this point, my daughter at dinner one night says, “Mom and Dad, my heart hurts.” We said, “What, you are 11-years-old. Your heart is never going to be healthier.” My wife told me to take her pulse, and I couldn’t count the number of beats per minute, it was so high. Fast forward, she was eventually diagnosed with a heart condition called super ventricular tachycardia or SVT. In simple terms, you have additional nerves in your heart that cause it to short circuit from time to time, generating irregular heartbeats. I went and talked to some folks at the Heart Association who directed me to the right medical professionals to deal with this.
My daughter was successfully treated through a procedure called an ablation, and she is living a happy and healthy life. At that time, my wife and I were sort of spattering our charitable dollars across a few different organizations, but after my daughter’s experience we decided to focus on helping the American Heart Association. It helped our family, and we want to help other people. That is when I stepped it up and began to help with the fund raising, and a few years after that, I made my way onto the Board to help the organization with its mission to advance the efficiency of the organization and get them connected with the larger business community in the Washington, D.C. area.
WashingtonExec: Can you explain where the fundraising money goes in terms of research versus awareness versus other programs?
Rob Franklin: There’s basically three mission areas that the Heart Association focuses on. The first is funding innovative research. They have helped to develop things like the statin drugs that are out there right now, to [control]cholesterol. They helped to develop heart valves and other medical devises.
The second area is advocacy – making sure that we have good policy in place in and around the country. Specifically, there are a couple of things locally that I think are important. Within schools, they have focused on having CPR be a requirement for high school graduation and that has been a tremendous success. There are examples of where it has actually saved lives. It is very easy to do, you use your hands only so those that have been afraid to give mouth to mouth in the past don’t have to worry about it. It is extremely effective in helping individuals survive heart related issues.
I just gave you an example of my daughter having an issue, and there are other kids that have far worse things that have happened to them. Having our students know that CPR is really beneficial to saving lives.
The other advocacy effort that I am proud of is the push towards having our hospitals put in place policies to ensure that all newborns are fitted with a pulse oximeter device It’s a clip on device that fits on the finger. If you have ever been to a hospital or had someone in the hospital — everyone gets one except we weren’t doing it with newborns. What it does is it reads oxygen levels in your blood stream. In the case of newborns, it can help detect if there are heart issues going on. If there are oxygen level issues going on, doctors can look further and deeper and say if there is a heart issue and catch those problems before they are critical. Those are two things that without the Heart Association pushing for those — they wouldn’t be in place and saving lives.
The third area that they really focus on is education. That can range from many different areas, but one particular thing that they have been pushing and driving to educate everyone on is the salt content that you are taking in everyday and where that salt comes from and what the healthy levels are for us to be ingesting and the impact of it. How do salt levels directly related to high blood pressure? What are the health issues that come from that? Knowing that it is not just about picking up the salt shaker, it is the choices that we make every day in the foods and the drinks that we are having that are impacting the amount of salt that we are getting. These are the top three examples of where the mission dollars go towards.
WashingtonExec: Is there something in particular that you wanted to highlight for the event next month?
Rob Franklin: This is the Heart Ball’s third year at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in D.C. We picked that venue because we are trying to reach out to the entire D.C. region; Northern Virginia, Maryland, as well as D.C. We feel like it is a centralized place to pull folks to. It is a great venue, really beautiful.
Like I said, the event is a good time. We have both a silent and live auction, which is really fun. In the silent auction, people are competitively bidding on things, and it just makes for a great time. We have technology that we are using: electronic bid paddles that allow you in real time to see where your item is in relation to the bids that are coming in. We have a robust live auction that is pretty amazing. The new one about which I’m most excited is the trip to South Africa, including a safari in Kruger National Park. It includes flights, daily excursions out, five-star accommodations courtesy of Singita and the One&Only – it is really a once in a lifetime experience. Also, we’re excited to have National Geographic Expeditions back. To celebrate the centennial year of the National Parks, National Geographic has donated an eight-day excursion for two through Yellowstone and Grand Teton. Things get very lively, and it is exciting to watch those things happening. At the end of it all, we celebrate by getting the live band out there and dancing and having a great time.
We have a goal of raising $1.1 million this year and to get there, it takes the engagement of the business community, as well as individuals.. We have a personal gift matching program that is going on right now in which all personal donations of $1,000 or more are being matched, so that is a great opportunity to have double the impact on the mission of the AHA.
We have a program called “Pulse” which is the young professionals of the AHA. When our the Heart Ball program is done, members of Pulse join us for the after party. Tickets for that part of the evening can be purchased for $100. Pulse is a great opportunity for young folks to get involved with philanthropy, network with their peers and get connected with more senior folks in the business community.