{Editor's note: This is the first of a two-part interview with ADA CEO Larry Hausner}

We grassroots patient advocates are typically pretty skeptical of the ADA: Aren't they tied too closely to industry? Who knows what their real agenda is...? My interest was piqued when we at the 'Mine received the organization's statement about a new four-year strategic plan, for our year-end preview of the 2012 plans of the country's top advocacy groups. The ADA listed four sweeping goals: improving outcomes for patients, expanding research efforts, fighting discrimination, and heightening the nation's sense of urgency over diabetes. OK, great ideas.  But HOW will all of the above be achieved? What are the steps?

Believe it or not, under the leadership of CEO Larry Hausner, the ADA has recently made public its new and very detailed strategic plan for 2012-2015.  It's a 28-page "roadmap" (PDF format) laying out everything from the names of new research and awareness campaigns they'll launch, to hard numbers they'll track to monitor impact (at least a 7.5% reduction in the rate of amputations; 50% more awareness among the American public), to specific revenue goals (to meet or exceed $1 billion by 2015).

Larry Hausner, who's at the helm, is former COO of the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, where he proved that he's an executive who knows how to get stuff done.

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We had a chance to talk with him last week about the ADA's Big Plans — how they were made, and how he envisions implementing them:

 

"There's nobody here who thinks there's any slam dunk in there — this was not, 'Let's put together a plan so we can sit back and put our feet up.'"

CEO Larry Hausner, on creating a list of incredibly ambitious short-term goals for the ADA

DM) Is this the first time ADA has published a strategic plan revealing actual number-value goals? That's big-time transparency.

LH) We did it four years ago also — but we made it more public this time. We wanted all our constituents to know what we are doing, where we're going, and how we're getting there.

What happens if you don't get there?

If we don't put goals out there, we won't get there. With every one of these goals, we essentially stretched our arm out as far as we could, and then put the goal even further out.

A lot of these goals are much bigger than us; we're working with other organizations to make this happen. All our constituencies throughout the organization — volunteers from different markets across the country, our outside volunteer network, the CDC, NIH, and others — were all involved to help set these goals. Plus there's a strategic oversight group and it all had to be approved by the national board.

Listen, there's nobody here who thinks there's any slam dunk in there — this was not, 'Let's put together a plan so we can sit back and put our feet up.'

If for some reason, we don't hit these goals in the timeframe laid out, we will continue to go after them.

Isn't the organization going to be spread awfully thin with so many big goals though?

Quite the opposite. When we go out and do surveys now, everybody knows ADA for pretty much 'doing everything for everybody all the time' — so a very wide focus but not very deep.

In the past, when things came up during the year, we would jump on them. Now we're saying we've formalized our goals and need to stay under this umbrella. There are some things that might have to wait while we focus on our core goals.

Let's take an example of each goal category and dig in a little bit. On improving outcomes for patients, you talk about a 7.5% reduction in lower limb amputations. How will you go about making that happen?

To set that goal, we looked at the NIH goals for healthy people into 2020. We made sure we were in line with that.

We're working closely with the Office of Minority Health. It's a priority for them and us, so we'll do this collaboratively. A lot of it's about making pre-screenings more accessible and raising awareness among those populations.  Working with a government office, it will also be easier to measure outcomes through HealthIndicators.gov.

On expanding research efforts, there's mention of your new "Pathway to a Cure" research program. Are you changing how ADA's research money is spent?

No, this is a new, additional program. We did research on how many people go into the field of diabetes research. Not as many of the best and brightest are going into field now as in the past, because it's such a struggle to get support and funding.  Overall, diabetes research is funded at a lower percent by the NIH than cancer for example. So people go into that field, or they choose more lucrative corporate jobs.

The problem even goes a step further, especially with young researchers (ages 25-30). As soon as they've got a grant, they need to begin trying to find their next grant tomorrow. They have to constantly bring in money to be a valuable lab member. That's just the way of the world. People are dropping out of the field because of ongoing pressure!

We wanted to figure out a way to get top people to stay in the field and put more of their time into research — especially young people, as there are actually more Nobel prize winners in their 20s and 30s than older. They're creative thinkers who aren't set in the established ways.

We've created new program (still in the quiet phase). It will be providing 5-year grants instead of 2-year grants, and at a higher level. We're looking for proven young talent, with recommendations from their peers. We'll be creating a mentor group to share information with other scholars who get the grant. This is valuable for their institute. It's prestigious. And it could rally to make a change in the whole diabetes field — for research on cure to treatment, making life better for people with diabetes.

Can people donate directly to this program?

Yes, the funds will be raised separately and would go 100% to research.

How does this relate to JDRF's cure research program?

Most researchers are trying to get grants from both of us, and also from NIH. There are limited resources, so they should apply everywhere!

In the past two years we've also funded a few programs together with JDRF on the research side. Our relationship with JDRF is very good.  Jeff Brewer, who's head of JDRF, is very good. He's always open to talking about collaborating.

Your plan's section on fighting discrimination talks about achieving a 25% increase in people utilizing ADA's advocacy resources, and bringing on more "trained advocates" to help make that happen.

That's one of our 2012 "organizational priorities." We want to aggressively expand our efforts to combat discrimination. We'll recruit additional advocates and inform our constituencies by more prominently featuring our legal advocacy services at ADA events across the country. We want everyone to understand that we offer this type of service through our volunteer legal network.

{Note: see comments by ADA Legal Advocacy director in our recent post on driving with diabetes}

On heightening the nation's sense of urgency over diabetes, you're aiming to double the people with pre-diabetes who know about their condition, plus achieve a 10% increase in people doing something about it — and a whopping 50% improvement in overall national awareness. Ambitious! But is this realistic?

Working with so many other prominent organizations, and through our successful Stop Diabetes campaign, we think it is.

The plan mentions targeting at least one "high visibility promotional opportunity" in the next few years. What that means is, keeping our eyes open for an opportunity like the one we've had with Bret Michaels, to truly publicize diabetes awareness. We're saying, 'when something like that comes up, let's take advantage of it!'

A goal of increasing revenues to $1 billion seems a little off-putting for a non-profit advocacy organization. Can you explain?

ADA is not a fundraising organization. We are here to fulfill our mission to prevent and cure diabetes, and improve the lives of all people affected by diabetes.  But to do this, one of our largest strategies needs to be to raise funds, because without the funds we can't fulfill our mission. Also, to clarify, the $1 billion is a cumulative total for the four years encompassed by the organization's current strategic plan.

We have a broad portfolio of revenues ranging from local special events, professional meetings, professional programs, book sales, etc. To reach our strategic plan goal we need to budget resources to allow us to reach our aggressive fund raising goals, which will provide the funds for all of our activities including research.

Specifically, we base our growth projections for next year on growth history.  To give you an idea of our 2012 portfolio: We are projecting to raise about $87 million from foundations, corporate support, individual giving, direct mail, etc.  We are projecting about $52 million in fees from subscriptions to sales of materials, publications, the Scientific Sessions, and investment income; plus about $54 million from our events in the field, such as our Step Out Walk, Father of Year, Tour de Cure bike event, etc. And we expect to receive about a little more than $25 million in bequests.

The plan also talks about staff retention. Has that been a problem for ADA?

Not a problem, no, but we're addressing this to make sure we stay an employer of choice — doing our best to get and keep high-impact people.

We have just under 800 employees nationwide, and over 100 offices, including 62 area offices within our volunteer network. Staff engagement, satisfaction, and keeping our workforce engaged, happy and productive are important.

Also on diversity, we don't have an issue, but we could have if we didn't focus on it. That's why all these things are mentioned in the plan.

So you're really banking on this plan, and expecting your constituents to hold you to it?

Absolutely. Overall, what a plan like this does is make things clear and possible. There are so many things that need to get done. All organizations have limited resources — but we're if under the same umbrella, we have a better chance of achieving things together.

 

** Don't forget to tune in soon for the 2nd half of our interview with Larry, the less formal edition.

Hint: we asked him about Paula Deen, the Blue Circle campaign, and representing adults with type 1. **

 
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This content is created for Diabetes Mine, a consumer health blog focused on the diabetes community. The content is not medically reviewed and doesn't adhere to Healthline's editorial guidelines. For more information about Healthline's partnership with Diabetes Mine, please click here.