Disruptors. They are the few and the fierce. In our series, Leading between the Lines, we have the opportunity, and the pleasure, of meeting with some of South Florida’s most dynamic female business leaders, ones who are disrupting their industry, approaching things in a new way, solving new problems, and effectively pushing the status quo into a new frontier. We want to learn about their journey, what it really takes, what they’re actually up against, and how it feels each step along the way. Meet DeAnn Hazey, Chief Development Officer for Fort Lauderdale Independence, Training and Education (FLITE) Center.
FLITE Center was created in 2009 with the intent of offering comprehensive access to services for youth aging out of foster care. FLITE Center is the hub of all support services for transitioning youth to become successful adults within a safe, nurturing environment that promotes personal growth while developing practical life skills.
The mission of FLITE Center is to guide those aging out of foster care and other vulnerable youth (human trafficking survivors, LGBTQ+ displaced, chronically homeless) for successful transition to independence through education, employment, housing, health & wellness, and system of care coordination. DeAnn Hazey is charged with ensuring the continued vitality, growth, and success of FLITE Center as this mission is pursued daily.
DeAnn has successfully directed nonprofits and executed fundraising campaigns for 30 years for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, 4KIDS of South Florida, Boys & Girls Clubs of Broward County, National Association of College Stores Foundation, The Cleveland Orchestra, and American Heart Association. She is a proud veteran of the U.S. Army, and as a Certified Fundraising Executive, she holds numerous leadership positions, including involvement with the Association of Fundraising Professionals, Broward/Fort Lauderdale Chapter; Youth Leadership Broward; and the Leadership Broward Foundation.After battling cancer and, more recently, the loss of a child, DeAnn’s perspectives toward her personal and professional journey have shifted. She has honed in on profound purpose.
Read our full interview with DeAnn Hazey to learn about the power of a passion-driven mission, leadership through loss, and how “transactional” nonprofit relationships are rewired by building trust.
Nicole: What motivated you to get into the nonprofit space? Did you always know this would be your path?
DeAnn: It was quite by accident! I was living in Texas when my mom was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. When she told me, I gave two weeks’ notice to my employer and moved back to Ohio to be with her. I saw an ad in the newspaper for an Events Coordinator position at The Cleveland Orchestra. I had played violin for 18 years and thought it would be fun. Eight (yes, eight!) interviews later, I was selected for this transformative role.
By the time I left six years later, I had been promoted several times and learned about all areas of development. With no turnover for five years, our team successfully completed a $100 million capital campaign (raising $117 million), and I had a rolodex of incredible donors and mentors. When I left the orchestra, they split my role into two full-time positions!
Nicole: The beginning of a hugely impactful career! What would you consider to be your proudest achievement thus far?
DeAnn: My children are incredible humans with their own distinctive personalities and aspirations. My oldest daughter, Brittany, is an ICU nurse and mom of two in Houston; my 16-year-old son, Sean, is a third-degree black belt and is attending the College Academy at Broward College in their dual enrollment program. He wants to be an officer in the U.S. Army in Psychological Operations. Our beautiful 24-year-old daughter, Allie, passed away just a few months ago. She brought hope, light, and love to her friends and colleagues, and especially those who were marginalized. I am forever proud of how she helped people selflessly and unapologetically.
Nicole: That is such an impossibly difficult and challenging loss. Thank you for sharing Allie’s legacy with us. Could you share more about the challenges you’ve faced and what you’ve learned from them? Are there any failures or regrets you struggle with?
DeAnn: The balance between being a young mother and building a career was tough! Having served in the U.S. Army, I was trained to be a leader, disciplined and well organized – failure was not an option. I feel like I failed at motherhood with my daughters because I was at the age and stage of climbing the career ladder when they were building relationships with friends and trying to navigate peer pressure. I didn’t always provide them with enough emotional support because many times I was exhausted and worked long hours to support our family. Asking for help was a sign of weakness for me.
A cancer diagnosis in 2012 and having complications for two additional years changed all that. I quickly learned that nothing mattered without good health. It became easier to say no and not feel guilty about it. I don’t have to be all things to all people. With my kids, their priorities are my priorities. Family above everything.
Nicole: Family is so important, and it’s clear that your children have a huge piece of your heart. Is there anyone else who influences and inspires you?
DeAnn: Having been in the nonprofit space for three decades, I have been profoundly influenced by the patients, families, and clients that I have raised funds for. Their humbleness and resilience are incredible. I am inspired by their sheer desire and determination to not only survive but thrive amid some very traumatic experiences. It is deeply fulfilling to serve others without an expectation of receiving anything in return.
My mom, now having had Multiple Sclerosis (MS) for almost 30 years, is still my mentor and hero. She always told me I could do anything if I worked hard for it. She is confined to a wheelchair and experiences great pain every day, yet never complains and always has a kind disposition toward everyone. I don’t know if I would have that much grace. I aspire to be like her every day.
Nicole: What has surprised you most on this journey?
DeAnn: How doing something so minute could mean so much to a patient, client or family member. The thought of providing a message of hope and light in the midst of their trial… it was, and still continues to be, truly humbling.
Nicole: Is there anything that’s scaring or challenging you right now? How is it impacting you, and how are you addressing it?
DeAnn: Me, or rather my motivation. I ask myself daily, am I doing enough to make a positive impact? Whether this is for my family or my organization. I’m currently challenged with being new to social services during a time of exponential growth due to so many youth needing services. It’s hard because not all of my relationships with donors have transferred into this new sector. I had to start from scratch, introducing new donors to our mission and trying to get as many individuals, corporations and foundations in the door to see the amazing work that our team is doing. The need is so great and the thought of turning away even one youth due to lack of resources is unacceptable. I lose sleep knowing any child or young adult may be without food, housing, or caring adults to guide them through this season of life.
Nicole: What is the most common challenge you see among transitioning young adults, and how does FLITE Center speak to that need?
DeAnn: Reimagine your 18th birthday – for a typical teen, they are probably planning a party, going out to dinner with family and friends, having some type of celebration. For a young person aging out of the foster care system (or other vulnerable circumstances), there isn’t a party and there isn’t family support. They are alone and bringing what minimal personal belongings they have to FLITE Center as they finalize paperwork to move into their new residence with almost NO knowledge or skills required to live on their own. There must be a more encouraging way to enter adulthood.
Nicole: What is the biggest misconception people have about the work you do, from the outside looking in?
DeAnn: The biggest misconception is that these youth have all the resources they need to survive on their own at 18. They don’t! Many of these youth have been abused or sex trafficked, homeless, or displaced from their families because of being LGBTQ+. People like to support the little kids with cute faces, yet many of these kids do not get adopted and age out. We are serving more than 2,000 youth annually, and this number is exponentially growing statewide.
Nicole: What do you wish more people knew about young adults in transition and your work with FLITE Center?
DeAnn: These young adults are resilient! They do not want a handout, but a hand up! They may stumble along the way, but they are overcomers! The FLITE Center team and our community partners become their family, even years after leaving the system; they do come back and share their successes with us. They are incredibly inspiring.
Nicole: That must be incredibly rewarding. What can you tell us about the future of the nonprofit sector? What will that look like?
DeAnn: There are 9,000 registered nonprofits in Broward County that account for 49,000 jobs and $6.2 billion in revenue. There will be continued growth because nonprofit organizations play a crucial role in addressing a wide range of social and community needs. I envision more nonprofits merging to provide a better range of services to their clients and reduce overheads, allowing more resources to go directly to their respective missions. Nonprofits foster a sense of community among people who share common interests and values. This sense of belonging is a powerful motivator for individuals to support and engage with nonprofit organizations.
Nicole: It’s encouraging to know the nonprofit world has a bright future! Looking ahead at your own life, what are your current personal and professional goals?
DeAnn: My goal is to help FLITE Center create the necessary infrastructure and diversified revenue streams required to build capacity to serve thousands of vulnerable and at-risk youth, now and well into the future. Over the last decade, I have raised $38 million and another $24 million in planned gift expectancies. I want to teach the next generation of fundraisers how to build thoughtful and long-term relationships with donors versus transactional fundraising. FLITE will be the last nonprofit organization that I will work for full-time. I recently took on a new title – GiGi – so I plan to consult in order to spend more time with my grandchildren in Texas.
Nicole: What advice would you give to someone who wants to be successful in the nonprofit sector, or who may be embarking on a similar professional journey?
DeAnn: The advice that I would give is to understand your personal motivation and values for wanting to work in the nonprofit field. Be a passionate advocate for your organization. Never look at donors as a paycheck; spend time building relationships by listening to their needs and desired outcomes. Significant gifts are made when there is TRUST that has been built over time.