Women Leaders

Robin Merle, Hospital for Special Surgery

Robin Merle

Bringing People
and Ideas Together

Editors’ Note

Prior to joining HSS, Robin Merle raised significant support for New York University, and Rutgers University, where she received the Council for Advancement of Secondary Education Award for Excellence in Educational Fundraising Leadership. She is a Member of the Executive Committee of Women in Development, New York and served as Vice Chair of the 20th Anniversary Committee of the New York Women’s Agenda. She founded and co-chairs a Senior Executive Leadership Group for development professionals in the New York and Connecticut area. Merle has a master’s degree from The Johns Hopkins University and graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Rutgers College.

Institution Brief

New York-based Hospital for Special Surgery (hss.edu; HSS) is internationally recognized as the leading independent academic medical center specializing in orthopedics, rheumatology, and their related specialties. The hospital pioneered the modern-day total knee replacement and continues to build on its success in all areas of musculoskeletal healthcare, in the advancement of cutting-edge research, and the development of innovative approaches to diagnosis and treatment, all of which contribute to its global leadership. Outstanding results in quality of care and the patient experience have created a growing demand for its services, with people coming to HSS from across the country and throughout the world. HSS is the first hospital in New York State to achieve its fourth consecutive designation as a Magnet® Hospital by the American Nurses Credentialing Center, the gold standard for nursing excellence. It is the only hospital in New York State that has maintained a significantly lower infection rate than the state average for hip replacement five years in a row. HSS is the official hospital of the New York Giants, New York Mets, New York Knicks, New York Liberty, and the New York Red Bulls. It is also the official hospital of New York Road Runners for the New York City Marathon. In 2013, HSS was named the first National Medical Center of the United States Olympic Committee’s (USOC) National Medical Network. In this capacity, HSS is an official hospital for U.S. athletes. HSS is also one of only three hospitals in the United States designated as a Medical Center of Excellence by FIFA.

How do you define the role of the Chief Development Officer and what interested you in this type of work?

The Chief Development Officer has a unique leadership role in an organization. We are at the juncture of internal and external communities that, when brought together, have the power to change the capabilities of an organization and every constituent touched by that organization. Put more simply: we bring people and ideas together. Our role enables philanthropists and organizational leaders to realize their vision for the future.

We’re connectors, educators, facilitators, strategists, problem-solvers, catalysts, psychologists, friends, stewards, advocates, and above all communicators with a talent for relationship-building for a purpose.

When I walk through the HSS campus I see basic science research laboratories that would not have been built if it weren’t for our partnership with philanthropists. I see the children’s pavilion that is now a “hospital within our hospital” thanks to a benefactor and physician leader who took the first step, and the ever-increasing community of supporters who followed, contributing $40 million to build, endow, and staff the Pavilion. I am humbled by the research being conducted in our new genomics center, the result of a visionary philanthropist, trustee advocate, and our chief scientist officer and his team. We are the first and only research entity in the country to apply genomics to orthopedic problems.

What attracted you to this kind of work?

My team and I are mission-driven, goal-driven, and make-a-difference driven, not unlike the philanthropists with whom we are honored to partner. Anyone who has experienced the thrill of bringing to fruition ideas, values, and aspirations of great minds and prominent leaders knows firsthand the compelling rewards of development. To be able to do this work at Hospital for Special Surgery, the world’s leading specialty hospital in orthopedics and rheumatology,-which is an organization that sets the standard in its field, is an extraordinary opportunity. Our goals are driven by our patients: to improve their quality of life. Our current fund-raising campaign, “Your Life, Our Mission,” takes this goal as its headline and has inspired and motivated donors from around the world.

Would you provide an overview of the Development Department at HSS and the quality and talent of your team?

We are a high-performance development team, staffed by 30 professionals and growing. We have designed and executed strategic, cost-effective fund-raising programs that reach a diverse portfolio of benefactors including individuals, foundations, organizations, and corporations. We are donor-centric, and focus on engagement and involvement in our organization, leading to the desire to provide meaningful support. We raise approximately $50 million annually and have raised nearly half a billion in institutional campaigns focused on supporting musculoskeletal research, capital expansion, and endowment. This year, we were recognized as a “High Performer” organization by the Association for Healthcare Philanthropy for the second year in a row.