Leveraging Digital Health to Expand Philanthropic Reach


The podcast features Dzenan Berberovic, Chief Philanthropy Officer at Avera Health, discussing the impact of philanthropy on healthcare, patient care, and strategic planning. He highlights the importance of philanthropic support in funding healthcare initiatives and enhancing patient experiences. Philanthropy is crucial in funding healthcare, with philanthropic support being one of the three most sustainable ways to fund healthcare.

Dzenan discusses how philanthropy impacts patient care by providing additional support for programs like lodging for patients and families, cancer patient navigation centers, and more. Strategic decisions in healthcare organizations are influenced by philanthropic support, with philanthropy shaping the future of patient care and access to services. Philanthropy utilizes technology to streamline processes, enhance efficiency, and address data security and privacy challenges in the digital age.

Key Moments


  • Providing opportunities for individuals to bring meaning to their lives is crucial in philanthropy.
  • Highlighting the impact of philanthropy in funding healthcare through sustainable ways.
  • Acknowledging the generosity of over 19,000 individual donors supporting healthcare initiatives.

Janan’s Journey

  • Janan’s inspiring journey from a first-generation college graduate to Chief Philanthropy Officer at Avera Health.
  • Embracing education and community support to drive positive change.
  • Establish scholarships and contribute to the College of Arts and Sciences at USD.

Transition to Philanthropy

  • Reflecting on life experiences that shaped Janan’s career in philanthropy.
  • Emphasizing the transformational impact of philanthropy in changing lives.
  • Overcoming challenges and proving oneself in the nonprofit sector.

Philanthropy in Healthcare

  • Discussing the role of philanthropy in shaping patient care and access to healthcare services.
  • Highlighting the importance of philanthropic support in funding healthcare initiatives.
  • Providing examples of how philanthropy positively impacts healthcare outcomes and patient experiences.

Strategic Planning and Philanthropy

  • Exploring how philanthropy influences strategic decisions and future initiatives in healthcare organizations.
  • Integrating philanthropic support into capital projects and budget planning.
  • Leveraging philanthropic partners to fund strategic plans and enhance patient care.

Technology in Philanthropy

  • Utilizing technology to streamline processes and enhance efficiency in philanthropic operations.
  • Addressing challenges of data security and privacy in the digital age.
  • Implementing automation and security measures to ensure data integrity and operational excellence.

Call to Support

  • Encouraging listeners to support local hospitals and healthcare institutions through philanthropic donations.
  • Highlighting the vital role of hospitals in serving communities and providing essential healthcare services.
  • Emphasizing the impact of philanthropic support in enabling hospitals to thrive and make a difference in people’s lives.



Welcome to the Digital Health Transformers podcast series. In this podcast, we explore the dynamic world of healthcare innovation, one conversation at a time. I’m your host, Nicole. Today, we have an inspiring guest at the forefront of transforming the healthcare landscape.

We are excited to welcome our guest to today’s episode, Dzenan Berberovic: Dzenan, the Chief Philanthropy Officer of Avera Health. Dzenan’s story is one of resilience and dedication to service. Born in Bosnia, he fled to Germany with his mother at a young age to escape war.

After settling in South Dakota, Dzenan embraced education as a means to a brighter future, becoming the first in the family to attend college. As a first-generation college graduate from the University of South Dakota, Dzenan’s passion for service led him to a career in the nonprofit sector. He champions philanthropy, leading Avera’s health efforts to make a difference in the community.

Beyond his role, he remains deeply involved from the banquet to Phi Kappa Alpha Foundation and is dedicated to giving back. Recognized for his impact, he serves on the College of Arts and Sciences advisory board at USD, establishing scholarships for future generations. His story showcases the power of education and community support, inspiring others to create positive change.

Join us in this discussion with Dzenan as we delve into his journey and explore the role of digital health and expanding philanthropic reach. Thank you for joining us today, Dzenan.


Good morning, Nicole. Thank you for having me.


Wonderful. It’s great to have you today here on our podcast. Dzenan, you’ve remarkably transitioned from a first-generation college graduate to a chief philanthropy officer. What inspired this shift from student to leading the philanthropic efforts of Vera Health?


That’s a wonderful question, Nicole, and as I ponder that, I think about all the experiences that I was gifted in my life, from the opportunity to escape a war and live in a very safe place in Germany for about six years at an organization in a refugee camp that was run by an order of nuns to coming to the United States and then receiving a full tuition scholarship to go to college. All of those experiences inspired what became my life’s work in philanthropy.

But as a college student, I had the opportunity to host constituents to the university, to work in a call center at the University of South Dakota Foundation, and then, of course, to feel the transformational impact that philanthropy can have on changing somebody’s life. So that’s what got me to the place where I’m at today. I worked in higher education philanthropy for several years before joining Vera in 2017.

So, I have been at this organization for several years, and I see the impact of philanthropic support unfold daily around me.


Wonderful. It’s so exciting to apply your knowledge and experience from college and from just with the university to a fuller healthcare system like Vera Health. What were the key challenges you faced while navigating from being a college student to a prominent leader in the nonprofit sector?


Yeah, Nicole, that those challenges or maybe even opportunities were incremental. Of course, first, it was getting a role in philanthropy, landing that first job, because as a 20, 21-year-old Jenan, I, at that point, all I wanted to do was be a major gift officer someday. Little did I know where that path would lead me, and little did I know that it would lead me back to an organization that is co-founded and served by two orders of vowed religious women, the Benedictine and the Presentation Sisters.

So, when I come to work every single day, this is very personal to me because those sisters who cared for me during the most vulnerable time in my life, in a way, are still with me through a couple of different orders. But you asked about some of those early challenges I may have faced in my career. That first one was getting the job in philanthropy, then proving myself.

When I first started in this work, I was doing more leadership annual giving work, which would be $1,000 and $500 gifts that constituents were committing to or providing to the organization at that point. As I became more comfortable with engaging and building relationships, I started doing more major gift-level work. Soon enough, that led to leadership-level work and principal-level or transformational gift opportunities.

Every single one of those roles or responsibilities meant that I had to stretch myself. And you grow once you lose sight of the shore. The first time I sat in a living room in someone’s home, I invited a family or a couple to provide a seven-figure gift.

That was very scary for 23-year-old Dzenan at that time. But what I learned was that you can achieve anything through building meaningful relationships and by engaging people in a way that brings meaning and significance to their lives. And so it far less mattered how old I was.

What mattered more was that we were providing them the opportunity to bring meaning to their lives. And that’s made all the difference. I also had to prove myself time and time again to my colleagues or to those whom I served and led in various roles.

Because sometimes I was younger than those who I was serving or leading at that organization. And so when they saw that I was willing to roll up my sleeves and do the same work that I was asking them to do or the same work that we were being asked to do, that made all the difference in this work.


That’s great to hear. It’s your profound impact. I’m guessing your experience has a profound impact on your current situation with Avira Health. And just learning the ropes of philanthropy as well as gift giving is such a challenging avenue for a lot of people.

And you have done such a wonderful job. I commend you for that. My next question is about roles in philanthropy and shaping today’s healthcare landscape.

How do you see philanthropy shaping the future of patient care and access to services?


What a wonderful question. Because so much of our time in recent years in healthcare has been focused on social determinants of health. Or how do we make healthcare more affordable for those who turn to Avira at any of our nearly 40 hospitals or more than 40 senior living communities?

How do we make it affordable for them? And how can we make sure that we provide care that’s above and beyond? Here at Avira, as we look at philanthropy, we recognize a couple of pieces.

We know that philanthropy is one of the three most sustainable ways to fund healthcare. The first is reimbursements, of course. The second is federal programs and federal reimbursements.

And third is that philanthropic piece. We know that the only way for us to be able to impact our patients, our residents, and their loved ones is by making sure that the healthcare experience is above and beyond what they may have imagined. And that’s where philanthropy comes in.

Private support through donations and philanthropic giving ensures that we allow philanthropic support to be budget-enhancing rather than budget-alleviating. And so, as we look at capital projects, some of the most significant facilities and capital initiatives that Avira embarks on, philanthropy has the opportunity to be a centerpiece of that. But also when we look at some of those programmatic pieces, like providing somebody a place to lodge while they or their loved one is receiving care.

We have so many individuals after a solid organ transplant or individuals who are receiving life-saving care either in our ICU, our pediatric ICU, or our neonatal ICU. They or their loved ones need a place to stay because the last thing on their mind is where they’re going to sleep when they follow a helicopter to one of our tertiary care centers or follow an ambulance to get to that location. And so when we can come alongside those patients and provide lodging, a meal voucher, or maybe even a free wig for that cancer patient, that makes all the difference in being able to provide that care.

And then some of our more programmatic pieces. There are programs at our organization that are nearly 100% funded through philanthropic support, one of those being our navigation center for cancer patients, but also those who are walking those cancer journeys alongside their loved ones. So philanthropic support makes all the difference, and what a blessing it is for us in healthcare; regardless of what health system or hospital one serves in, we all get a front-row seat to seeing how philanthropy unfolds all around us.

Sometimes, it’s through equipment. Sometimes, it’s by providing an employee who’s facing financial hardship with employee assistance support so that we can make sure that they and their families are cared for during really trying times for them personally.


That is such an amazing structure for your health and goes hand in hand with philanthropy. I love what you said about reimbursements, that there are insurance reimbursement, federal reimbursement, and philanthropy as the arms of how Avira Health structures itself. It’s amazing to hear the stories that you just provided regarding how philanthropy has impacted healthcare, especially in patients’ lives and their families.

As you said, it’s kind of sad to hear that some families still have to worry about their finances or where they’re going to be staying for the night when they have a sick family member. Still, with Avira Health, somehow they have found a full circle way of helping their patient, not just healthcare wise, but holistically through the finances as well. So that’s very commendable for Avira Health and you in your position to help Avira Health accomplish those services. My next question is, can you share any examples of how philanthropic initiatives are impacting healthcare outcomes and patient experiences?


I can. We would not have enough time for me to sit here and be able to share those experiences with you, Nicole. They are incredible, as you asked that question. I think about the dozens of stories that come through my mind and touch my heart about how we’re helping provide favorable outcomes.

A couple of those examples would include the fact that in the last two years, we did a comprehensive campaign to be able to add a new wing to our behavioral health facility. The Helmsley Behavioral Health Center, which is what the new wing is called, is a beacon of hope for adults, at-risk children, at-risk youth, as well as for senior citizens who are facing behavioral health challenges that many of us would never even think of. At our facility, we treat children as young as three years old who come to us and are provided with an inpatient behavioral health stay.

I think that in 2022, I provided a tour for an incredible benefactor family of our behavioral health facility. During that tour, one of the areas that we visited was our child unit. As we entered that unit, a little girl came out of our dining room, and she was grinning from ear to ear. She went on to tell me and to tell that benefactor’s family that it was her 10th birthday and how special the staff at our facility made that day for her.

I took a step back, and I recognized where we were then: we were in a psychiatric inpatient facility, and we were looking into the eyes of a 10-year-old little girl who was telling us how special the staff made her day, and on her 10th birthday, unfortunately, she was in a psychiatric hospital. So I think about the journey that she was on that day and hopefully, the more positive days that she was going to experience after that. I also think about our NICU babies, who come from our most rural facilities in the plains of the United States, and they take their first air flight in one of our helicopters or fixed wings to come to our facility.

We’re now caring for newborns as young as 22 weeks gestation, 22 weeks. So that means that that child weighs less than a coffee or a soda when they are delivered, and they come to our facility, and many of them go on to lead amazing lives. That’s, of course, after spending 35, 36 weeks, in some cases, in our facility.

I also think about our ICU or our pediatric intensive care patients and how our teams are so privileged to be able to provide care to them and their loved ones during that most probably critical time in their lives. We do it through a holistic approach. We do it by caring for body, mind, and spirit.

And then, of course, as a Catholic health organization, we have a deep commitment to caring for the poor, the vulnerable, and the marginalized every single day. And that’s been our mission for 125 years.


That is so admirable. And I think a few other hospitals, even in third world countries, I did my medical training in the Philippines and some of the government nonprofit hospitals there need what Avira is doing, having that philanthropic arm in its structure. And it’s so amazing that you shared those stories of the 10-year-old girl who had her birthday.

It’s very holistic. It’s very humanizing healthcare not just being in a hospital for your 10th birthday, but the staff creating it as a memory for that little girl. So it’s wonderful.

Your impact with Avira Health is so profound right now, and that’s amazing. My next topic is about the influence of philanthropy on strategic planning in healthcare. How does philanthropy impact the strategic decisions made by healthcare organizations, particularly in planning for future initiatives and programs?


Nicole, that is an amazing question. Right now, we are wrapping up our budget for the next fiscal year, which also means that we are starting to make revisions or nuances to Avira’s capital outlay. We lead and serve in philanthropy from a place of being able to come alongside all of those initiatives.

So when we look at Avira’s next five-year capital outlay, which is more than $750 million, philanthropic support is key to that. So just this morning, we had our Capital Management Council meeting for the system, which means that as a result of regional and other workstream areas that have met over the past several months, we then come to a place of saying, okay, here is our capital projects for the next fiscal year. While those individual conversations take place, the foundation team supports those efforts.

So, as we look at Avira’s next capital management opportunities, we are then able to say X amount will be funded through a minimum of philanthropic support. And so we start to build in minimums for each of those projects so that we can then say, okay, because philanthropic support was able to support all of these initiatives, we now have additional dollars that can support projects that maybe would not have been able to move up on that list. But thanks to benefactors’ support, I want to ensure that I underscore the incredible generosity that we’re privileged to receive daily from more than 19,000 individual donors last fiscal year.

Those generous individuals helped us to then be able to fund many of the projects, and they would have never been possible without their generosity.


19,000, go ahead.


Yeah, so that philanthropic support is the difference maker because of our donors on any given day with truly any project that we embark on, whether it’s the construction of a new women’s and children’s hospital, the addition or the expansion of behavioral health services in one of our other regions, the addition of patient and family lodging on one of our campuses, all of that is made possible through philanthropic support because of our generous supporters.


Wow, 19,000 donors. I can’t imagine even just two to 3,000 donors, but 19,000 donors; that’s a lot of generous people who are willing to donate their time and money for a wonderful organization and just to make a huge impact in the lives of thousands or not millions of patients. That’s such a great story.

In what ways can philanthropic partners and funding influence the development and implementation of strategic plans within healthcare institutions?


Sure. So, at Avera, our philanthropic work is guided by a philanthropy plan, which works hand in hand with the strategic direction of our organization. So rather than the foundation and philanthropy doing their own work on any given day, we know that truly, the sole reason why our foundation or any of our departments within the foundation exist is to ensure that our organization’s strategic plan comes to life.

Not only are there key measures in our present strategic plan that are related to philanthropic support, but as we look ahead and right now, we are undergoing a process of crafting our next strategic plan for the organization, philanthropic support is pivotal to that. So, as we look at the expansion of services, our desire to serve even more patients than we already do, because many of our largest communities are welcoming more and more new citizens or new residents to those communities, we want to make sure that we support that growth.


It’s always great to have a goal in mind before you put some money into a project. So before the budget, it’s important to have a holistic mission, vision, goals, objectives, and what not to give yourself a roadmap for the future. And your strategic plan does perfectly do that for the organization.

And it’s wonderful to hear that your strategic plan does not only impact the whole patient population in general but also the community as well. It brings a cohesive community together of not just the patient but also of donors who want to see their money being used the right way. So it’s wonderful to hear Avera’s story, as well as your story and your work with Avera Health.

My next question is, how is philanthropy utilizing technology to streamline processes and enhance efficiency in daily operations? Or how are philanthropic organizations addressing the challenges of data security and privacy in the digital age, particularly when it comes to implementing technology-driven solutions?


Now we’re getting serious, Nicole, with this question—a couple of ways. So, in 2020, when we unified all of Avera’s foundations, we had a goal: to build a best-in-class operation from a philanthropic operations standpoint.

Not only did we want to make sure that our North Star remained and that we would provide every constituent with a gratifying giving experience, but we wanted to make sure that the operations of the foundation mirrored that as well. And so there are a lot of pieces that we’ve been able to automate in our work, everything from our daily technology of screening, grateful engagement, and patience to support our organization to even the work that takes place through clearly defined standard operating procedures. One of the things you asked about was how we are utilizing or looking at data security.

Well, that’s being done through clear standard operating procedures and a commitment to everyone on our team embracing that work. We’ve also gone as far as developing different security groups in our core system and constituent management platform. So based on the level of work and what somebody’s core responsibilities are on our team, they have certain security features that are unlocked to them as they relate to our core system.

Those are just a couple of different pieces that we’ve put into place to make sure that data integrity and data security are all part of our work. And then we’ve also been able to promote someone on our team to be the lead database administrator for the entire organization. And so as we’ve gone through looking at all of our constituent records of doing a full, what we call database hygiene process of our data related to our constituents, we were able to promote someone into that role to oversee the database and serve as our champion.

And so there’s a couple of different work streams that are working hand in hand in the foundation to make sure that some of those data sets that we have on our constituents are clear, that we have some rules, and that we have some principles as well as standard operating procedures that govern our database as well as our other platforms that we use in the foundation.


That is great to hear. You are absolutely the best in class with the VR Health and Philanthropic Initiatives. It’s great to hear that you’re using automation for patient choices or even through your automating of donation processes and workflows, and having that security behind those donations is important, especially if you have 19,000 donors.

It somehow feels like the excellence of the donating and philanthropic arm of VR Health has gone so well with your leadership. And I commend you for doing an outstanding job with VR Health as its philanthropic chief officer. So let me give you this chance to do a shout-out to promote whatever you’re currently working on and any projects that you want to include as we close out this segment of our podcast.

The floor is for you to speak out on whatever project you’re currently working on.


Sure. Well, thank you, Nicole, first and foremost, for the invitation to have this conversation with you today. I have enjoyed the opportunity to share a little bit about who we are at Avera and some of the things that set our organization apart.

But I know that you have listeners all over. I would encourage them all to consider health care or their local hospital as a place to donate. If you think about it, health systems and hospitals are the only places in society that serve everybody.

Higher education serves a specific population. Local unhoused shelters serve a specific population, but hospitals serve every single person. In one room, you can have an individual who maybe is unhoused receiving care, and in the room next door to them, literally with just a wall and two doorways dividing them, you can have someone who may have their name on a local hospital. Both of those individuals are receiving exceptional life-saving care.

Philanthropic support is vital to health systems. It doesn’t matter if you are a small critical access facility or if you are a regional medical center that serves hundreds of thousands of individuals during any given year. Hospitals are so key to all of our organizations and all of our communities being able to thrive and to serve.

I invite all of you to look at your local hospitals to see what campaigns and initiatives they are embarking on and hopefully find it in your hearts to support those incredible institutions that do so much good beyond the hospital walls. A lot of healthcare takes place in the community, in people’s homes, and those organizations rely on philanthropic support to be able to do that. So today, it’s far more important for me to invite your incredible listeners to support their local hospitals than it is for them to support the work that we’re doing at Avera.


That is well said. Thank you. Yes, you are correct.

Healthcare is helping everybody, and some of it is life-changing, life-saving services. So yes, that’s great to expand that call for action to donate to local hospitals or a healthcare system within their reach. Thank you, Junon, for such an invaluable insight into the role of digital marketing and expanding philanthropic reach in this podcast.

Your work and your dedication are truly inspiring, and we look forward to witnessing the continued positive impact of digital health technology under your leadership. And I just wanted to close out that this podcast was brought to you by OSP, a leading healthcare software, and product development and solutions enhancing company. They develop solutions for revenue cycle management, practice management, billing, coding, and advanced cell health.

For more information, go to our website. And I want to say thank you so much, Junon. This is an amazing podcast.

Thank you for sharing your experience,,, workflows, and overall work with Avera Health. I wish you a wonderful day and thank you so much.


Thank you, Nicole.

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About the Guest


Dzenan Berberovic linkedin

Dzenan, Avera Health’s Chief Philanthropy Officer, epitomizes resilience and service. He leads Avera’s health initiatives, emphasizing community impact. Dzenan’s dedication extends beyond work; he actively supports various causes, including scholarships at his alma mater. His journey highlights the transformative power of education and community engagement, inspiring others to effect positive change.

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