Eric Hecker has accomplished a lot in the last two years as the Executive Director of the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation’s Western Pennsylvania/West Virginia chapter (where he works closely with Mitch Dugan on the Board of Directors), like launching the Night of Steel fundraiser and rallying an energetic group of volunteers.
Hecker’s leadership is especially impressive when you realize he didn’t know much about the Foundation before 2017, when a family member with Irritable Bowel Disease told him about the organization’s merits—and the open Executive Director position. With a history of serving others through nonprofits and schools, Hecker was an excellent fit, just as Night of Steel has been for the Pittsburgh community.
Night of Steel was born soon after Hecker’s arrival as the chapter’s new Executive Director in 2017. He and his team noticed a significant problem: One of the Foundation’s oldest fundraisers was struggling to scale as a result of its design. To overcome this, Hecker struck out to design a new event to replace the old one. “The big question we had was, ‘What can we do that will inspire people to come?’”
The answer was Night of Steel. Billed as an energetic cocktail party, Night of Steel features everything you might expect from a cocktail fundraiser—a DJ, photobooths, cocktails—and even some surprises, like trivia contests. But the most important design feature in Night of Steel, Hecker says, is its reflection of both Crohn’s and Colitis patients and the city of Pittsburgh.
“In many ways, these patients are just like the city. Crohn’s and Colitis patients are resilient. They’re generous in helping other patients work through their symptoms.” Pittsburgh is equally resilient. Once a recovering manufacturing town, the region is now reinventing itself as a technology hub.
Night of Steel has many ways of celebrating the Pittsburgh community, but nowhere is the love for the region more apparent than in the night’s menu. “Night of Steel features menu items inspired by each neighborhood. So Bloomfield has an Italian item. Polish Hill has a Polish option. Squirrel Hill has something unique to Squirrel Hill. We’ve tried to represent each neighborhood in the menu.”
As much as Night of Steel celebrates Crohn’s and Colitis patients and the region itself, it also fosters the city’s future growth. Night of Steel is an invitation-only networking event for emerging and experienced leaders in Pittsburgh. While attendance has recently opened to include one medical professional and one Foundation volunteer, the goal hasn’t changed: to raise awareness for the Foundation while spurring Pittsburgh’s economic growth.
Night of Steel embodies what makes Pittsburgh different from other communities. “I’ve worked all over, especially in Virginia. People always talk about southern hospitality, but when I would reach out to other organizations and leaders, nobody would talk to me. It’s completely different in Pittsburgh. The people here are compassionate. They want to talk to you. Now I can have a 15-minute conversation with someone. They may not be interested in supporting our cause, but they may connect me with someone who is. At the very least, they’ve taken the time to connect with me.”
Nowhere is that Pittsburgh spirit more evident than in the Foundation volunteers. “When I got here two years ago, we had one person working in the office, but you would never know it because of our volunteers. Our volunteers would never let the Foundation stop.” The volunteers continue their involvement because of their passion, and this passion is fueled by the Foundation’s progress—something Hecker emphasizes as much as possible.
“We regularly share what we accomplish with people and other nonprofits, and we constantly highlight our achievements over the last 5-10 years with pharmaceutical companies and hospitals. Every time there’s a new breakthrough in treatments, we share that with them. But what really gets them excited is our long list of upcoming projects. Sharing this with the volunteers keeps them focused on what’s ahead.”
The more passionate the volunteers become, the better they raise awareness. That’s important, Hecker says, because the more awareness we have, the more financial support the Foundation receives. Those extra resources move CCF closer to a cure. “The ultimate goal for myself and the volunteers is to work me out of a job.”
At Dugan & Associates, we’re proud to be active supporters of the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation. The next Night of Steel is on November 2, 2019. Learn more about it here.
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