Carrie Coghill: Fighting for Women’s Health

Women’s History Month isn’t just a time to pay tribute the fearless female leaders who have inspired so many. It’s an opportunity to celebrate women who are actively making a difference in our world today. At Invest in Others, we’re grateful to support charities that uplift women and girls here at home and around the world. In honor of Women’s History Month, we are spotlighting one of our own: Carrie Coghill, our 2018 Catalyst Award winner for her work with the Magee-Women’s Research Institute.

Carrie developed a passion for philanthropy and giving back later in life. Until about 10 years ago, the Pittsburgh-based financial advisor had no formal volunteer experience. But when a close friend died of ovarian cancer after a three-year battle with the disease, she vowed to turn her personal tragedy into something positive.

“My desire came out of watching Robbie give back through her illness,” Carrie said. “She would go in for chemo and have chemo parities. She was more concerned about her caretakers than herself. Watching her give back when she was so sick was something to admire. I didn’t want her death to be forgotten.”

To honor her friend, Carrie chose to support a charity dedicated to finding a cure for ovarian cancer. Fortunately, Carrie was within only a few miles of the top-funded women’s research facility in the world—Magee-Women’s Research Institute. But what started as a quest to find a cure for ovarian cancer soon turned into something much larger.

Carrie discovered that women’s research is woefully underfunded. Nationally, women’s health initiatives receive only 22 cents of every research dollar. What’s more, research is typically conducted on men and results are applied to both men and women—a process that can result in deadly outcomes.

“It was mind boggling,” Carrie said. “When I learned the facts, that’s when my passion expanded from ovarian cancer into women’s research. Every dollar we raise here can go to women’s health.”

In 2015, Carrie took over as chair of the board of trustees. Her first move was to recommend that the institute hire a CEO who could focus exclusively on business. The decision paid off in terms of fundraising. Magee is now more than halfway to reaching a $100 million fundraising goal and has significantly stepped up its profile within the scientific and medical community.

Last year, Magee hosted its first women’s global summit, an event that brought 400+ scientists to Pittsburgh and culminated with a $1 million award to the most promising research study (Magee has committed to funding the award for five years).  Under Carrie’s leadership, the institute is also working with celebrities and large corporations to raise awareness and funding for the organization.

When it comes to fundraising, Carrie wants to modernize Magee’s overall approach in the same way that the financial services industry has shifted from a sales-focused model to one built on service, where fees are commensurate with outcomes.

“It’s great to talk to donors and raise money, but what we want to do is to create recurring revenue,” said Carrie, noting that Magee is looking to tap small donors at key periods throughout the year like Mother’s Day. “From a financial standpoint, that’s going to create sustainability and revenue so we can continue to expand research.”

Looking back, Carrie can’t believe it took her so long to get involved with a charitable organization. She said she wouldn’t want to live in a world without food banks to feed the homeless and educational programs to support at-risk children.

“Our world would not be what it is without philanthropy and volunteers,” said Carrie, who says people should find a cause that speaks to them. “It’s so important to be passionate about what you’re doing. When people do it for the wrong reasons, it shows. You have to be passionate and have a connection to the cause.”