AHP Connect Member Profile - Liz Kolcun
President & Chief Development Officer
Marin General Hospital Foundation
AHP member since 2002
An accomplished health care philanthropy professional, Liz Kolcun joined the Marin General Hospital executive team in 2016. Previously, she served as Chief Development Officer for Palo Alto Medical Foundation, where she led the philanthropy program. Earlier in her career, Kolcun managed all aspects of major gift development at California Pacific Medical Center Foundation. She also held responsibility for capital campaigns, principal gifts, planned gifts, grant writing, direct mail, event planning, philanthropy communications and concierge services.
What is the most rewarding part of your work in health care philanthropy?
The most rewarding part of my job is when I’m able to connect a person or a family who wants to give back, wants to make a difference and wants to do something for the greater good with an existing need that’s unfunded. We have so many opportunities within the hospital and clinics, so when I’m able to pair the right family with the right project, it is extremely rewarding. The benefit can be felt by hundreds or thousands of patients, and seeing that family realize they made an impact is almost magical.
What is something you wish you knew when you started your career in health care philanthropy?
I wish I knew about philanthropy as a career path when I was a young person. As for a lot of people in my generation, I really stumbled into it. It wasn’t something that I was even aware of.
My first career was as a media buyer in advertising, and I was working on the side as a writer for a small magazine. When I moved to San Francisco, I wanted to get a job as a writer. Someone had told me about grant writing, but I had never heard about it before. It turned out to be a perfect match for my skills coming from a writing, advertising, media buying and negotiating background. I didn’t know about grant writing, fundraising or philanthropy, and I took a windy road to get there.
I’m excited that it is now offered as a field of study and that it has become more professional with AHP and other organizations. A lot of people have found a second career in health care philanthropy or they came to it through their own personal experience, but I’m happy now that younger generations have it as more of an option for a career choice.
You’re one of our presenters at the 2018 AHP Annual International Conference, and you’re doing a session on how to start a concierge program. What can people who take your session expect?
When I came to Marin General Hospital Foundation as the Chief Development Officer two years ago, we did not have a concierge program. However, we did have people stepping up and making the largest gift they ever made through our capital campaign. Our donors were also familiar with the concierge programs at nearby hospitals and were asking us, “Do you have this program?” We are a very small shop and were very careful about how to launch the program so we would be able to deliver what we set out to achieve. The last thing we wanted to do was launch a program that we couldn’t staff appropriately or that couldn’t meet people’s expectations.
The little preview of the session is: how can a small shop build an effective concierge program and provide the service to their patients and donors all while still meeting their multiple other obligations? Our concierge program has been very successful and well received. We have been able to have conservations with prospects who are interested in making a gift to the hospital, and they’ve asked whether there are different levels of giving. We have different entry points, and I have seen people go from $0 to $250,000 — which is where our program starts — because donors want to be a part of that. It has really inspired people to give at higher levels than I think they were originally intending. It has helped them to stretch.
Describe a recent or current project you’re most proud of.
When I came on board a couple of years ago, it was to help close a capital campaign. We had set a $50 million minimum goal, so right now I love looking at the white board in my office that says, “goal: $50 million — raised: $65 million.” We have overachieved our capital campaign minimum goal. And of course, the more we raise, the better for the hospital.
But the thing I’m most proud of is that I was part of the team that helped to bring in the first, second and only eight-figure gifts for the hospital. This was my first experience with closing an eight-figure gift. We had a $10 million gift from an anonymous family and a $21 million gift from a board member. It was so exciting to not only close one eight-figure gift, but two, and that’s how we were able to overachieve our goal. I think the first $10 million gift was critical to make the case that we are worthy of an investment of that size, and it helped bring about the $21 million gift. Success builds on success.
What are some of the challenges you face in your work, and how do you address those challenges?
One of the challenges is some people have a misperception of fundraising and health care fundraising specifically. When I talk to people — including physicians — who may want to be involved but are reluctant, there is a perception that fundraising is about prying money from unwilling people. That is not the case. I try to educate potential board members and physicians who want to raise money for a project but are uncomfortable with fundraising. The people who I’m working with are philanthropists. They are going to give somewhere. They are generous people, and they have great capacity. I’m not asking people for money who can’t afford it. I work with individuals who are going to make a gift regardless, and I just want us to be on their radar.
Another challenge in health care is that I don’t think people understand the not-for-profit part of it. We need to make sure people know we are a not-for-profit health care organization and that we rely on philanthropy. It’s more about raising awareness and educating people that we would be grateful for their support.
What is one piece of advice you would give to someone new to health care philanthropy?
I would recommend trying to find a mentor. My former boss who hired me in 2001 and gave me my first job as a grant writer was an incredible mentor. She helped me go from a novice grant writer to an expert, then on to become a senior major gift officer and then director of major gifts. She gave me that encouragement, support and confidence to pursue the next level. That was critical to my success.