2018 Si Seymour Award Recipient: Sharon A. Jones, CFRE, FAHP
Sharon A. Jones, CFRE, FAHP
2018 Si Seymour Award recipient Sharon A. Jones, CFRE, FAHP, shared her story of involvement with the Association for Healthcare Philanthropy at the 2018 AHP Annual International Conference in San Diego, California.
Will all members who have attended the AHP Madison Institute please stand? Thank you.
Will all members who would like to teach at Madison, please stand? Faculty, here is the future! Thank you.
Will the past and current faculty members at Madison stand and remain standing.
I ask all of you to remain standing so that the audience can see the broad shoulders upon which I stand before you today — honored supporters, I thank you and please sit.
Honored guests, Alice Ayres, president of AHP, officers and fellow board members of AHP, Mary Anne Chern, chair of the Si Seymour Selection Committee, committee members and other fellow Si Seymour Award winners. I thank you all for attending. It is a humbling and somewhat intimidating experience to celebrate this recognition with you.
I also think it appropriate that we open with wisdom from Si Seymour. He always said: “To seek credit is to lose it, and to avoid credit usually results in getting more than you really deserve.” This is wisdom we can all incorporate into our personal and professional lives.
In 1992, after a year on my first health care fundraising job, a vendor/partner called on me. Part of his sales approach was to encourage me to join AHP, an organization with which I could learn to become a successful fundraiser. Shortly thereafter, my organization, a standalone 325-bed community hospital, did join AHP. Today I share with you my journey of how I am standing before you today. My message is: If I can do it, you can do it!
I eagerly attended my first regional conference that year and learned how much I did not know about fundraising. One of the benefits of that conference was meeting fundraisers from throughout the southeast region. Following that regional conference, I attended my first International Conference, where some of the most outstanding fundraisers in the country were part of the faculty. I was impressed and in awe of their communication skills and diverse backgrounds. They will never know the lasting impact they had on me.
Several years later, I decided to attend the Madison Institute in the Major Gifts track taught by Brad Holmes. He was engaging and knowledgeable. Then, as now, the Institute was held in high and revered esteem. I met other faculty members, all of whom were very accomplished. I wondered to myself: What do I need to do to teach here?
As I discovered more and more about AHP, the Madison Institute and fundraising, I learned what it takes to teach at Madison. Volunteer to teach often, teach the Advanced Course, prepare very well and develop a reputation as an outstanding teacher.
Because the Madison Institute is such a part of the AHP history, I take a moment to note that Madison is celebrating its 42nd anniversary. In 1975, a group of AHP leaders determined that for the members to be the best they can be, they needed an intense week-long immersion in all facets of health care fundraising. The University of Wisconsin-Madison was chosen because of its central location and its willingness to assist AHP in developing what is now the “crown jewel” of AHP.
Along with Madison, one of the messages that AHP stresses is the importance of certification. It was that thought that led me in 1997 to sit for the CFRE. Because I did not adequately prepare, I did not pass. This was humbling and humiliating. To my rescue came AHP leader and former chair, Charlie Heim, who gave me direction and wisdom. Quit complaining, take the Primer and retake the exam. He was right! I studied, took the Primer and passed the exam.
The Primer led me to volunteering for educational work groups. Regional activities seemed to be the expectation of the AHP members. Everyone seemed involved in some part of the organization. Committee work provided an opportunity to expand my fundraising knowledge and meet so many partners. As a result, I found new relationships with other professional fundraisers, all of whom shared their best practices and made me better.
A highlight of my teaching career was to be asked by Dotty Allen to teach the Advanced Course. In those days, you were mentored into the course. You taught only one or two sections of the day-long program. There I learned the joy of sharing knowledge with other fundraisers in a classroom setting. It was fun and a rewarding experience.
For those of you who have not yet had an AHP teaching opportunity, please consider it. Just do it! When I experienced a crisis in my career, it was AHP members who helped me focus on next steps. It was AHP that helped me transition from hospital fundraising to hospice fundraising. And it is hospice fundraising that has given me so many wonderful opportunities. To become a part of a patient’s life experience is an honor and provides so many valuable benefits. These patients and families have taught me firsthand the real lessons of life, of death and the value of what is really important. They have made me a better person and better fundraising teacher.
After teaching the Advanced Course for several years, Ann Thompson-Haas, who was then dean of the Annual Giving track at the Madison Institute, asked me to teach in her track. I was scared, but so honored to be considered for this teaching opportunity. An invitation to return to Madison as a teacher is based on the evaluation by your students. Preparation, engagement and commitment are key to being asked to return for another year.
When, after two years of teaching, I was asked to serve as the chair of the Madison Institute, I was honored but intimidated. On other occasions, while walking to the Pyle Center on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus to start the day of teaching, I offered suggestions to then Chair Greg Pope, for changes that I thought would benefit the students, faculty and the Association for Healthcare Philanthropy. He responded to me that he would think about them. Within the week, on another early morning walk to the Pyle Center, he asked me to serve as chair. I was surprised and told him that I was not prepared. His response was a simple, “Yes, you are.”
With the acceptance of this role, I now had to put my words about change into action. Madison is full of history and tradition, which are not easily changed. “It has always been done this way,” was a mantra I often heard even when suggesting a change in the location of accommodations for faculty from the Campus Student Union. After much negotiation, the faculty agreed to move and now stays in a more “modern hotel.” Other positive changes are faculty now have term limits, new faculty members are selected each year on an as-needed basis and the Faculty Development Committee now offers an “Expression of Interest” form online so any member of AHP can apply. This allows the committee to have a pool of talented members from which to select new Madison faculty. Madison is better than ever!
There is no greater reward for teaching than to receive notes and letters from students praising the benefits of attending the Institute and detailing their post-Madison fundraising success. The students always remember their faculty and often comment on what a career-changing week Madison is. AHP leaders, including Bill Littlejohn and Randy Varju, have been keynote speakers for the plenary session at Madison. David Flood attended Madison the year he was chair. AHP Chair Jory Pritchard-Kerr has been a faculty member. For the first time, in 2018, AHP President and CEO Alice Ayres attended Madison, participated in the classes and extracurricular activities as did the AHP marketing team. Madison and AHP – together for the future!
An educational milestone I once thought to be unattainable is the Fellows of AHP recognition. After serious consideration and study (although not with a group), I sat for the Fellows exam. It was a terrifying and humbling experience. I did not pass because “I did not answer the question” during the oral component. Clearly a tutor was needed to help me become a better listener and to focus on succinctly answering the question in a limited time frame. I partnered with a colleague who also had also not passed. We studied together every Wednesday morning at 7:00 a.m. for one hour for three months. I also engaged my husband, a trial lawyer, to coach me on “listening” to the questions and answering the question succinctly. Both the colleague and I were awarded our Fellows designation in 2010. Answering a question as it is asked and not trying to tell everything you know about fundraising is a good rule to be followed when talking with donors.
As a result of my struggles with the Fellows examination the first time, I became sensitive to the complaints I heard from colleagues about the fairness of the questions and subjectivity of the whole process. When Janet DeWolf, certification chair, asked if I might be willing to help her improve the Fellows certification process, I was eager to do so. Janet and I continue to work on certification. As you know, a new format for the Fellows exam was announced at this conference. For those of you who believe there was a shroud of secrecy hanging over the Fellows designation, you can be assured that the shroud is now lifted. The process is well defined. Yes, the application is still time consuming to complete, but well worth the effort. It is now available and accessible online with clearly defined criteria.
Board service is the ultimate and a most important volunteer commitment to AHP. Becoming an AHP board member seemed improbable because I represented a small hospital in a small town, followed by my serving hospices, which represents a small fraction of the entire AHP membership. My message shows that board service results from being involved, participating in and completing volunteer projects wherever AHP needs you. Don’t wait until you think you are ready or “when you have more time.” Si Seymour didn’t wait, and neither should you.
It was and is from those fellow board members that I have learned to conduct effective meetings. Always be prepared, always listen to comments from other members and be ready to make a decision when necessary. I learned from the best of the best. Their styles were very different, which is why they are so effective. Board service is a tremendous responsibility. You speak and act not for yourself, your shop or your state. You speak and act for the entire AHP membership. It is never easy making decisions that affect so many members.
Some 26 years later, I still reflect on AHP, its mission and purpose and how the future of AHP and Madison will play out. I am grateful to AHP for the many opportunities it has given me, for the friendships that have been created and especially for this coveted and impressive Si Seymour Award.
And so, Si, I hope that in making these remarks, I have lived by your wisdom to avoid seeking credit because I have gotten more than I really deserve. Thank you.