AHP Connect Member Profile - Jennifer C. Maust
Jennifer C. Maust
Meritus Healthcare Foundation
AHP member since 2016
Tell me about how you started your career in health care philanthropy.
My career in health care philanthropy began in 2015 with a casual conversation with one of the board members of the Meritus Healthcare Foundation at that time. We discussed the organization and the desire they had for a new team member, but I didn’t have a good grasp of health care philanthropy or its importance. Fundraising wasn’t foreign to me. I had grown up in the community where my mom served as the executive director of United Way for about 12 years, but I never saw myself in fundraising or philanthropy. I had built a successful career in nonprofit program administration.
After speaking with the board member in depth, he said he believed my skills would pair perfectly with the organization, as the key to philanthropy is relationships and connections. I have always been community-vested and he encouraged me to meet with the executive director to discuss a position within the organization. I did my homework, asked some of my peers for their impressions and I took the meeting. In speaking with the executive director and seeing how excited she was about the field, I was intrigued and thought, “I could use my skillset here.” I’m very pragmatic, organized and detailed, but also very passionate about my community and interested in collaborative relationships within our community. So I took a leap of faith.
I joined the team in March 2015 as a development manager and I hit the ground running. Fast forward four years and I’m now the executive director of the organization I joined in 2015.
That’s a quick trajectory! What are some challenges you face in your work?
It was quick, but not without well-laid plans. I am fortunate to be seasoned, and after two decades in program administration, I possessed the tools necessary for the administration; what I had to catch up to quickly was the education, knowledge and the purpose surrounding health care philanthropy.
When I came on board, I had skills that qualified me for the position. I have an undergraduate degree in human service management, I had the good fortune to work for a dynamic United States senator doing public relations for a number of years and I had lifelong connections in my community where I live and work. I just needed to dive in to the purpose and importance of health care philanthropy.
So I dove in, head first. Not too long after I started in March of 2015, our executive director resigned and left in August, as well as our events coordinator. It was baptism by fire! At that point, I was inundated and entrenched in the work; with events and corporate relations, with major donor introductions and administration, I had to learn a little about a lot, very quickly.
Fortunately, we had an executive director join us in November 2015 and he was with us until end of July last year. During his time with us, I was afforded the opportunity and the encouragement to dive into the philosophy behind philanthropy and the recurring thread that kept presenting itself was that giving heals. For me, that is what health care philanthropy is based upon.
We’re a standalone community hospital that sees everyone regardless of their ability to pay. Health doesn’t discriminate. It doesn’t matter how rich you are, how challenged you are – it doesn’t matter what your insurance is or whether you have insurance. When someone has an injury or illness, they are just looking for help and healing. And giving heals.
Giving not only heals clinically but giving helps people heal emotionally as well. I have found that for a patient to express their gratitude through their story and then to have their story shared with the community allows for people to become vested and then those supporters give gifts and the cycle of giving continues to heal.
It’s fundraising like I have never known. I had been involved in fundraising for community nonprofits, arts and entertainment and other charities, but what I have found in health care philanthropy soars above; its personal, intimate. It affects everyone. It’s our neighbors, our friends, our colleagues, our parents. And that’s where I was able to springboard my desire to serve in health care philanthropy forward.
It wasn’t planned, but I don’t think there are many people who choose health care philanthropy. Rather, the field chooses us.
It seems like a lot of people stumble upon health care philanthropy and fall in love.
Absolutely, you have to fall in love with it. There are days when there are challenges. Challenges balancing the community’s understanding of the administration of hospital operations and the need of our patients and programs. I see the philanthropy team’s role to serve as a conduit between our community of donors and our senior leadership, to share the great things happening on campus and be able to get donors excited about investing in our community’s hospital. Nonprofit doesn’t mean nonbusiness; the opportunity is explaining to the community the needs using language they understand so we don’t put them off with clinical speak.
That is the greatest gift that health care philanthropy gives; it’s not just the process of cultivation to stewardship. It’s the impact! It’s the impact of the relationship, the impact of the gift and the impact to our community at large. It’s become my passion and purpose. I never imagined it.
Tell me about your experience at the Madison Institute.
Going to Madison was pinnacle for me. I was fortunate enough to attend the Madison Institute in 2017 and I did the major gifts track. I remember going with a career focus in mind. I was thinking very linearly. I was thinking about learning key points on closing major gifts and so forth. I wasn’t thinking of it as a whole experience. It was a great experience; I met great contacts and it was relevant to my field, but I was still relatively new and wasn’t thinking big enough. It was about my pipeline, my numbers.
Then, between 2017 and 2018, my mom had a significant health crisis. She has pulmonary fibrosis and was going through the process to be considered for a lung transplant and my entire approach to health care changed. It was no longer just my career; no longer something I “did.” It became who I am. It became my purpose and changed me to the core.
Our hospital doesn’t have a transplant program, so off my mom went to the amazingly capable hands of UMMC while I dug in to make a difference in the health of our hometown. During this period, my entire outlook and approach changed. It was personal; the work I was dedicating myself to was saving lives and I understood to the core of me – the patients we are helping raise resources for are the moms, sisters, uncles, neighbors, friends and families of this community, and this community is my family.
By the time I went to Madison in the summer of 2018, I was on fire! I wanted to absorb and soak up every bit of knowledge, resources, skills and wisdom. The class was so engaging. Every person in the class was sharing stories of best practices and bad scenarios. How to do service recovery. How to work with your CEO. It was as if somebody just opened the dam. It was the most incredible experience because it was pure knowledge and an exchange of information and ideas like I had never experienced.
That week I chose to be absolutely entrenched – in it to win it, from the moment I woke up until the moment I went to bed, taking every morsel of information and storing it for future use, even socially. We would go out to dinner in small groups and it didn’t stop. Everyone just sharing and soaking up the opportunity to spend a week with the peers of our industry.
You say you credit the Madison Institute with helping you get your job as executive director at Meritus. How did Madison prepare you for that job?
I left Madison in July 2018 and felt 100 percent confident in the fact that I am the resident expert in health care philanthropy on my campus. There was no doubt for me, no pause. It was this stamp of approval feeling, that now each student could go and do the work because we had the knowledge, the understanding, the thought processes, the critical thinking skills, the experiences and, most importantly, the network. I had a network of peers, a connection of friends who I could turn to.
I came back to Meritus at the end of July, and my executive director announced his retirement quite abruptly. Our CEO asked if I would serve as the interim executive director and I agreed without hesitation. Madison had prepared me. I know the processes, I know our shop and I know how to make sure the work is done. I was happy to accept. Then in December of 2018, I was appointed as executive director of the Meritus Healthcare Foundation.
Has it been a whirlwind? Absolutely. Do I think that I already had many of the skills necessary those short four years ago? Absolutely. But without the knowledge, the understanding, the fundamental baseline education and the assistance that AHP provides to its membership, its participants and its conference attendees, I would never have had the ability to speak confidently about our industry. When someone now asks me a question, I know the answer. And I don’t know the answer because it might be the answer. I know the answer because it’s been tried and true, shown and proven.
I refer back to my red notebooks all the time. I actually put them out into the library of our development team and said, “Look, these may not make sense to you, but if you see something in the syllabus that you have questions about, bring it back and I’ll talk you through it.” I can describe it like I’m still sitting in that room.
The knowledge, best practice models and reference material I came away with through the instruction and interactions was invaluable, but one of my favorite and worthwhile takeaways has been my new network. A network of established professional peers with more than a century of experience. Peers that I have communicated with frequently since leaving Wisconsin. I have found there wasn’t an issue or a situation that someone in our class hadn’t had exposure or expertise to share, and since then I still communicate with a few interested in touching base about progress and outcomes.
What are some tips you have for future Madison students?
Put away assumptions. Do not assume you’ve done it, tried it, experienced it – those assumptions are deadly. You have to open your mind to everything that everyone else is sharing and offering. Because if you’ve already closed yourself off, you’re already discounting your own ability to fall in love with your career.
I am a very driven, type A person – but it is intense. For the first two days you literally feel like you can’t take one more piece of information. I mean, you are exhausted, max saturated. You look at it from how big it is and it is overwhelming, but it gets smaller throughout the week. You go from these broad, 30,000-foot concepts down to application and work group scenarios about your shop.
I wrote and wrote and wrote for a month following Madison. Anything I thought of, that we talked about in class, I wrote it down. It became my roadmap.
If I were to say anything for future classes, it would be to put your assumptions aside. Bring your best work with you, but also bring your most challenging circumstances and be honest. One of the best things I experienced was a real transparency. No one was there to prove they were better than anyone else. We were all fortunate enough to sit in the same room with some of our peers as people who we’ll look up to forever.
Bring your biggest challenges. They can be anonymous, situational, donor-related, administrative… but bring them. There is a beauty in the way Madison works. The classes become these think tanks. You come out of the experience with more solutions than you ever hope to use.
Be patient. Class members need to be patient with themselves. You have to really be in the moment and be present instead of thinking about how to respond, or a case scenario that you have. Be present and hear what your classmates and faculty have to say.
Be prepared. Don’t come blind – know your stats, know a little bit about your shop, about your donors, about your demographics, so you can share and feel like you’re participating at a level that you’re comfortable with. Don’t put on airs, but don’t come blind.
What future challenges do you think the field of health care philanthropy will face?
I think the challenge of health care philanthropy is in sharing the story, sharing the importance. Identifying the true need and necessity. The demographics of donors and our society are changing, and we’re going to have to adapt and figure out ways to engage the next generation of donors.
As a society, donors want to see that immediate action, the immediate need. They want the photo to put with the “This has been accomplished.” In contrast, health care is a long game. Population health is going to change the entire culture of health care, and I think the challenge is going to be when people realize that health care is not as much brick and mortar. It’s not a physical hospital, it’s not the building. It’s the people who are served by it. How can we serve them best in their own environment?
I think a big challenge in our future will be donor engagement, how to keep them invested on the front line with our caregivers. How do we change our processes to fit our donors? Not the other way around.
We want to make sure we’re providing our communities with the best chances for health, longevity and wellness prior to having some type of illness or injury. There’s going to be injury and illness, but population health is a primary change; it’s the opportunity to be better before interventions are necessary, to take control of our own health as a society. How do we explain that health care philanthropy is just as crucial now, if not more crucial than ever?