AHP Connect Articles

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AHP Connect Member Profile - Renee León

Allana Schwaab
Published:  04/10/2019

Renee LeonRenee León
Donor Relations Officer
Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital Foundation
Valencia, CA

AHP member since 2015


Congratulations on being named one of our 40 Under 40 recipients last year! In your 40 Under 40 profile, it sounds like you have a few personal connections that tie you to the industry of health care philanthropy. You had a kindergarten teacher who inspired in you a love of learning – tell me more about that.

As far back as I can remember, one of my greatest joys in life has been about constantly learning. Learning new information and new things can be fun. It’s all about feeding your curiosity and giving yourself further insight into the world around you.  

In health care there are new things happening all the time. My first position was at UC San Diego, School of Medicine, which is a national leader in internal medicine research. I love being around some of the most brilliant minds, critical thinkers, problem solvers, collaborators and creative leaders. The part that I get to play into that is I get to help raise funds and bring some of that new technology here, especially at our community hospital.

Your twin boys were born two months early, and their lives were saved by your NICU team. Tell me about that.

That was the most serendipitous moment. My very first campaign at Henry Mayo was The Kim and Steven Ullman NICU. What I love about this foundation is not only do we raise the funds, but we get very involved from the building part of it, and we work with the staff to get them involved.

I was actually pregnant when the NICU opened and didn’t know it. Unbeknownst to me, I was pregnant with a very rare set of twins (monoamniotic). Unfortunately, monoamniotic twins are at great risk for health complications due to the close proximity of the two umbilical cords in the amniotic sac.

I delivered very early via cesarean and placed my trust in our brand new NICU and their amazing staff. What better way to show the community that this place is the best there is? I really saw everything from the patient perspective. It opened my heart to health care philanthropy becoming my passion. I want to make this hospital the best it can be.

I saw the direct correlation of how philanthropy can affect a community and how that community can make a difference in a person’s life. In this case, two lives. Three. Four! I mean, it touched everyone. It’s really something to put yourself in that position. I know a lot of people in philanthropy have that firsthand experience.

How do you work that personal experience into conversations when you’re talking to donors about giving a gift that possibly may go toward the NICU?

It’s a conversation starter, but I think people see the authenticity in the person. For me, this isn’t a job. It’s a passion. I just want to make sure that everybody, whether they utilize the NICU, Cardiology, Emergency Room, Breast Center or Intensive Care – I just want to make sure that our care here is the best.

I know what it’s like to be vulnerable. I just delivered two children and immediately they were put into someone else’s hands. That’s basically what you’re doing when you’re a patient at our hospital. You’re turning over yourself and you’re at your most vulnerable.

You want to make sure that when you’re that vulnerable, all the right equipment is there. The right people are in the room. And we have a compassionate, patient-centered environment with our WE CARE attitude. I think people can feel that authenticity.

The other thing is the staff knows how much I care about this place, and that’s one of the reasons we have been so successful with our employee giving campaign. Many of our employees have similar experiences.

I feel my job is to shine a light onto all of the great physicians, nursing staff and personnel we have and give them the credit they deserve. Once you establish that relationship with people, they trust you. When they get engaged like that, of course they want to give back as well. They want this hospital to also be the best it can possibly be. We keep raising the bar higher and higher and they keep raising their standards with us.

What draws you to employee giving campaigns?

We’re in the middle of a large capital campaign. The capital campaign for our new patient tower at Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital will become the largest amount raised for one project in the Santa Clarita Valley.  

If we’re going to go into the community and ask our community for money, we need to start with our leadership here. We’re part of the greater Los Angeles area, but Santa Clarita is still a small community. When we go to the community and tell them all of our   leadership is giving and a significant amount of our physicians, they are impressed. But when we say our staff has given over a million dollars, they are astounded. That’s how much they believe in this hospital. That’s how much they believe in this community. That’s how much they care.

I worked with a great Employee Giving Campaign Committee and all of them and their efforts inspire me to work even harder. I know it’s counterintuitive, but employee giving can influence workplace culture with increased employee involvement and a positive general attitude.  We saw a correlation with the number of donors to employee engagement. All of our scores skyrocketed. When you have happy and engaged staff, you have a great hospital.

What does being on our 40 Under 40 list mean to you, and how has your career changed since you’ve been on that list?

I was so honored to be chosen as part of the inaugural class for AHP’s 40 Under 40. I’m so glad they started something like this. I believe the new CEO, Alice Ayres, and all of the staff are really trying to engage a new, fresh set of ideas and really honor people in philanthropy who are trying to make a difference.

Especially in philanthropy, you’re very revered for the years of experience you have, and you should be. But I also think there are people in our industry who are making big impacts right now, and I think we want to keep them engaged in philanthropy and have everybody working together.

A lot of that is attributed to the great minds I’ve been lucky to work with. I’ve been absolutely floored by the amount they’re willing to share and how much they want to see others succeed as well.

I went to the AHP International Conference in San Diego, where I talked to some colleagues, like Bill Littlejohn. He was just so helpful. I’ve seen him constantly on the AHP Huddle. He’s not a person who just tells you to do this or do that, but he’s sharing his knowledge constantly. He’s trying to make us all be ethical, he’s trying to help us all do our jobs better and he’s so proud to be in philanthropy.

That’s one of the best parts of being engaged with AHP – the opportunity to work with so many people in this industry and really learn from some of the best. To be asked for my knowledge, too – it’s so flattering to be the mentor or the mentee.

I was privileged enough to be able to go to the AHP Madison Institute last July, and I’ve met so many people. That’s what I love, the collaboration. I’ll meet people and they’ll share what they’re doing at their hospital and it’s like, oh my gosh, that’s great. Everyone just openly helps everybody.

I’ve had a lot of people tell me they’re starting an employee campaign, and they ask, “How could you raise a million dollars? How did you do that?” And we’ve worked so hard on ways to do that, so it would be wasted if it were just sitting here with us. Share the knowledge and get it out there. Why reinvent the wheel – take what others have done and make it work at your hospital.

So what advice would you give to people who are hoping to see their name on our 40 Under 40 list in the future?

I would say to think about what you’re doing with your own spin. What are you doing that nobody else is doing in the industry that’s working for you? How are you sharing that knowledge with others?

I really think that in order to be a leader, in order to be excelling in something, you have to share that knowledge. What are you doing that’s really showing your leadership qualities? How are you bettering yourself in your career and how are you bettering yourself for wherever you’re working?

Always raise the bar for yourself. Apply to be a presenter. I think many believe if they’re young, they don’t have enough knowledge to be a presenter.

I have to give credit where is credit is due, and my boss is the one who encouraged me to submit to speak at AHP. She told me I needed to share. And I thought, there’s so many people with so much more to share! But no – we need different perspectives. Because we’re a smaller foundation, this may not work with big systems. But I have had so many people from system hospitals who have thought about how to do something and incorporate it into their system and change it up a little bit.

You mentioned in your 40 Under 40 profile that you love to travel – let’s talk about that! Is your favorite country still Greece?

I’ve always wanted to go there, and then I watched Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and I knew I had to go. I decided I was going to travel abroad for school and live on the small island of Hydra. I knew it was going to be gorgeous but I had no idea how much the people and the culture would affect me forever.

I really enjoyed the stress-free lifestyle of island living with the Mediterranean diet, daily naps, free-flowing wine, mindless exercise like walking and swimming, strong friendships and a deep-rooted disregard for the clock.

Traveling is learning – you discover totally different ways of doing things. You also gain awareness of new customs, cultures, people and places.


NEWS  /03/22/19
Jason Huff, one of AHP's 2018 40 Under 40 award recipients, discusses his increased involvement with AHP since being named to the 40 Under 40 list.
NEWS  /05/11/18
John Drake discusses what he wishes he knew before starting a career in health care philanthropy and why he believes events are effective strategies for securing major gifts.
NEWS  /02/14/18
What’s your favorite part of your job? Working with an incredibly generous network of donors.

Meet The Author

AHP logo
Allana Schwaab
Communications Manager
Association for Healthcare Philanthropy

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