AHP Connect Member Profile – Matthew D. Lang
Matthew D. Lang, CFRE
Hackensack Meridian Health Ocean Medical Center
AHP member since 2012
How did you get started in nonprofit work?
After I graduated from college, I entered the Jesuit Volunteer Corps and was placed in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. I’m from Long Island, so it was interesting to live in and experience another area of the United States.
I was assigned to work in refugee resettlement. I met families and individuals coming from very difficult circumstances throughout the world. It gave me a global perspective and the ability to understand what people are grappling with in different cultures and regions. Afterward, I came home and thought, “Well, I can’t volunteer for the rest of my life, so what should I do?” I thought about how to translate this meaningful experience — I didn’t want it to be isolated, it had to be a thread.
I started working at an organization that builds affordable housing on Long Island. What I got out of it the most was seeing how the leaders operate, influence and get things done. I think that was really important — watching leadership and taking lessons from how they conduct business. I liked that it draws in the private and public sectors and is results-focused. At the end of the day, the product is fulfilling a social need. In this case, it was housing. It extends to health care, education, humanitarian work and any of the other large categories of nonprofits.
My next position brought me to a company where I ran capital campaigns for churches, and that was my first exposure to direct fundraising work. I worked around the United States doing different capital campaigns for Catholic parishes. After a few years, I got married and wanted to stay in one place, so I worked at the housing entity that repairs homes for low income homeowners in New York City. We moved from the city to New Jersey, and I applied for a position in health care philanthropy with Meridian Health. My first position was as senior development officer at one of Meridian’s hospitals in Holmdel, Bayshore Community Hospital — now Hackensack Meridian Health Bayshore Medical Center – and two years later, was promoted to executive director of Hackensack Meridian Health Ocean Medical Center in Brick. I’ve been with what is now Hackensack Meridian Health for seven years — that was my move into health care philanthropy. It blended all of those previous experiences.
What do you find is unique to health care compared to the other nonprofit areas in which you’ve worked?
My development experience has provided fascinating insight into different industries. I saw gratitude from homeowners when we repaired homes to keep them and their families warm and safe. I saw it in the refugees when we were placing them in positions and helping them build a new, if temporary, safe and healthy life. Enabling the experience of patient gratitude in health care is what is most rewarding to me as a development professional. I think being able to bind a patient to their caregivers, whether it’s nurses or physicians, is what is unique about health care. It is a profound experience when you can continue that relationship and make it so special and meaningful through philanthropy.
With gratitude in mind, do you have a particular donor story that stands out to you?
When I first started at Ocean Medical Center, one of our trustees notified me that a dear friend was in the Emergency Department. She had some acute abdominal pain, and it turned out she had pancreatic cancer. She passed away very quickly. I had been in touch and had conversations with her husband in that period of time. Afterward, I thought about how she had gone through cancer care at Ocean Medical Center with an amazing team and transitioned to hospice within the hospital setting. I wasn’t sure he would want to think about or talk about that experience, but it was quite the opposite. When I spoke to him, he really wanted to engage in philanthropy and he loved the fact that he could establish something really meaningful — something that could live on in her memory. We established an education day in his wife’s name and it is coming up on its fifth year. He attends every year and opens the day by telling his story about how he got involved. He said to us this past year, “This is the day when I remember my wife and pay tribute to her. It is one of the most special days of the year and thank you for helping me establish it.”
In the article you wrote with Matthew Broadbent for the Spring 2018 Healthcare Philanthropy journal, you wrote about retaining high performers. What are some major points you hope readers took away from that article?
I hope people realize building a great team means bringing in the best you can while recognizing that the best people will want to advance in their career. If they have broader career ambitions, draw out their strength for the benefit of the organization’s immediate goals and that current role, but help them to develop and realize what skills they are working to acquire for that position and beyond. If you do that, they are more effective.
Matt and I originally presented our findings to the Health System Philanthropy Leadership Group (HSPLG) in October 2016, then wrote the article, and then presented it at last year’s AHP International Conference. The first time we presented it in 2016, I had just hired a development officer. In May of this year, she transitioned to a different position at our foundation. She moved to a centralized role where she will help to identify and cultivate grateful patients at our various campuses. I did what I described in the article. I got together with her quarterly and I spoke with her about her broader vision, what she is taking away from the position and what she wants to develop. She had a strong affinity for data analysis and getting to the bottom of who would make for the best donors. Now she’s in a newly created role as grateful patient officer for our entire foundation. It’s unique because she’s so good at analysis and strategy, but she has also walked the paces of a gift officer. She’s able to qualify very effectively and get a sense of if that person is going to be a significant donor or if somebody will stay in the fold for a longer term. It was ideal because she performed well as a development officer, moved on from Ocean Medical Center Foundation as my direct report, and is now across the hall from me as we’re speaking, helping all of our foundations to succeed.
You were a participant in the first year of AHP’s Residency Program. How was that experience for you?
One of the first things I realized in a roundtable is that a lot of other folks are facing similar challenges, whether it’s with boards and engagement, major donors or cultivating a gift and identifying a unique gift strategy for them. I think it was really about identifying, relating to and understanding others’ circumstances. I learned a lot by speaking with others in similar shoes. The chief development officers at the major health systems and networks spoke to us at each of the in-person sessions and we had phone sessions, too. The best of our industry took the time to speak with us about how to be most effective in health care philanthropy, and what next steps there may be for us. It gave us a broader perspective on how we can grow within the industry and within development and how we can be most effective in our positions.
What do you think is the value for an organization to send one of their own to the Residency Program?
I think the most forward-thinking systems and networks send people to something like this, and that’s attributed to chief development officers and leaders who invest the time and the money in their people. You don’t know what you have when you’re in a certain entity and you go day-to-day building your donor base within your orbit and your context. When you move outside of that, you realize what is out there, what you have, how effective your shop is, how effective you are and where you can improve. The perspective it gives you is so valuable.
What advice would you give to someone early in their health care development career?
I touched on it earlier, but I would say to watch and learn from those you work with, both leaders and colleagues who have expertise in particular areas. It may be your boss or the chief development officer if you don’t report directly to them yet, or it may be a team member who has crafted unique gift strategies. This doesn’t mean you will become an expert as well, but broad exposure has been important to me so that I could collaborate effectively. I remember the leaders and colleagues who I looked to in all of my positions. And you might not be in close proximity to all of them, but you can get a sense. For example, at the housing entity, I was the leader on the ground in New York City, but there was a CEO and team in Washington, D.C. with whom I collaborated and learned a lot. I also had a colleague and mentor when I first entered health care philanthropy, and learning the nuance and complexities to this field was crucial. You’ll ultimately learn what is effective, what inspires and what the next step may look like in your own professional development.