From Newspapers to Healthcare Foundation: How I Made the Career Change after 34 Years
What is a former newspaper president and publisher doing leading a major healthcare system foundation?
I celebrated my two-year anniversary as president of the Novant Health Foundations on March 11th this year, and I am frequently asked by business and community leaders how I made the leap from publishing to healthcare philanthropy. My response is that the skill sets required to perform both jobs successfully are amazingly similar.
I spent 34 years in the newspaper industry, my last 17 years as president and publisher of two dailies. During the most recent 12 years, I was president and publisher of The Charlotte Observer, a large daily newspaper in one of America’s fastest growing cities. As a former CEO, I bring a business acumen and approach to leading the foundation team. The newspaper industry’s pace is quick and deadline-driven. Engaging with key community members, advertisers, and business leaders was one of my favorite aspects of being a publisher. Along with editorial board members, I engaged CEOs, U.S. presidential candidates, politicians, community leaders, faith leaders, university presidents, and non-profit leaders. My teams and I maintained a deep understanding of the communities we served—the good, the bad, and the ugly. We addressed the issues of the day, month, year, or decade.
My success at four corporate newspapers included driving higher revenues, transforming the work culture from monopolistic to progressive, transitioning from print to digital platforms, and building high-performance teams. I was a change agent, someone who never accepted the status quo but viewed the workplace in terms of unmet potential. I gained a reputation for contributing new ideas and thought processes. My leadership style was collaborative, and my executive teams were known for raising the bar while providing mentoring and development to fellow team members. I negotiated multimillion-dollar contracts with our largest advertisers, which included national department stores, car dealerships, and big-box retailers. I served on community and nonprofit boards, and became part of the fabric of the communities we served. I worked with award-winning newsrooms filled with people who were extremely smart and intellectually curious. These professionals served our communities by truth-telling, and exposing corruption and unchecked power. Our reporters gave a voice to the voiceless. We were proud of the work we accomplished.
After joining the Novant Health Foundations as president, I quickly identified opportunities for improvement, change, and growth. The foundation leadership team and I developed a strategic priorities plan that quickly became our roadmap. We proceeded to address fundraising plans and priorities, process, and reporting improvement, foundation board member engagement, storytelling, and marketing, and hiring and retaining the right talent. The more expeditiously we made these changes successfully, the more quickly we could increase performance outcomes. We embodied a sense of urgency because our efforts literally could save lives.
At the Novant Health Foundations, we are growing an organization that provides clarity and transparency around mission and expectations to our team members, donors, and board members. We are fully engaging board members, and using their time wisely. We want to take our donors on a stewardship journey unlike any they have experienced previously. We must broaden the donor prospect pool’s demographic mix to be more inclusive and reflective of the communities we serve.
Team members are elevating foundation storytelling by focusing on the lives we touch, our grateful patients’ experiences, and the impact we make with our donors’ investments. We use social media platforms strategically, and employ video more frequently. Last year, the team published over 100 foundation impact stories on various platforms.
We have trained our philanthropy leaders on interviewing skills to identify and hire top talent. Many applicants with a traditional philanthropy background lack the dynamic traits we seek in team members. We desire potential team members who can deliver extraordinary results. We want team members with a high level of emotional quotient, desire to achieve goals, ability to make excellent presentations, and the confidence to connect well with all prospects and donors. Team members must possess the ability to engage short-term, mid-term, and long-term prospects simultaneously. We frequently interview a number of candidates before identifying the right match for our organization. Our leadership team strives to keep all team members happy, challenged, and growing professionally. We are committed to developing them, recognizing their success, and facilitating their advancement within Novant Health.
The Novant Health Foundations’ opportunities for growth and expansion are exciting, challenging, and motivating. The work is hard but intensely rewarding. When we do our jobs well, we serve Novant Health’s mission of improving the health of communities, one person at a time. Novant Health’s values of diversity and inclusion, teamwork, personal excellence, courage and compassion match my own guiding principles. The Foundations’ work provides me and our teams a strong sense of purpose and an opportunity to make a difference. I wake up every day envisioning the possibilities, and how we can accomplish more to serve our community members. That is as good as it gets! I am thankful for the second chapter of my professional life.
About the Author: Ann Caulkins is a Senior Vice President of Novant Health and President of the Novant Health Foundations. In this role, Caulkins designs and implement plans for sustainable and integrated philanthropy across all Novant Health’s hospital communities. Prior to her role at Novant Health, Caulkins served as the President and Publisher of The Charlotte Observer from 2006-2018. Before coming to Charlotte, she was President and Publisher of The State newspaper in Columbia, South Carolina. She served in executive leadership at The Herald-Leader in Lexington, Kentucky and began her career at The Fort Worth Star-Telegram, in 1984. She is a native of Shreveport, Louisiana, and is a graduate of Baylor University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communications.