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  1. Section Editor(s): Sanford, Kathleen D. DBA, RN, CENP, FACHE

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A few weeks ago I participated in a meeting with leaders of a national philanthropic organization. The experience was a pleasure and an education. The pleasure was getting to know people who want to change the world for the better. The education was about how they are doing it. I was so taken with the things they are able to accomplish through the sharing of the treasure they have been entrusted with, that I was tempted to change professions. I daydreamed about being the one who could seek out worthwhile projects and fund them into reality.

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My fantasy lasted for the plane ride home. I know that my heart lies with health care operations. I am dedicated to nursing and health system leadership. I'm excited to be right where I am, at this very time. I'm convinced we are about to transform health care for the better despite current challenges and potential pitfalls on our way to the next era. I'm eager to be part of this revolution.


The challenges are many, and those who practice philanthropy are essential to help us meet them. One of the foundation leaders I met shared a story she had heard Don Berwick tell about the "gap" we are traversing right now, as we move from current payment structures and systems based on treating the sick to a world where we are rewarded for helping people stay well. He reminded her that philanthropy is more essential than ever during this particular interval between past and future. To make the revolutionary changes necessary, organizations need money that they can dedicate to innovation at a time when traditional revenues are shrinking and new reimbursement systems have not evolved.


For my entire career, philanthropy has been a blessing to health care organizations. Even in years in which my institutions experienced healthy bottom lines, there was never enough "profit" to fund everything on our capital lists or every program we felt would benefit our patients. Many pieces of lifesaving equipment and benefits that enriched our communities came to us only through the generosity of donors. I agree with Dr Berwick, though, that we are especially in need of that generosity today.


My experience with philanthropy has been personal and as a board member of various fund-raising groups, including hospital, university, public school, and college foundations. I've raised money for groups as diverse as United Way, Girl Scouts, YWCA, the Lions Club, American Heart Association, and the March of Dimes. I've also represented my own health care organization when we sought funding for nursing or patient care projects. Although I've been doing this kind of community work for decades, I continue to learn more about the world of philanthropy.


For example, I learned a lot about the national philanthropy team I reference earlier. One reason I was tempted to join their profession was that their passion for changing health care in America equals mine. I know I should have realized that those who administer philanthropic gifts have a deep desire to ensure that their grants really do make a difference in people's lives. As I listened to these professionals, I was inordinately impressed by the value they place on discovering where best to give their support and how to ensure great stewardship of every dollar. Their pride in what these dollars have accomplished was obvious, as they shared results of programs they had funded. It was a great reminder to me that those who give are investing in individuals and communities. When one invests, he or she wants to be able to see outcomes.


I was enlightened by the wide and deep knowledge the philanthropic team had about health care, about costs of equipment and programs, and about needs in the communities they support. It was humbling to realize that they know more about some of the community care gaps than I do, even in regions where my organization provides services.


What I observed about philanthropic associations affirmed my belief that nursing leaders and those who desire to make a difference through philanthropy have a natural affinity. We want to take action to improve lives in a holistic way, and they want to fund these actions. It is important that our two groups collaborate so that we can get this done.


The authors in this collection share their experiences with philanthropy; remind us of how important nurses are in attracting funding for our organizations; advise on the importance of telling our stories in cogent, straightforward ways; urge us to develop relationships with others who want to change the health care world; and remind us that there are ethical decisions to make when seeking, accepting, and using money that is given to us. It's a good reminder and something that all nurses should learn more about. It is an activity all nurses should be involved with. We should be willing to invest dollars toward making an improved world. As some of these articles mention, it is easier to ask for donations when you are a donor yourself.


Some of us may not think we can do this. We may think that philanthropists are rich individuals with plenty of excess spending money. It is true that large foundations have been funded by people of wealth. However, every donated dollar is important. In my board experience, I have seen that small acts of philanthropy, added to other donated dollars, have accomplished great good. While we learn about how to attract donors to our organizations, each of us should consider that we can and should give back so that our profession will thrive into the future, and our communities will continue to receive what they need to maintain healthy populations. At its very core, that is what nursing is about. In addition to the knowledge, expertise, and love we bring to others, we can contribute some of our dollars to making this happen.


Thank you for choosing to lead.


-Kathleen D. Sanford, DBA, RN, CENP, FACHE




Nursing Administration Quarterly