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Karen Jeu: Completing Campaigns

By July 8th, 2023No Comments19 min read
Home » Karen Jeu: Completing Campaigns

All of us are capable of doing extraordinary things that help and uplift other people. Bringing this to healthcare and philanthropy, Karen Jeu – President of California Pacific Medical Center Foundation – takes us into the final stages of a really important campaign which aims to open two brand new hospitals within the whole Bay Area. Karen talks about the importance of the conversation on philanthropy and bringing that to the community. Going deeper within herself as well, Karen shares how the mission of the organization she has worked with has helped her develop as a fundraiser and a leader. Karen touches on the role of the rest of her team, sharing how she is doing well at building teams and mentoring them from the start to the last phase of the campaign.

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Karen Jeu: Completing Campaigns

On this episode, we have a great fundraiser, a great leader and someone who is in the midst of the final stages of a really important campaign. Karen Jeu is the President of California Pacific Medical Center Foundation.

Thanks, Doug. I’m happy to be here.

It’s really special to have you on because normally, over the course of these interviews, we’ve had people who have finished their campaigns and they’re reflecting about all of the victories, but you’re still right in the thick of it.

We are in the thick of it. We are at the stage where we have had a significant amount of funding. We’re well-over halfway there. We had the opportunity to have as a catalyst for the campaign, the building of two brand new hospitals. Those hospitals are now open. It’s been really exciting. It’s happened in the last little while that we opened the second one and the first one we opened late in the summer. It brings complexity to the fundraising. It brings the opportunity of being able to not only talk about opening new hospitals, but actually seeing those new hospitals work. We also have the challenge of keeping the momentum going as we continue to finish our campaign.

Maybe you could tell us a little bit about the conversations you’re having with your team that change in focus from the hospitals to come see the hospitals in action.

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That’s exactly what we’re in the middle of talking about, is that transition from what we’re going to do to what we have done and what that means to the community. The continued need for philanthropy and the new conversation about what else is going on. It’s brand spanking new to us. It’s been a long time coming. I know for many of us it’s going to be a real challenge to change our language, because we’ve spent so much time talking about this happening. We know for donors, we believe they’ll continue to be excited about having these new hospitals in their community. They’re going to want to know what that means to them, the community and the city.

We are in a position to talk beyond the city, of how these new hospitals can actually have a reach within the whole Bay Area. We do have to change some of our language from talking bricks and mortar. Although no part of this campaign has been about funding the hospitals, it has all been covered by Sutter Health. The conversation has been about what philanthropy can do to enhance what happens within the hospitals. That conversation is technically still the same. We will still continue to talk about the ability to bring a margin of excellence to be able to add additional resources to pilot new programs, to really be the leaders, to be responsive to patients and families of their needs. We’re just going to have to edit a little bit how we position that language.

It sounds like you’ve come right onto this after a donor call. You’ve got the messaging down very well.

We’ve been thinking about it. Part of my experience and I’ve thought about this and I feel like I’m almost fallen into it. Within a campaign, when you end the campaign is not being ready to talk about what’s next. You’ve been so focused on the actual campaign and by the time it comes to an end, you’re not ready to talk about the next phase. I’ve had that in the back of my mind. Although we’re not at the end of the campaign, we’re at a different phase of that campaign. Being prepared to be able to roll, in our case, into that next phase of that campaign, the final phase of the campaign with the fact that the hospitals are now open, it’s really important that we can do that in a timely manner. That we can use that language to go back and talk to donors who already have given us a gift, to talk about their impact of their gift and maybe their consideration of additional gifts to the campaign.

There certainly are a lot of conversations to be had. One of the things I’m interested in is that your board has been so focused on advocating and hoping and helping to get these new hospitals built. How is their perspective changing now that the ribbon has been cut?

Fortunately, our board has been focused on the campaign. They’re well-aware that the opening of the hospitals is certainly a large milestone in the campaign, but not the end of the campaign. I think they continue to be eager to work on the campaign. They want to understand the new language and new positioning. They want to be able to share the excitement. With the hospitals opening, we have this great opportunity to go back and talk to people and let them know, “We want to let you know, we opened the hospitals and here’s what’s happening. We’re really excited.” It’s a great time to be going back to donors and our board members for that matter, making sure they feel well-stewarded about the impact of their individual gifts. I’m hoping by focusing on our board and the impact of their gifts, it will give them insight on how to help us continue to work with our donors about their gifts.

It sounds like you’ve got that well in hand and ready to move into that next phase. Before you move into that next phase, I want to go back. One of the things that jumped out and looking at your career is a real commitment to healthcare and education. How has the mission of the organization that you’ve worked for helped you develop as both the fundraiser and as a leader?

I think the mission is what gives you or gives me drive. I loved my years in education. I loved being in an educational institution. Whether it was a small college or a large university, knowing that the people you are walking by in the hallways were people who were going to be our future leaders, who are going to change, who are going to discover new things. I love knowing that people were in a place in their lives where they were making friends that were going to stay with them forever. The energy that comes from learning and its impact on the future has always really excited me. It’s always felt like wonderful energy. Walking by somebody who might be the smartest person in the world or standing behind them in a lineup, that has always reminded me that it’s people who change themselves, who change other people’s lives, who change communities and who change the world.

Healthcare, it’s exactly the same. In some ways, you sometimes see that impact so much more intimately when you have the privilege of working with physicians who may be the best in their field. You see them gently working with families and patients, helping them no matter what walk of life they’re from. Helping them understand what treatment is necessary and having them understand what the future’s going to look like for them. You see teeny weeny little babies in the NICU that not that long ago would not have survived. You see them being held by their parents. You know that philanthropy has been a partner in making a difference in that person’s life. It’s quite humbling and it’s a remarkable privilege to do. To me, having that gift of being connected with a mission that so directly has an impact is really what makes the work that I do so meaningful to me.

That’s very well-said and impressive of you. I’ve thought working in education is so much about the potential of the students or the research that’s being funded. Healthcare is so much about the essence of who we are, as we face issues of injury or mortality or loss or recovery. We do get to see the very best of people at their very worst and often at their very worst. It’s a powerful incentive to do this work well. One of the things that you’re known for is building teams and mentoring the team that works for you. How did you get started doing that? How did you know that was going to be your style? Did you have anyone who showed you that way when you were getting started?

Being able to work closely with the team helps motivate them. Click To Tweet

I had so many people who helped me get started. I wish I was more appreciative at the time because I don’t know that I always saw the mentoring as it was happening. It’s much more obvious in reflection. Having the opportunity to work with genuinely caring people, it’s just natural to want to see them succeed. Much of my mentoring has been from a variety of place. It isn’t always the boss or supervisor that I’m working for that has been mentoring me and it’s still true. It is people around me. Whether they be someone I’m working for or somebody I’m working with, to see somebody with really great skills and be able to work with them and learn from them and that is what’s kept me interested in work.

The learning aspect, not only of the institution and in what we’re supporting philanthropically, but being able to learn all the way along with new skills and better ways of doing things and working with people. I think one of the big learnings for me was understanding that people learn different ways and not assuming that the way I learned was the same way everybody else learns and to be able to step back and spend some time understanding somebody. Understanding how they learn best and what motivates them best and being able to change the way I lead based on the person I’m working with was a real learning moment for me and continues to be a learning moment for me. It continues to keep it interesting.

Now that you’re the president, you’re no longer the one looking for mentorship. How are you working with your current team to finish this last phase of the campaign and help them develop?

We’ve had a lot of opportunity along the way to develop a style of working on this campaign. Many of the processes we have in place will stay the same. As many teams find over time, they start coming together. I just see each of the milestones we go through, starting with the first one where we dug a hole in the ground and started bringing people together. We’ve continued to go through these milestones. The most recent one was actually opening these hospitals and you feel the team getting closer and tighter together. We’re going to continue working in that fashion. The motivation is important. I think we have many great physician champions that we work with. Being able to work closely with them, with the team helps motivate the team. Seeing the success of opening the hospitals, we’re fortunate that we’ve had so many people tell us of their experience working with us and their excitement around these hospitals and what goes on in these hospitals. That continues to be a significant motivation.

As anybody knows who has done campaigns, much of the work is tough slugging. There are no magic bullets. It’s cultivation. It’s the more people you talk to, it’s the more one on ones you have and it’s the more times you ask somebody for a gift. That part of it continues. The success we have has helped motivate us. We can look back, we can see how far we’ve come. Our opportunity now to go back and talk to someone, to our donors about new hospitals are now open, updating them about that. It gives us an incentive. It gives us reason to go back and be in front of donors again. We continue to look for those opportunities to bring in new donors, cultivate our existing donors and celebrate wherever we can. I think that’s one of our challenges is to remember to stop and not only celebrate with our staff, but celebrate successes with our board and our donors. We’re going to continue in that fashion. The more people we talked to and the opening of these hospitals have really expanded the number of people.

We had a gala and we had over 950 people attend. That’s a lot of people, but they’re all people that have expressed an interest and have shown some affiliation that we can now talk to. You saw the hospital just before it opened and we want to tell you about it now that it’s open. It’s a great new opportunity to talk to people. We hope to continue those conversations. Always looking, bringing in new donors as well, but cultivating people that we’ve been thinking about for some time. With this new opportunity to contact them and tell them how excited we are about the news of the hospital actually being opened. Another great and new conversation to bring to the campaign.

I want to dig in here a little bit. I think this is a really important area that we don’t do enough of in the social profit sector, which is that one-to-one coaching of fundraisers and not just fundraisers, anyone in their role. Too often and what we see a lot of at the Discovery Group here are client or organizations asking team members to do things that they don’t know how to do. Stepping back and wondering why it’s not happening right away. How do you make sure that your team has, not just the passion that you’re sharing with us, but the actual tools to know who to talk to, when to talk to and how to start those conversations?

That’s a really good point because there is nothing more disappointing when everybody thinks they’re working hard, but there are different expectations. I think the beginning of that conversation always starts about sharing expectations and making sure the staff is clear about what the expectations are and what the measurements are off those expectations. I think on the tool side, that varies a little bit by individual staff member’s own skills. Some staff are comfortable and good at the conversation with donors. Some staff members and board members up to require having something in their hand that makes them feel confident that they can answer any questions that might come up. We’ve done a lot of work on role-playing. We’ve done work on having team members present their case to each other. We do work on sharing difficult strategies and getting input from our staff about some suggestions and some ideas.

I’m always happy to go on calls with staff. We talk, although it sounds a little old fashioned, it still continues to work about having the right people at the right time with the right asks. Lots of strategies about, “Is it a physician that we bring in? Is it a board member we might want with us? Are we better off making the call first and having somebody come in as our backups?” We’re strategizing around the resources around us. If we look at people as resources or tools as well, how do we bring in other people that can help support and move a strategy along, move a situation where we’ve had lots of time to talk, but we don’t seem to be going to next stage? What is that and who can help us do that?

It’s getting into those very specific details with your team, I’m sure it makes a big difference in terms of their confidence and their ability to go out and speak with donors. Growing up in this sector, there were lots of opportunities to learn through the negative example of, “I’m not going to make that mistake,” whether it was a boss or a colleague or a story floating around in the industry of someone who had made some giant error. It’s really great to hear that at CPMC, you’re giving people that positive example to learn by and to work by.

There is nothing more disappointing than when everybody thinks they're working really hard, but found there are different expectations. Click To Tweet

I have to say I have a great team here too. That helps.

It makes all the difference. Mentoring and you mentioned the board, you moved from the chief operating officer to be the president of CPMC, how have you found those mentoring skills with your team can be applied to working with the board?

I think there is a direct relationship. The advantage when I moved into the role of the president is that I knew the board fairly well. That certainly helped. I think each of our board members, they are all donors, but I consider strategies very similar to donor strategies with them, where I want to understand what their motivation is. Why are they on the board? What brought them to the board? I want to understand what their skills are. I want to understand what will make them feel engaged on the board. I don’t think it’s just writing a check, by any stretch of the imagination, but what part of many different roles that board members can play is the right role for them. I think understanding that is really important.

Have you been surprised by the answers to some of those questions?

I had been surprised by some of the answers to those questions. I think one of the things that surprises me is how so many of them feel that they might not be the right person to ask or work directly with other donors. Yet when you see them talking to another donor and you ask them to describe a program that they’re supporting and how they light up and immediately can have this comfortable conversation. The a-ha moment they have when they realize, “I like that. That was great. I enjoyed talking to that person and describing to them what I find so fascinating.” Seeing them going from, “I can’t do that,” to go from, “I can do that. I can talk about that. I’d love to do that,” to see that change in perspective of what the process is for fundraising.

Many of them come in and say, “I’m not sure I’m ready to do that.” I think ensuring that they’re well-educated and that’s a big piece where a very complex organization with lots of nooks and crannies and it’s hard to feel that everything about it. Making sure they feel comfortable about the organization, making sure they understand and can easily talk about what’s important and what we’re doing. Then share their own experience and watch them go. It surprises them and it’s a treat to watch that happen with the board.

It’s interesting to hear you say that. I’ve seen and spoken with a number of fundraisers who have moved into the president to the CEO role and maintaining that one-to-one cultivation mindset with board members is often what how fundraisers are successful in the ultimate leadership positions. How many members do you have to have this one-on-one relationship?

We have a fairly large board. We have about 45 board members at the moment.

That’s a full prospect list all on its own.

It is and I strongly believe that if you invite somebody to be part of your board, you also have the responsibility of ensuring that their experience is a good experience. I take that seriously, that we are in a position where we can talk about engagement with our board members in it and ensure that they are feeling close to the organization. It’s tricky. I think it’s true with a board, as it is with staff, as it is with a prospect list that you have to know where you’re going to spend the majority of your time, because you certainly can’t spend it equally in all areas. You have to have some assessment where you know where you need to spend most of the time, which you need to spend most of the time without neglecting anybody, but we have limited resources. We all have limited resources. It’s understanding how to keep everybody on board, but where you’re going to and how you’re going to prioritize your time and commitment with each of them individually.

One of the things I like about when you’re hearing you talk about your team and hearing you talk about donors here, you talk about board members, you keep a focus on each person as an individual and meeting them where they are. That gives you a great perspective on those individuals. How do you keep the energy to have that intensity of a relationship with that many people that on any given Wednesday?

As we all know, there are certainly ups and downs and there are times when it’s harder than other times. I get my energy from a great staff, a committed hospital team that we work with, sincerely committed and helpful trustees. I’ve got home lots of days thinking that I did less on my to-do list than I had had hoped. I try and focus on what I have accomplished on some of those days where it feels like where I’m treading water and sand, but there is so much that does happen. Keeping that in front of me, taking stock on what has happened and who I have been able to talk to and who I have been able to help and who on our team has been successful that day. That helps in some of those more difficult times.

What advice would you give to someone just coming into the leadership role, about maintaining that focus on the people that are around them?

I think having a plan is a good idea. I’m sure like most people, the day easily gets out of hand. I find it helpful to have something I can turn back to and say, “This is where I need to go.” Being able to understand the priorities well. I also find that plan helps when you are going a million miles a minute and all of a sudden there’s some quiet time. Being able to turn back to that plan or that list of people I want to contact, it helps me stay on track when either I’m being pulled in multiple directions or all of a sudden, that pull has stopped and that quiet time. I do find having that plan, having really thought about both on a weekly basis and on a larger annual basis, what I want to accomplish helps me get there.

I feel like we could go on talking, but we’re going to have to leave it there.

Doug, thank you very much for the opportunity.

Thank you for being here.

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About Karen Jeu

Karen Jeu serves as President of CPMC Foundation at Sutter West Bay Hospitals. Karen Jeu served as an Interim President of CPMC Foundation for Sutter West Bay Hospitals (also known as California Pacific Medical Center) and served as its Vice President of Development. Karen Jeu served as Chief Operation Officer of California Pacific Medical Foundation at California Pacific Medical Center.