Career Advice

Giving Coordinator Struggles With the Emotions of Helping Sick Children

This professional with five years of experience in fundraising shares how his work, raising money for a children’s hospital, is both rewarding and emotionally taxing. He shares his dream of becoming an administrator at one of the hospitals in the system where he works, and how being willing to help out however needed on his first day on the job gave him a great relational advantage with his coworkers.

What is your job title and what industry do you work in? How many years of experience do you have in that field?
I am an annual giving coordinator at a regional hospital system. I have 5 years experience in philanthropy.

Would you describe the things you do on a typical day?
On an average day, I spent an hour or two on e-mail communication, an hour in meetings, and up to an hour each day on the phone.  I generally spend the rest of my day writing content for our newsletters, websites, pamphlets, and other mailings. My office is not located at one of our hospitals, so I go to the main hospital 2-3 times a week for at least an hour where I interact with patients and staff, and conduct interviews and take photos for philanthropic publications.

I interview donors and patients in order to communicate patient stories to the community. I also organize the stewardship program. Stewardship involves making sure that all our donors are educated on the programs to which they are inclined to give, and properly thanked when they make a gift.

The majority of my time is dedicated to raising funds for the Children’s Hospital, so I visit that hospital a lot. I also work on fundraising for cancer research, heart health, and women’s programs.

What’s your ethnicity and gender? How has it hurt or helped you? If you ever experienced discrimination, how have you responded and what response worked best?
I am a Lebanese-American male. I do not believe it has hurt me at all, but it has helped me be more sympathetic to those who are from another culture that may not be commonly understood. My heritage has helped me build relationships because people will sometimes start a conversation by asking about my olive complexion.

Do you speak any language other than English? If so, how has it helped you in your job?
I speak a bit of Spanish and I have used it in my job. There is a little boy who is regularly in and out of the hospital and he and his mother are native Spanish speakers. I like to say hello and have little conversations in Spanish. I can tell it makes them more comfortable conversing in their own language.

My grandfather tried to teach me Arabic when I was a boy, and regrettably at the time, I was not interested. I would recommend that anytime someone has the opportunity to learn a language, they do so. Also, as it is easier for children to pick up a new language, parents wanting to give their children a leg-up should find opportunities for them to learn other languages at a young age.

On a scale of 1 to 10 how would you rate your job satisfaction? What would it take to increase that rating?
I would rate my job satisfaction as an 8. In order to increase my rating, I would like more responsibility in budgeting and strategy.

What did you learn the hard way in this job and how did that happen?
Never underestimate the power of a veteran administrative assistant. They can be a great help or an awful nightmare. Anytime I need to find out organizational information, get a contact, or set up a meeting, an administrative assistant is the person I go to. On the other hand, anytime one of those said people has a problem or complaint, they get heard first by the administrator for which they work.

I learned this the hard way when I had some expensive promotional displays made and set up to promote a program at the hospital. An administrative assistant for one of the top executives at my organization did not like the design, and complained to the executive for which she worked. This assistant and her executive worked in a completely department, and had no involvement in the program. Still, the signs were removed the next day. There was nothing inappropriate or offensive about the signs, and they had gone through the proper channels of approvals before being made. At the end of the day, those things didn’t matter because of the clout this administrative assistant had.

What don’t they teach in school that would’ve been helpful to you?

They didn’t teach that a far greater emphasis is placed on relationships among your coworkers than your actual ability in the workplace. The ability to build good relationships with the people you work with is often more important than your ability to do the job.

How did you get started in this line of work? If you could go back and do it differently, what would you change?
I fell into this line of work. After graduating with a degree in communication research, I got a job at a political organization in DC where I worked for 2 years before relocating and landing my current job.  If I could go back I would have done something more technical in college, like sticking with chemistry or engineering (my original majors) that used more of my natural talents.

What’s the strangest thing that ever happened to you in this job?
It was my very first day at the office at my current job.  When I arrived, our special events coordinator approached me and told me that she had a project set aside for me that day. It turns out, there was a fundraiser scheduled for that day, and there was to be a Santa Claus appearance. They had arranged for a proper Santa to be there, but he had suffered a heart attack the night before. The nature of my jolly new assignment wasn’t revealed to me until we were at the hospital and I was handed a fluffy white beard. This was certainly not in my job description, but gave me the opportunity to show I was a team player my first day on the job. I couldn’t have started out on a better foot. My coworkers were both thankful and impressed at my willingness to jump in and help in this very unexpected way.

On a good day when things are going well, can you give an example of something that really makes you feel good?
The editors for my philanthropy magazine come back with no or few changes on my work and it is able to go to press ahead of time or on schedule.

When nothing seems to go right, what kind of snafus do you handle and what do you dislike the most?
I dislike being pulled into a new project that is not clearly defined and doesn’t have a plan set out for it, especially when a group of people are working on a new project. A lot of time is wasted while the group to comes to a consensus on the direction of a project and I feel that my time is wasted in hours and hours of meetings.

How stressful is your job? Are you able to maintain a comfortable or healthy work-life balance?
There is not a whole lot of stress involved with my work. Work doesn’t interfere with my work-life balance.  I am currently in grad school working on my MBA with an emphasis in hospital administration in the evenings, which takes away time I would rather be spending with family.

What’s a rough salary range for the position you hold? Are you paid enough considering your responsibilities?
$35-45,000 a year. Yes, I think my pay is fair.

What’s the most rewarding moment you’ve experienced in this position? Of all the things you’ve done at work, what are you most proud of?

Meeting families whose kids have come in with awful illnesses and leave as normal healthy children is the most rewarding part of my job.

I am most proud of raising the first planned gift our hospital had received in a long time. We had never talked about planned giving in the community before, so I wrote an article for one of our publications, and because of that, I was contacted by a community member who made a significant planned gift for our hospital in his will.

What’s the most challenging moment you’ve experienced? What would you prefer to forget?
It is sometimes difficult to keep myself together emotionally when I interview folks who have beaten cancer or have a child who has spent their whole life in the hospital. I have to remind myself that it is more important to get their story and share it with others than to get lost in emotion myself.

What education and skills do you need to get hired and succeed in this field?
You need a strong background in writing and a basic understanding of psychology.

What would you tell a friend considering your line of work?
The other duties as assigned in the job description can sometimes be overwhelming, but the personal satisfaction you get from your job in this field will be well worth it.

How much vacation do you take? Is it enough?
The hospital awards me with 27 days for vacation, holidays and sick time that I may use at my discretion. I end up taking between 15 and 20 days a year. I don’t take the remaining days because my wife gets less vacation time than I do, and if I insist on taking time off when must work, the honey-do list she gives me makes staying home more laborious than going in to work.

Are there any common misunderstandings you want to correct about what you do?
Asking for money is a very small part of a fundraisers job. We spend more time saying thank you than we spend asking for money.

Does this job move your heart? If not, what does?
This job absolutely moves my heart. I cannot think of many jobs that would be more fulfilling than working toward improving the health of one’s community.

I enjoy volunteering with children at my church as well as at a local under-resourced school in my free time, and both move me significantly.

If you could write your own ticket, what would you like to be doing in five years?
I would like to be an administrator at one of our smaller hospitals or outpatient centers.
Is there anything unique about your situation that readers should know when considering your experiences or accomplishments?

In the fundraising field you are fortunate to meet a lot of good-hearted people, and it is easy to find people who are willing to mentor you and give you advice on your career and life in general. It is another perk of the job and I have been very fortunate to be mentored by several directors at my organization and it has made a difference to me personally and professionally.