Arline Stephan, executive director of the Capital Health Foundation, says one question that she gets all the time is: “how can you always ask for money?” And it’s an easy one for her to answer. “People are going to support what they have a personal connection to. And that is a process, over time. When someone develops a passion about our vision, they want to give. When that happens, it’s not about my asking; it becomes a discussion about how we can help them determine where they can best support the hospital. That’s the difference between asking for $300 for a dinner dance versus developing a lifetime relationship with someone.”

Stephan was raised in West Hartford, Connecticut, by parents who, she says, instilled in her and her older sister the values of kindness and service to others. “My father, the oldest of 12, lost his arm in a farm accident when he was a teenager, but we always thought he could do anything. He spent his work life as a mechanic at Sears. I grew up playing with Sears demo toys and refrigerator boxes.” Her mother worked as a secretary and taught piano. She was active in the Methodist church, as the organist, choir director, and a Sunday school teacher. Stephan, her mother, and hersister were involved in Rainbow for Girls, a community service organization for girls popular in the 1960s, as well as Girl Scouts. “My parents were always helping others, and I was raised to believe in the importance of giving back.”

After high school, she entered the work force for 10 years, working at Hartford Hospital, before heading to Texas, where she earned a degree in management at Texas State University, going to classes in the evenings while working at the University of Texas at Austin and a psychiatric hospital. She graduated in 1989 when she was 36 years old. Ten years later, she got it into her head to become an innkeeper, came back home to the east coast, and was hired by the Wedgwood Inn in New Hope in 1989.

But even being an innkeeper contributed to the skills she now uses in development, she says. “It was probably one of the best experiences I could have had in learning direct customer service and staging and implementing a perfect event every day. As an innkeeper you do it all, and that really grounds you in understanding what people need and want and how to talk to them.”

One day she opened up a newspaper and found a job posting at Rutgers University. She ended up staying there for nearly 13 years, holding several positions with the school’s foundation, including senior director of development programs, director of operations, and manager of donor relations. In her last five years the foundation successfully raised $615 million, surpassing the university’s campaign goal of $500 million.

At Rutgers Stephan says she developed her knack for asking for donations. “You have alumni who have an affinity so the connection is built-in, the alumni are engaged. Here it’s a little bit harder. But you have to work to develop relationships in the community — grateful patients are key.” There was a fringe benefit to working at the university too; in 1999 she met her significant other, Jim Dawson, who is vice president for gift planning for Rutgers. They live in Yardley, Pennsylvania.

From Rutgers Stephan moved on to the Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, where she served as the associate vice president of the Office of Institutional Advancement before coming on board with the Capital Health System Foundation in 2004 as executive director. “I knew coming to a very small department with only six employees it would be a lot of work, but if the job was not thrilling or worth it, I wouldn’t be here. I wear many hats and work long hours, but the mission speaks to me. I want to make a difference. I have been offered more money to work for other organizations but have turned them down. It’s the people who work here who motivate me.”

According to Stephan, giving at Capital Health traditionally has been community-based and grassroots, simply because giving tends to be local, and with its location in the heart of Trenton, Capital Health doesn’t have the depth and breadth of donors with capacity that other hospitals in wealthier communities may have. “We have a solid base of support from loyal people who can afford lower end gifts, and our fundraising has reflected that,” says Stephan.

In the last several years, she has been reaching out in Capital Health’s new community of Hopewell Township and Princeton to develop relationships. The reach into the corporate arena and the development of stronger relationships there has also been successful. For example, a $5 million gift from Bristol-Myers Squibb will support Capital Health System’s regional trauma center in Trenton. Stephan says she is hopeful that several seven figure gifts will come to fruition later this year.

“People who are philanthropic, who are skilled at giving, are not blindsided when they are asked; they know what this relationship is all about. Once people who care get involved and want to support a worthy cause such as Capital Health, it is a matter of focusing on developing a mutually satisfying plan for giving. It could be an outright gift. It could mean including us in your will. It could be a combination gift of money and tangible property such as land or an art collection. We also work with our two boards that help to reach out to their network of friends in the communities we serve.”

Stephan says Capital Health’s fundraising effort has meant actively meeting new people in the Hopewell community. “We’re going into the homes of people who want to hold an event to help Capital Health. The host invites 10 to 12 of their closest friends, and we have executives of Capital Health speaking about the mission and vision of Capital Health and the new medical programs and services that will be at the hospital in Hopewell. They also talk about the energy and green initiatives which will lead to a high level LEED certification. And they talk about our Arts in Healing program involving hundreds of regional artists who are producing original works of art in various media for the hospital. This is how you begin the relationship. You have conversations. It’s a long process of building that relationship.”

Capital Health has also been holding regular hard hat tours in the new hospital so potential donors can get a firsthand look. “At the worst time in the economy people were holding their breath,” says Stephan. “There’s still some of that. But people are still generous, and many people still have discretionary money. It’s how they feel about the project and the program. We can’t stop educating and engaging our donors and potential donors. We have to let people know our needs. Capital Health is growing at a rapid pace into one of the finest regional medical centers. But that comes with a cost, and there are always limited resources. We must to look to our friends for financial support to insure that the very best in medical care is available right here in your backyard when you need it.”

One Capital Health fundraising program that allows both recognition and an easy way to donate is called Healthcare Heroes. “Our patients and their families recognize one of their healthcare providers for their support and expertise that they experienced while at the hospital. The honoree receives a pin and a certificate, and the donor and the honoree are listed on our donor wall and mentioned in our newsletter,” says Stephan. “There is no minimum contribution. Remember, we are in Trenton.”

Money for the capital campaign is also coming from such sources as Women in Philanthropy (see box this page), the Capital Health Auxiliary, which pledged a historic $500,000, as well as corporate neighbor Novo Nordisk, which committed $175,000 to name the Diabetes Family Learning Center and a seminar room at the new hospital.

Stephan regularly conducts rounds with other administrators on the hospital floors. “We visit patients and staff to ask about service — are you getting what you need, is your pain being managed well, and are your nurses responsive — so we have a good sense of what is going on in the hospital.”

This is an administrative duty but helpful in helping Stephan to understand the patient experience. “If you are a donor of $1,000 or more and choose to be a member of the Friends of the Foundation, and you’re in the hospital for care, someone from the foundation will visit with you, if reasonable. I get an automatic notification that Mr. Smith, for example, is in the emergency room and will get myself over there to lend support.”

Stephan’s workday begins at 7:30 a.m. with a quiet hour for paperwork and E-mails. After that there might be breakfast with a donor; an interview with a potential new board member; a meeting with her boss, Al Maghazehe. Afternoons might include lunch with a potential donor; a presentation on the Campaign for Capital Health to one of the hospital departments; conducting administrative “Service Leader” rounds at one of our hospitals, visiting patients and staff; visiting with a donor who happens to be a patient; meeting with Jessica Besler, the director of foundation relations, about the grand opening event for the new hospital, the newsletter, a direct mail piece, or a new brochure; or a meeting of the committee planning the First Annual Diaper Dash for Healthy Babies on May 21 or the annual Golf Tournament on June 15.

Any given day might include a late afternoon tour of the new hospital (after the construction workers leave at 4 p.m.) or an evening at a Friend of the Foundation’s home to educate and cultivate new donors.

She admits she has no idea how she functioned before Blackberrys and laptops. “I do tend to be looking at my Blackberry at the most annoying times and places. Jim and I were on vacation out west, and there I was in the Grand Tetons, answering work E-mails.”

When she does finally get home, she and Dawson — both avid vintage collectors — love to watch “American Pickers,” “Pawn Stars,” and “Antiques Roadshow,” curled up with their two cats, Honey and Rascal. She makes no secret about wanting to add beagles to the mix. On her nightstand for reading currently is Stieg Larsson’s “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.”

She has no children but Dawson has two grown children (from his first marriage) and four grandchildren. They all rent a lakefront house every summer in western Maryland. Both she and Dawson have 93-year-old mothers in assisted living.

“My mind goes a mile a minute,” Stephan says. “Sometimes it is just a stream of consciousness, and being able to multitask and not drop any balls is a skill, and having great support staff to help keep everything in control is a gift. I don’t think there is any magic. I’ve always considered myself an old-fashioned workhorse, often surprising myself with my own competitiveness and urge to succeed.”

Is she not worried about territory and casting a wide net, competing for the same donors as the University Medical Center of Princeton or St. Mary Medical Center in Langhorne? “Hospital business is a competitive business, period,” says Stephan. “We’re aware of the competition but not worried, particularly since Capital Health has some unique programs that other hospitals don’t offer. Since giving is local in the hospital community, hospitals tend to have a loyal, dedicated group of longtime friends and supporters. Princeton HealthCare System or other hospitals in New Jersey may raise more money but they have a very different level of community-based financial resources. But so much is also cooperative. For example, PHCS will refer high risk pregnancies to our Regional Perinatal Center and high level trauma cases to the Bristol-Myers Squibb Regional Trauma Center at Capital Health.”

Does Stephan feel there is any particular upside to being a woman? “When I started I used to think there were more men,” says Stephan, “and now I feel there are more women. Everybody brings different strengths and skill sets, for example, gift negotiation or research.

“I’ve worked with men who are spectacular at what they do as well as women. Fundraising is definitely a learned craft. You can go to school for credentials and the foundations of fundraising, but I think the most important skills are being able to listen to people, being able to connect the dots, understand the organization you work for, and match the needs of the person with the organization.”

Stephan says it also helps to be able to wear many different hats and juggle many different roles. “I came up through the operational side of fundraising, which is helpful in a lot of ways, especially in a very small department like the one here at Capital. I understand what it takes from the operational and support side to make the fundraising side successful.”

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