Jaime Counterman first worked for Metro Health in a contract marketing position as the hospital relocated from Grand Rapids to Wyoming. After moving into philanthropy and working elsewhere, she returned in early 2016 to work as a fundraiser at the health system’s foundation, and subsequently moved on a year ago to become executive director of Ele’s Place, a nonprofit organization that works with children experiencing grief. Counterman spoke with MiBiz about why she again returned in June as director of the Metro Health-University of Michigan Health Hospital Foundation.
You’re back for a third time.
I like to say Metro leaves the light on for you, and I’m not the only person who has come back more than once. They refer to me as a ‘boomerang.’ Hopefully it sticks.
Why did you return now to Metro Health to run the foundation?
When I went to Ele’s Place, I went there for the opportunity to serve a mission I cared a lot about and grow professionally. The director’s position at Ele’s Place made a lot of sense as the next step in my career.
I have family that’s worked at Metro. My uncle has worked here 30 years as a nurse in the emergency department, and so I have been in the Metro family for as long as I can remember. When the opportunity came up earlier this year to come back and serve, when the team here reached out to me when the position was available and asked if I’d be interested in returning, it made a lot of sense to explore that as an opportunity because I’m passionate about Metro Health and how we serve patients and our culture and the mission here. To be able to fundraise and really lead the team here was an opportunity I couldn’t resist exploring. Going through the process, it just worked out that I was able to be the right candidate at the right time for the role.
What’s the biggest opportunity right now for the foundation?
It’s that Metro Health continues to grow at an exponential pace. We’re adding subspecialty service lines and physicians, so really the foundation’s opportunity to support the growth of Metro Health is our biggest opportunity. (We need) to support it strategically and make sure we’re supporting the long-term vision and that the dollars that we’re using to fund the hospital serve as a strong impact piece.
What role does the foundation play for the hospital?
The foundation is that partnership with the community and the health care system, so we’ll be able to, hopefully, represent the voice of the community as well through our donors and our support, and be able to communicate back what that vision is for Metro Health in a way that the community can engage with and wrap their arms around.
How are you able to leverage Metro Health’s connection to the University of Michigan?
It just adds impact to the excellence in the level of care we provide. (U-M) is one of the most respected health systems in the world. That really is a validating factor for the already excellent care that we provide and that we’re moving to that next level of expertise.
How do you take advantage of the brand identity that comes with being part of U-M when you reach out and appeal to prospective donors?
That really is on us in terms of the communication piece. What does it mean? It’s more than just a block M on something. The block M really brings those U-M alums. It piques their interest about what it means for the University of Michigan to be in West Michigan. How are they representing and how are they growing the university brand here? That’s really appealing for our University of Michigan alums. It really is for us figuring out who those folks are and working with the University of Michigan to make sure we are reaching those folks. We do work closely with University of Michigan as well to have a strategy together that makes sense.
This year’s annual Giving USA report found giving was down in 2018. What are you seeing as you go about your campaigns? Do the results affect how you approach donors?
It absolutely affects how we make our approaches, particularly with the changes in the tax system (in late 2017) and people’s consideration of that as they make their philanthropic contributions. It’s just being aware of all of those avenues for giving, and what it means for direct giving versus estate giving. You just have to be more educated in the conversation for engagement. Our giving did not experience a dip in this past year, so we’re fortunate for that. We’re grateful and we hope we continue to grow so we can make the largest impact that we can here.
What’s the biggest change occurring in philanthropy right now?
What everyone is really talking about is that transition of wealth (from one generation to the next) and what that looks like in terms of how you engage donors. There’s such a wide range in generations in donors and also in board engagement. We have to have a comprehensive approach to those conversations — it’s not one size fits all — and make sure that we as a foundation are really considering what do these different generational styles prefer in terms of giving. Sometimes that’s different monetary amounts, sometimes it’s the opportunity to engage differently. It’s making sure that our conversation is comprehensive and that we’re not trying to walk everyone down the same philanthropic path and we really consider how we’re offering people the opportunity to support the system. It could be in one way, it could be in many ways, but it’s making sure we have those options available.
Interview conducted and condensed by Mark Sanchez.