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Featured Non-Profit Interview: Paulette Roberts

Interview by George Williams, Communications Specialist, Planned Legacy

Chair - Association for Healthcare Philanthropy
President - Meridian Health Affiliated Foundations


About Paulette RobertsPaulette Roberts, FAHP

Paulette is President of Meridian Health Affiliated Foundations in central New Jersey, where she has overseen the boards and fundraising activities of their four foundations since September 1998. She moved to New Jersey in November 1993 as President and CEO of Monmouth Health Care Foundation.

Paulette began her career with the IBM Corporation in Marketing and Marketing Support, where she played a national role in the introduction of “word processing” and taught “Management by Objectives.” 

After serving as a volunteer for several non-profit organizations, she joined Scripps Memorial Hospitals Foundation in La Jolla, California in 1984 to develop a pilot fundraising program for the Whittier Institute for Diabetes and Endocrinology and Scripps’ Centers of Excellence. Paulette then joined Mercy Hospital Foundation in San Diego, California in 1988 as Executive Vice President.

Paulette is Chair of the Association for Healthcare Philanthropy (AHP) and has served on the AHP Board in several leadership positions as well as chairing and serving on numerous other committees for both AHP and the Association for Fundraising Professionals (AFP). Paulette has also served on the faculty of national and regional conferences for AHP, AFP, the California State Convention of Volunteers and the American Cancer Society as well as on many non-profit boards. 

Paulette is a member of the Executive Committees and Boards of Directors of the Monmouth County Historical Association and the Two River Theatre Company. Before moving east, she was a YWCA Tribute to Women and Industry Honoree and in 2002, she was honored as a Woman of Distinction by the Monmouth Council of Girl Scouts. Paulette is a graduate of the University of Southern California with a Bachelor of Science degree.

Learn more about Meridian Health Affiliated Foundations...

AHP Annual International  Educational Conference

October 19-23, 2005

Click here to learn more about the Association for Healthcare Philanthropy (AHP)Fairmont Hotel Vancouver & Hyatt Regency, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

The Association for Healthcare Philanthropy (AHP) is the only association dedicated exclusively to advancing and promoting the healthcare development profession.

Resource development professionals turn to AHP for the very latest in fundraising education and information. For more information please visit:

Planned Legacy: You have become quite accomplished in the field of healthcare philanthropy. Can you tell us a little about your background as a non-profit development professional - how you got started in the industry and what type of education or life experiences helped you get where you are today?

Paulette Roberts: When I graduated from college I went to work for IBM Corporation in Los Angeles and then moved to Hawaii for three years where I worked in IBM’s education center. I then fast-tracked with IBM in southern and northern California, and a few years later, left IBM to get married and move to San Diego. My husband was widowed with two daughters in high school so I became an instant mom and also got very involved with several not-for-profits as a volunteer and board member. We also adopted two baby boys.

A few years later we decided I should go back to work. After meeting with a number of people at the highest levels, whom I knew through my volunteer work in San Diego, I joined Scripps Memorial Hospitals as director of development for The Whittier Institute for Diabetes and Endocrinology. The woman who hired me, Phyllis Allen, had a daughter who was the same age as me and who had successfully transferred from Xerox to another industry. Phyllis saw the same transferable skills in me and hired me as a director! It was a great place to start - lots of support - and I credit Phyllis for getting me off the ground as a professional fundraiser!

Planned Legacy: You currently oversee four different foundations for Meridian Health Affiliated Foundations. Can you give us any insights or tips into how you manage what must be an extremely busy work schedule? What are some of your primary responsibilities?

Paulette Roberts: When I joined Meridian Health seven years ago (one year after the merger of the three medical centers that created Meridian Health), my goal was to merge the small foundation staffs and grow the individual foundations, since they are the sole link to their respective communities. (The hospital boards were dissolved with the merger and the formation of the system board.) And we have since created a fourth foundation, Meridian Health Foundation, for system-wide initiatives and events.

We have development professionals assigned to each medical center with their primary offices in our Affiliated Foundations office and sub-offices in their respective medical centers. All other positions in our office are centralized, resulting in a much more efficient operation. And, with everyone together, it’s almost like a daily roundtable going on with lots of interaction and sharing of ideas and strategies. Even a little competition once in a while keeps the momentum going!

We’ve just completed our second 5-year Strategic Plan with the emphasis on major gifts fundraising. We had four half-day planning retreats with 4-5 trustees from each foundation, the hospital Presidents, system CEO and COO, and the Senior VP of Marketing and Communications. We took all the ideas and developed an overall strategic plan for the Affiliated Foundations. We also developed specific strategies for each foundation.

One thing we looked at was market trends and the fact that we have three hospitals with dramatically different demographics. One is located in a middle class neighborhood where the average income is $40,000 per year. Another is located in a very poor neighborhood and the other is in an area that is interspersed with pockets of wealth. The strategic plan for each foundation needed to take these differences into account. 

The ideal situation would be for the development folks to tell me where and when I am needed since I am the key person for a large number of major solicitations for our hospitals. We’re not quite there yet but we are working towards that end.

My biggest hurdle is making the time to spend with so many of our trustees, donors and prospects. Much of our senior staff is new and it takes time for them to build those special relationships and trust. Once they get some time under their belts, it should relieve some of the pressure I feel.

We’ve recruited 32 new trustees to our boards in the last four years and I have been involved with every one of those recruitments. So it’s a juggling act, but I love what I do. Our volunteers are so committed to our hospitals and they really care about what they are doing. This is truly refreshing, because so often we see people getting involved just because it’s the thing to do, rather than because they truly care.

Planned Legacy: With such a busy schedule how do you balance work and family?

Paulette Roberts: I get up every morning at 5:15 and exercise. By 6:15 a.m. I am at the kitchen counter with my coffee, a copy of the New York Times and our local paper.

Because I’ve been very involved in our communities since I moved east almost 12 years ago, my work life is intermingled with my personal life. When my husband and I go to a party or to someone’s home for dinner, more often than not it’s with one of my trustees or people who support one of our hospitals.

For example, one night we went out to an interactive gourmet dinner with 20 people and 10 of them were on my boards. The next night we went to a political fundraiser put on by a couple who are being recruited for one of my boards. Because of this, much of my life is interchangeable and all seems intermingled.

What keeps me balanced though is my husband, who asks that I leave my work at the office. I might not get home until 7 p.m. or so, but once I’m home I’m done with work. I love to cook and if we don’t have an evening commitment, I get home, get comfortable and get in the kitchen where I “relax” by fixing a nice dinner while watching the news.

Planned Legacy: Can you give your colleagues any insights into how you structure and organize your budgets and priorities for your four foundations?

Paulette Roberts: I am very organized. I have blue, yellow, green and red file folders - a different color for each foundation and the system. And I label them with psychedelic sticky notes – which certainly makes for a colorful office. Somehow all those colors make me happy. I have become very compartmentalized, which has helped my ability to function with as many hats as I do. I also credit my 7th grade typing teacher, Mrs. Steiner, who taught me how to type. I never forgot how to type; in fact, I type so fast that my fingers can keep up with my mind, which has also helped me get things done quickly.

A foundation needs to operate like a business so you can be as efficient as possible. And more importantly, you need to demonstrate that efficiency so your friends in the community will trust you and be assured that you are good stewards of their money. It’s also important to keep an eye on your expenses and your expense to revenue ratios.

Planned Legacy: Can you tell us about your responsibilities as the Chair of AHP? What are you currently working on and what are some of the goals for AHP in the future?

Paulette Roberts: What a special year this has been as chair of AHP. In my role as chair, I’ve attended the six regional conferences throughout the U.S. and Canada, as well as the Fundraising Institute of Australia. There have been other national meetings I’ve presented at in addition to writing articles for AHP’s newsletter, AHP Connect and AHP’s biannual magazine,AHP Journal. When I heard how many articles I would need to write, I cringed, but when I got into it, I actually enjoyed it because I found I had so much to share.

We have also gone through a strategic planning process with AHP this year that Bill McGinly, President of AHP, and I will present at the annual meeting in Vancouver. Our focus going forward will be on best practices in healthcare fundraising, involving hospital and healthcare executives in furthering the culture of philanthropy, and to enhance AHP’s programs to better serve our members.

Meridian Health Publications – Keeping grateful patients informed

Health Views Magazine: Meridian's bi-monthly, full-color publication provides the newest, most innovative health care news and advances that are available to area residents. Articles incorporate patient stories and ways to locate further information. Meridian Health Lineup, the magazine's calendar of events, lists a diverse range of seminars, support groups, and classes for seniors, new parents, and youths. Meridian strives to keep you and your family on the road to good health.

Wise & Well Magazine: This free membership-only publication is mailed quarterly to seniors in Monmouth and Ocean counties, providing the latest information on wellness and prevention along with the latest Meridian Health programs, services, and screenings that are specifically designed for seniors.

Planned Legacy: Based on your experience and your work with AHP, what are the most difficult challenges facing healthcare development professionals right now and what can be done to overcome those challenges?

Paulette Roberts: More and more hospitals around the country are struggling to put money on the bottom line and are looking to their foundations for an increased amount of philanthropic support. Sometimes their expectations for raising money are not in line with reality and with what is actually feasible.

Healthcare executives need to partner with their development professionals in working to build relationships that will result in increased giving. The more they get involved, the better the outcomes. Just look at how much time university presidents spend on fundraising…many devote at least 50% of their time on raising funds their universities. Can you imagine how much our hospital support would go up if our hospital presidents spent that kind of time on fundraising!!

Planned Legacy: What are some of the initiatives you currently working on for your foundations?

Paulette Roberts: The majority of our major gifts come from grateful patients, so we are working on an initiative that will help us establish relationships between those patients and our development professionals. To do that we have to meet with the physicians, nurses and frontline staff who are in contact with those patients every day.

Development officers always have lots to do and major gifts often get pushed to the bottom of their list. We want to reverse that and put major gifts at the top of their list. But it’s not just about asking for a gift; it’s about establishing long-term relationships with these grateful patients and facilitating “movement” between your trustees, physicians and prospective donors to bring them to the point of being ready to be solicited.

Appreciative patients will often thank doctors and ask what they can do to help. In the past, the doctor might have just returned a routine thank you. Now, after meeting with the development professionals, the doctor might say, “Thank you so much. We have so many wonderful things going on at the hospital. May I have Mary from the foundation office give you a call?” This is key in building a culture of philanthropy and that is a major priority at Meridian Health.

With the focus on major gifts, we plan to implement specific performance measurements for each development professional beginning in 2006. We have been involved in a benchmarking collaboration with 11 other systems around the country for almost three years, and we are basing some of our measurements on benchmarks that have come out of that collaboration.

Planned Legacy: How did you come up with the idea of connecting grateful patients with the development office through the doctors, nurses and frontline staff?

Paulette Roberts: My first fundraising teacher at an AHP conference many years ago in San Diego was Frank Hall, who I am proud to say is a colleague now. But I am still learning from him and he recently told a story that I have shared with many of our physicians and department directors. Several years ago when he managed the foundation at Hoag Memorial Hospital in Newport Beach, California, he received a microwave earmarked for the neonatal intensive care department.

When he called the nurse manager to tell her about the microwave, she told Frank the story of how she got the microwave.

A two pound baby had been born at the hospital a few months before who spent seven weeks in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). The good news was the baby was fine and was discharged. About two weeks after the baby was discharged.a nice man visited the department and asked to see the manager. When she went out to greet him, he said, “You saved my grandson. I would do anything for you. What do you need?”

The nurse manager thought for a minute or so and then said, “We could really use a new microwave for the department.”

What the manager didn’t realize was that this nice man was one of the wealthiest men in Orange County, California, and he could have written a check for the new NICU which was currently included in a major capital campaign.

I guarantee you that shortly thereafter Frank ensured there was a culture of philanthropy at his hospital, and that if that nice man ever came in again, the department director would ask if Frank from the foundation could give him a call.

It’s always been assumed that in hospital fundraising, the best prospects are grateful patients. But, I think Frank’s story illustrates the point the best. It’s amazing that when I do tell the story - I see heads nod in the audience. There have been many nurses and department directors who have suggested to grateful patients that they order pizza for the staff that week. They all seem to relate!

Bruce Springsteen lives in our area and every once in awhile someone in a meeting will suggest him as a potential donor. I will then ask, “Does he use this hospital? Do you know him?” “Oh, you don’t, well you must know his wife?” “You don’t? Well then he must be a good friend of one of our physicians?” And it’s determined that the only reason his name has come up is because he’s famous, lives locally and is wealthy.

People assume that because a wealthy person lives down the street, they will give money to your organization. This is just not the case. They are probably already being pulled in a myriad of different directions with regards to giving money. A relationship has to be established.

Planned Legacy: What are your general thoughts about donor recognition?

Paulette Roberts: I like to deal with donor recognition on a personal basis. Every donor is different. Some donors don’t want recognition. Others might prefer a private ceremony with their family in the hospital, rather than public recognition. Certainly if gifts are substantial, we will tailor the recognition to the donor’s wishes.

Personal attention to donors is very important, regardless of the size of a contribution. Many people thank donors for a gift and then forget about them. You have to keep communicating with donors and have a structured system for following up, or people will fall through the cracks.

We are in the process of establishing a Stewardship Program to make sure we stay in touch with our donors and continue to educate them on the impact their gifts have made. The stewardship strategies will depend upon the size of the gift, but for everyone who gives a gift of $100 or more, we will always call the day of the gift to say thank you.

You’d be surprised at how many donors are pleasantly surprised by the fact that we’re just calling to say thank you, and not to ask for another gift. This is often a great way to begin to establish a relationship with the donor and sometimes learn more about why he or she is supporting the hospital.

Planned Legacy: There have been studies done that suggest donors don’t want recognition, yet practical experience indicates that donors do want to be recognized. What is your opinion on this?

Paulette Roberts: I really think it depends on the donor. I have had some major donors who want to remain anonymous. It is imperative that we adhere to their wishes.

Trust is key in our business and that is how we continue to maintain those special relationships. I had one couple who contributed a $1 million anonymous gift in 2001, and it wasn’t until last year – three years later – that they finally agreed to be included in our beautiful new donor gallery. They didn’t want the gift announced in the paper or in our newsletter, but they did agree to be recognized within the hospital.

Others do want to be recognized and it’s our job to match what they want to what is possible. If you have done your homework and know your donor(s) well, this should not be difficult.

Nothing gives me greater pleasure than to “unveil” a new donor sign in the hospital and to share with the donors and their friends and family what a difference they have made.

Planned Legacy: Can you give us any insights into what works and what doesn’t work with regards to healthcare philanthropy and capital campaigns? What are some of the best ideas and innovations you have seen?

Paulette Roberts: Engaging our trustees has been a major focus with our foundations. When a trustee is truly involved and doing what he/she enjoys, it’s infectious. With one of our foundations, several trustees have hosted cocktail parties in their homes for their friends and colleagues to learn about some of the exciting things going on at the hospital. It’s been a wonderful way to bring new prospects into our hospital family.

At another hospital, we’ve held breakfast meetings hosted by trustees who invite their business associates in to learn more about the hospital and take a tour. This too has been a positive step in building new relationships for that hospital.

An idea I heard at one of our regional conferences, regarding employees giving towards a capital campaign, was to first solicit the president of the hospital. Then have him/her host an elegant dinner in a private room of a restaurant for his senior team and ask them to join him in contributing two hours per pay period (1 hour per week) for five years. Once they all commit, the directors of the hospital would then be asked to join the senior execs in contributing two hours per pay period. At this particular hospital, they raised more than $1 million from the management team!

Planned Legacy: Many organizations don’t begin to recognize donors until after a capital campaign is complete. Would there not be an advantage to recognizing major donors that come on board during the campaign?

Paulette Roberts: When hospitals go into capital campaigns, they usually don’t announce the campaign until a major portion of the goal has been raised. Since they don’t want to “go public” with the campaign, they often wait to recognize significant gifts until they do go public.

There are ways to recognize those special donors at least internally with your boards and campaign cabinets. We send out “Trustee Briefings” to our boards every 4-6 weeks announcing special gifts, even when we aren’t in a campaign. Campaign gifts can be announced at your campaign cabinet meetings and special recognition for those donors can take place within the hospital for the donors, their families and friends.

Planned Legacy: Can you give us any insights into what works and what doesn’t work with regards to healthcare philanthropy and planned giving programs? What are some of the best ideas and innovations you have seen?

Paulette Roberts: Unfortunately our planned giving programs have not progressed as we had hoped because we have not been able to find a director for the system-wide program who has been here long enough to build relationships with potential planned gift prospects as well as the professionals (attorneys, financial advisors, etc.) in our various communities.

We have great potential because one of our counties, Ocean County, is the second fastest growing community of seniors in the country. When we do get that perfect person to lead our planned giving efforts, we look forward to having our other fundraising professionals work closely with the planned giving director in helping to identify prospects for estate planning gifts to our hospitals.

We are also going to encourage all foundation trustees to join our Heritage Clubs by naming their hospital in their estate plans.

Planned Legacy: What are some of the common mistakes young development professionals make when trying to attract and cultivate new donors and how can they avoid those mistakes?

Paulette Roberts: When young development professionals join a fundraising team, they sometimes look at their role as one of sales and keeping score rather than looking at the long-term business and importance of building relationships. They also need to recognize the fact that they will be the facilitators in the major gifts process rather than the actual solicitators. It takes years of building relationships and trust before a young development professional is in the “front seat” of a major gift solicitation.

Planned Legacy: What is the current state of healthcare philanthropy as compared to other non-profit sectors such as faith, education, arts etc? Are healthcare development professionals harnessing the Internet and technology the way they should to help them raise more money?

Paulette Roberts: Giving to health related organizations rose from 8.7% in 2003 to 8.8% in 2004, according to Giving USA Foundation. I’ve always said, wouldn’t it be great to be able to ask for money every week like they do in churches! Hospital and healthcare foundations are getting more and more sophisticated in how they approach fundraising. Many are beginning to develop their Web sites and giving people an opportunity to contribute on-line.

We have recently updated our Meridian Web site to make it easy for people to give to our foundations on-line by clicking on the Make A Gift icons. Statistics show that giving online will definitely increase, especially with younger donors. Whatever we can do to make giving to our hospitals easier, the better results we’ll see over time.

Planned Legacy: In your own role at Meridian Healthcare, and also in the broader universe of AHP, how has the advent of the Internet and innovations such as interactive recognition technology impacted on your fundraising and communications strategy?

Paulette Roberts: With AHP, most of our communication with our members is now done online. People can register for conferences online; Web conferences are offered; our newsletter, Connect, is now online; and correspondence with board and committee members is usually through e-mail. It’s made us more efficient and much more responsive in AHP and at Meridian Health.

On the downside, I really think this “high-tech world” we live in has taken away time to think. We are all working so fast and trying to keep pace with workload and instant response. I sometimes wonder how the fathers of our country accomplished so much when they traveled by horseback and could only write letters.

To go from Boston to Philadelphia took three weeks! And, look at us now! When have you taken the time to write a nice, newsy, long letter? Everyone seems to be crazed by e-mail, voice mail, and carrying their palm pilots everywhere they go. I don’t carry my cell phone everywhere I go; I leave it in my car and use it there. If there’s an emergency, my assistant knows how to reach me.

Planned Legacy: Healthcare foundations, like education, faith and arts foundations, need to become more entrepreneurial in how they communicate with their donors and constituent communities. How is AHP helping its members to become more entrepreneurial or corporate-like in their approaches to communicating and in raising money?

Paulette Roberts: AHP is a volunteer driven organization with a very professional staff. Our conferences – audio, Web, regional and the international conference - are full of wonderful educational opportunities put on by development professionals from around the U.S. and Canada. Best practices and the most successful ideas are shared. It’s up to our members to access all that AHP offers. And, I think unique to AHP, our members are willing to share their ideas and successes. I encourage people to call their colleagues with specific questions. And, I also encourage people to get involved, because I really believe that the more you do, the more you get back.

Planned Legacy: The AHP Annual International Educational Conference takes place from Oct. 19-23 in Vancouver. What is the real value of seminars like this for non-profit professionals? 

Paulette Roberts: The greatest benefit from seminars and conferences is the chance to network and find out what your colleagues are doing. In the non-profit business everyone is very giving of information.

Some development professionals are too overwhelmed with their day-to-day projects to keep up with everything that is going on in the industry. Conferences and seminars offer our members a chance to get away from that busy work – to learn something that might help their organizations and make their jobs easier.

Planned Legacy: Are non-profit organizations becoming more sophisticated in their approaches to marketing, communications and development, and if so, how are they doing this?

Meridian Health Views

Paulette Roberts: At Meridian Health our corporate communications department is expanding to include a Marketing Director and a PublicRelations Director for each medical center. These people are in the process of being recruited. We look forward to working closely with them to further the culture of philanthropy and to educate our communities about the fact that our system and hospitals are not-for-profit. The more we partner with these professionals, the more we should be able to attract people to our hospitals, giving us more stories to share about their good experiences.

We have online giving now at Meridian Health. The response has been good. Before it used to go to a link that said Affiliated Foundations, but now it says “To Make A Gift”. This links to a page where you can contribute online to each of our four foundations. We’ve already received a gift from a young couple, whose baby was born at one of our hospitals.

We also have a newsletters which go out to 430,000 people in Monmouth and Ocean counties. It is also available online. We recently started including a grateful patient story in the newsletter.

Planned Legacy: Keeping confidentially in mind, do you have any heartfelt, unique or surprising donor stories you can tell us that really meant something special to you? 

Paulette Roberts: I recently wrote an article for AHP Connect entitled “The People We Meet”. We are so fortunate in this business to meet so many wonderful people. In this article I share what is special about four people I have met since I moved to New Jersey.

Planned Legacy: Do you have any other insights or thoughts that might be of value to your colleagues?

Paulette Roberts: What I have learned over the years and especially this year as chair of AHP, is that healthcare fundraisers are pretty much the same. We all work hard, are passionate about what we do, and truly care about the mission of our hospitals. We sometimes get bogged down in the moment with things we have to get done and forget about why we are working so hard. I’d really like to encourage everyone to step back once in awhile and think about all the good you are doing, and the difference you’re helping others to make.

Feel good about yourself!

About Meridian Health Affiliated Foundations

The Foundations of Jersey Shore University Medical Center, Ocean Medical Center, Riverview Medical Center and Meridian Health have long-standing traditions of generous support and commitment. The Foundations work closely with community leaders, physicians, clinicians, board members, auxilians and volunteers to raise important funds necessary to create and maintain services and facilities that are critical to the health and wellness of their surrounding communities.

Each Foundation, guided by a separate Board of Trustees from the community, is an individual tax exempt organization committed to seeking and encouraging meaningful giving for the worthy programs and services provided by the Medical Center it supports. Funds raised are appropriately distributed in accordance with the wishes of the donor. Many major memorial, dedication and commemorative opportunities are available at each Medical Center.

For more information please contact:

Paulette Roberts, FAHP 
Meridian Affiliated Healthcare Foundations
4900 State Highway 33, Suite 200
Neptune, NJ 07753
Phone: 732-751-5114
Fax: 732-751-5121
E-mail: [email protected]

About The Association for Healthcare Philanthropy (AHP)

The Association for Healthcare Philanthropy (AHP) is an international professional organization dedicated exclusively to developing the men and women who encourage charity in North America's healthcare systems. Established in 1967, AHP is the source for education, networking, information, and research opportunities in health care philanthropy. AHP is a not-for-profit organization with its international headquarters located outside Washington, D.C. in Falls Church, Virginia.

AHP reaches out to development professionals in all sectors of healthcare including:

  • Community and private hospitals
  • Foundations
  • Medical centers
  • Children's hospitals
  • Teaching hospitals and medical institutions
  • Long-term care facilities
  • Hospices
  • Health care systems
  • Advocacy groups
  • Specialty hospitals

AHP offers programs, services and publications to sharpen your skills and make you an effective fundraiser. It brings fundraisers together on a regular basis. The connections you make form a community where innovations in healthcare philanthropy can be shared and recognized. AHP is also a clearinghouse on philanthropy and provides insight on the changing world of healthcare fundraising. AHP is the only association dedicated exclusively to health care development professionals.

For more information please contact:

Association for Healthcare Philanthropy
313 Park Avenue, Suite 400
Falls Church, VA 22046
Ph: 703.532.6243
Fax: 703.532.7170 Fax
E-mail: [email protected]

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