Health CareRaising $32.6 million for St. Helena Hospital cancer centerElaine John

President and CEO

St. Helena Hospital Foundation

10 Woodland Road

St. Helena 94574



ST. HELENA -- St. Helena Hospital opened its state-of-the-art Martin-O’Neil Cancer Center and Trinchero Surgery Center in 2009 as a result of robust community support marshaled by the St. Helena Hospital Foundation.

In 2006, the foundation set a goal to raise $28 million through a capital campaign and ultimately brought in $32.6 million.

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For foundation president and CEO Elaine John, the campaign’s success is a major milestone in a succession of considerable achievements on behalf of the hospital.  Since stepping into the role of chief fund developer in 1993, Ms. John has transformed the foundation from an ancillary hospital department bringing in $700,000 annually to a standalone organization that raised more than $15 million in 2009, including the largest gift raised in Adventist Health System/West’s history, an $8 million irrevocable trust.

And yet, Ms. John refers to herself as a “reluctant fundraiser.”

“I’m often asked what do I do and when I say fundraising, people tend either to distance themselves because they think I’m going to ask them for a gift or they look at me as though they’re thinking this is the last career anyone would want,” she laughs. “But actually it’s very a rich and beautiful activity. So now when I’m asked, I like to say that I help generous people make a difference.”

Although she never imagined making a career out of fundraising, Ms. John admits discovering her knack for raising money as a child. She was that Girl Scout who always sold the most cookies. When she first moved to California, she volunteered with the Napa Valley Symphony Association and frequently found herself selling more subscriptions and season tickets than anyone else.

Ms. John began her career as a high school English teacher in New York and Iowa. When her husband was recruited to teach literature at Pacific Union College, she took on handling the school’s marketing and communications while their children were young. As head of PUC’s public relations, she developed recruitment materials that won several Council for Advancement and Support of Education awards.

In 1991, Ms. John made the move to St. Helena Hospital’s marketing and communications department. She also became president of the Napa Valley Symphony Association board, which led to giving public speeches and making VIP introductions at symphony events. On one occasion, she invited the hospital president along. When he saw her in action, he asked her to head the hospital’s fund development efforts.

Ms. John became CEO of the foundation in 1993 while continuing to run the hospital’s marketing and communications department. In 2002, after deciding she could not give her best efforts to both jobs, she dedicated herself to fund development and began working with the hospital’s funding committee, a highly committed yet only moderately successful group. Ms. John made it her quest to figure out how to develop more significant philanthropic support for the hospital.

“We were trying to build an endowment, but I saw that the foundation just wasn’t resourced efficiently to develop its huge potential as a source of strategic capital,” she said. “Money from philanthropic gifts has one of greatest returns on investment. It doesn’t cost a lot to raise – just people’s salaries. The expense ratio is fantastic compared to the cost of other hospital funds, yet fundraising was always seen as an ancillary activity.”

Under her leadership and inspiration, the committee’s fundraising grew to $2 million a year, but she soon recognized there were barriers beyond her control preventing greater success.

“The foundation board really had no authority. It was more of an advisory group. We needed to find a way to protect the funds they raised and keep those funds separate from the rest of the hospital system,” she recalled. “Because of this, we couldn’t recruit the level of commitment from the kinds of business leaders we needed. We have so many wonderful businesses and wineries here in the Napa Valley, but people like that are not willing to invest and stay engaged unless they have fiduciary oversight to manage and disburse the funds.”

The solution seemed clear to Ms. John: form an independent fundraising entity to maintain control of philanthropic funds. To make this happen, she had to call on her considerable salesmanship skills to convince the presidents of the hospital and foundation board to agree to reorganize the foundation as a separate 501(c)3 charitable organization. She delivered on her promises, doubling the foundation’s income to $4 million in 2004, its first year as separate entity.

She considers this one of her greatest accomplishments. To date St. Helena Hospital is the only one of 20 hospitals in the Adventist Health System/West with a standalone foundation.

“Fundraising is a key strategy in health care since reimbursement for services has steadily and consistently declined,” Ms. John said. “The cost of everything – staff, medical supplies, advanced pharmaceuticals and medical equipment – keeps rising. The hospital wants to give the best care to everyone who walks through its doors, but to keep pace requires investors beyond revenues from insurance companies and patients.”

Even though communities that invest in health organizations have proven to have better overall health care, getting those needed resources is not for the fainthearted, Ms. John acknowledges.

“I am only able to do this because I’m not asking for myself, I’m helping to create something. I get to connect people who have resources to the tremendous needs of an organization. When you invite people who have wealth into a new way of relating to their resources, I’m able to promise they’re going to have the benefit personally of creating something wonderful for others that will exceed any other transaction they’ve ever done.”

Ms. John attributes her ability to choose her mentors as a major factor in her professional success. “I’ve been fortunate to have worked with three very supportive, forward-looking hospital CEOs. They shared their knowledge with me, gave me the resources I needed and empowered me to do my best,” she said.

Although she tends not to think in terms of gender, Ms. John believes women have to be particularly diligent about choosing their professional mentors. “I have had a couple of men bosses whom I saw were never going to let me advance, so I dusted off my resume and moved on. I see no reason to work for someone who cannot or will not help me achieve my highest level of professionalism.”

Ms. John is the recipient of 2010 Women of Distinction Award, recognition by the Northern California Conference of the Seventh-day Adventist Church for her leadership of the successful capital campaign for St. Helena Hospital. She also received the Philanthropic Service for Institutions 2008 Trailblazer in Adventist Philanthropy Award from the North American Division of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

She is also credited with creating a culture of philanthropy within the hospital organization. Employees gave more than half a million dollars to the capital campaign.

Ms. John enjoys walking past the wall listing all the community and employee donors by name in the new Johnson Pavilion where the cancer and surgery centers are located.

“It was spectacular to see the facility opened,” she said, “but it’s even more so to see in the eyes of patients how much they appreciate being in such an elegant healing environment that makes their circumstances best they can be.”