8 Ways I Grew Professionally While Volunteering

I began volunteering with the John M. Scott Health Care Commission in 2015 and concluded my service on April 30, 2021. First, I was a Commissioner (2015-17), then an advisor (2017-18), then a Commissioner again (2018), and finally, Chair for two years (2019-2021). During this time, I led a significant change management process in which the entire philanthropic operation shifted from a comparatively simple direct reimbursement model to a multi-year, multi-million dollar grants program serving twenty organizations, becoming one of the largest funders in the County. Here are a few examples of how I grew professionally as a result of this challenging and rewarding experience.

Articulating a Vision and Mission

Image of Judge John Milton Scott
Judge John M. Scott

The John M. Scott Health Care Trust’s original benefactors, Judge John M. and Charlotte Ann Scott, wanted their estate to be used to connect low-income residents of McLean County to health care, regardless of their ability to pay. The Commission used to pay for units of service (literally, according to a formulary, e.g., vouchers for eyeglasses, rides to cancer treatment appointments, reimbursement for certain psychotropic medications); in 2019, we transitioned to a grants-only program supporting organizations that provide health services to the target population. We achieved consensus around the following Guiding Principles and Priorities for health care grants: 1) equity; 2) social determinants of health; 3) permitting capital spending; and 4) incentivizing grantees to do “whatever it takes” to support the health of their clients through long-term, wrap-around, relationship-driven approaches. These concepts were new for some Commissioners and grantees, and so, it took some time to me to cultivate unanimous support, but we got there after a lot of research, discussion, and planning.

Managing a ~$16-17 Million Dollar Organization

The total assets in the Trust grew by almost 60% during my tenure (from $10.4M to $16.5M), positioning it securely for the future. Even after adjusting for inflation and withdrawals, the Trust is worth slightly more today than it was in 2015. I was ultimately responsible for 1) selecting which Vanguard funds to liquidate, 2) updating the model that calculates the 5-year rolling average based on stock market performance, and 3) calculating the minimum to maximum annual budget based on laws regulating private trusts. During my time as Chair, we ended every year under budget for administration, even while total community investment grew to the maximum level permitted.

Navigating Politics and Conflict

Uniquely, elected officials (the Bloomington City Council) are positioned as Trustee over the John M. Scott Trust, dating back to the original will. For a long time, an elected position (Bloomington Township Supervisor) also administered the Trust. As Chair, I regularly presented to the City Council about the new grants model, the Commission’s funding recommendations, and recommended Commission appointees. I worked closely with City staff, including the city manager, director of economic and community development, grants administrator, and others. Political realities were inevitably at play at certain times, and, consistent with any major change management process, there were some disagreements between and among Trustees, Commissioners, community stakeholders, and/or administrators. I was able to draw upon my extensive professional experience working for elected officials, my training in counseling and psychology, and plain ole’ grit to work through these issues (even if imperfectly). I believe people have good intentions; I believe the absence of conflict is not an indicator of success. In fact, when you are doing meaningful and consequential work, it’s inevitable. It matters much more how you manage and resolve conflict than whether or not you have it.

Communications and Public Relations

I don’t have formal communications training, which was obvious when the first press release I drafted for the Commission was three pages long. [:) Whoopsie!] Fortunately, one of my Commissioner colleagues showed me the error of my ways, and I developed more skills in this area over time as Chair. We earned local media coverage quite a few times, and I learned to become more comfortable doing live and recorded interviews. Here is one detailed article about the first round of grant making. All of the press releases we wrote are stored on the City’s website. I am grateful I had the chance to develop these skills through this role. I know it will serve me in the future as a professional.

Overseeing Operations

White board notes from a early planning session with community stakeholders in 2018

I was heavily involved in operations as Chair. There’s almost nothing in the program without my fingerprints on it. (So, folks can also blame me for the mistakes!) But, my #1 goal was to work myself out of a job, and transition all operations to the staff by the end of my term, so the new volunteer Chair can focus on governance and oversight. My role in operations included recruiting, onboarding, and retaining staff and volunteers, creating and documenting processes and procedures – for literally everything (e.g., committees P&Ps, nominating process, annual work cycle, fund transfer policy, conflict of interest policy, confidentiality forms, etc.), revamping by-laws multiple times, writing requests for proposals, grant applications, scoring tools, grant report forms, surveys, website copy, you name it. If it’s a John Scott document, there’s a pretty good chance I wrote it. This was a tremendous amount of work, but, I accomplished my goal, and the new leadership can move into maintenance and update mode, rather than starting everything from scratch.

Forging Key Collaborations

No single organization can solve complex problems in our community by themselves. Our health care system is wildly complex and and the challenges are generational and systemic. We knew that to make a real difference, the Commission couldn’t just write a bunch of checks and call it a day. We developed two key collaborations, one with the McLean County Community Health Council (MCCHC) Steering Committee, and another with IL Prairie Community Foundation (IPCF).

Grantee Convening at Carle BroMenn Medical Center in January 2020

First, as a former member of the MCCHC, I was familiar with the McLean County Community Health Needs Assessment (CHNA) and Community Health Improvement Plan (CHIP), and I knew that there was no dedicated funding source to support the implementation plan. So, before the first RFP, I sat down with the MCCHC leadership and asked them: what do you think about tying this new health care grant program to the CHIP? What if we asked applicants to pick one of the goals in the CHIP, and tell us how the John M. Scott grant funds would help support our community’s progress on that goal? Everyone liked this idea, and so we forged ahead. As a result, the Commission’s grant portfolio now spreads investment in our county across the three main community goals: access to appropriate care, behavioral health, and health eating/active living (HEAL). This partnership between the Commission and the MCCHC is one of my proudest accomplishments, because I know it will long outlast me. Without a stable local funding source, many of the CHIP’s strategies could not realistically be implemented, but by linking investment to the CHIP, we incentivize its implementation. We also incentivize engagement in the CHNA and CHIP process, since folks are more likely to pay attention, engage, and come to the table when they know resources are available. Moving forward, MCCHC members will serve on the grants committee as ad hoc members, and every grantee will have representation on the MCCHC in the next cycle.

Second, when COVID struck, the Commission wanted to respond in a meaningful way with the funds in our emergency reserve. In the matter of a few days and through only a few phone calls, we established an agreement with IPCF to coordinate our distribution of COVID relief dollars. IPCF quickly raised almost ~$80,000; the Commission had $55,000 in our emergent need fund. IPCF made a call for proposals using a simple one-page application. When the application period closed, they sent the Commission the proposals that were submitted by organizations that already received John M. Scott grants, and we used Trust funds to pay for those COVID relief requests. Thus, applicants only had to write one application to two funders, and IPCF COVID dollars went further, because the Commission offset $55,000 of the total need. Applicants were thrilled with the efficiency and simplicity of the process, and folks in our community received PPE, food boxes, housing relief, and mental health services quickly. It’s thrilling to be a part of this kind of win-win-win collaboration and I hope it provided a model for how local funders may do so again in the future.

Working Better as a Team

John and Charlotte Ann Scott are buried at Evergreen Cemetery in Bloomington

While my individual role was outsized in terms of operations, I can say unequivocally that I could not have done what I did without a strong team around me. There were pivotal moments where the guidance or expertise of other Commissioners helped me stay focused on our priorities, reminded me of things that needed to be done, slowed me down, and served as mentors and encouragers. I do best when surrounded by smart, hard-working, thoughtful, deliberate people. I am better when I work on a team – full stop. I have a tremendous level of respect for the staff and Commissioners that I worked with for six years. I learned so much from them!

Improving Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI)

While I have a lot to learn about DEI in both personal and professional roles, and there is always room for improvement, I elevated diversity, equity and inclusion as a top priority during my tenure on the Commission in several ways. For example, when I began serving as a Commissioner, there were zero persons of color on the Commission. When I left, there were three. This improvement occurred through targeted and repeated outreach over several years. I conducted this outreach rather clumsily in some cases, but ultimately, it was successful, and I feel confident we created a culture that values and prioritizes diversity. Additionally, we added questions to the application process for grantees about 1) the diversity of their governing bodies and 2) their chief officer; these questions were then weighted on the scoring tool to reward applicants with more diverse boards and/or BIPOC chief officers. Third, we also asked applicants to discuss how they target health inequities, including those attributed to race, gender, zip code, income, etc. based on the disaggregated data in the CHNA. Finally, we began discussing how to include more organizations led by persons of color in future funding rounds. Our county does not have many nonprofits with persons of color in leadership positions. We discussed how in the future, those that do can be specifically invited to apply, and/or offered technical assistance to support their capacity to do so. As we rolled out these various strategies, we had many productive conversations as a Commission, with grantees, and with the Trustee. I trust that steps were made in the right direction, and this progress will continue over time, as we still have a lot of work to do in this community to achieve health equity and make all McLean County residents feel included.