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HSHS (Hospital Sisters Health System) Sacred Heart Hospital in Eau Claire and HSHS St. Joseph’s Hospital in Chippewa Falls aren’t just sister hospitals in the same health care system, using their foundations to upgrade their health care delivery. They were both founded by literal hospital sisters.

It happened in the 1800s, when Wisconsin’s white pines were titans, 10 to 15 feet in circumference with some topping 200 feet in height. Toppling such trees was dangerous work, and men were hurt. A Chippewa Valley priest called upon the Hospital Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis in Springfield, Illinois, who had earned a reputation for compassionate, effective health care. Two of the sisters were dispatched from the Motherhouse to Chippewa Falls in 1886 and another two in 1889 in Eau Claire, arriving by horse drawn wagons.

Fledgling philanthropy for Sacred Heart

The sisters who arrived in Eau Claire didn’t come with financial resources, so Mrs. J. Fitzpatrick, who lived in the 100 block of Putnam Street, donated the second floor of her home for the sisters’ living quarters. The two sisters did home calls, going to those who were sick and suffering, but some of their patients required constant care, and so the sisters brought them into their gifted home. The sisters’ compassion and the physical limits of their living and nursing quarters roused health care philanthropy in Eau Claire, with local residents building a 50-bed hospital, which could be seen from the sisters’ windows, as it was erected on the northeast hill, facing Dewey Street.

The community’s philanthropy crystallized into the Sacred Heart Foundation.

Ann M. Kaiser, CFRE, Director of Philanthropy at HSHS Sacred Heart Foundation, said, “The official foundation started in 1984 because the community wanted to establish things like the Second Century Endowment. One function of this endowment is for future equipment and technology needs.”

Sacred Heart is a ministry-based health care deliverer and thus its needs and community contributions aren’t simply a matter of new machinery.

“We have always had the typical brick and mortar/technology needs, but we also have ministry-based needs that are needed in the community,” Kaiser said.

Ministry and high tech

Thus, Sacred Heart and its foundation are not only about physiology and disease.

“One recipient of foundation philanthropy is the Healing Place, a grief counseling center still operating today. It’s a place where the hospital continues to care for the patient’s family if they pass away.”

The Foundation’s ministry-based care reaches deep into the community.

“The Child and Adolescent Behavioral Health is an outpatient clinic. Donor dollars enable anyone who needs care to get it, regardless of their ability to pay. It also provides support for the parents, delivering a continuum of care. We do a lot of spiritual care.”

That care even extends to the hospitals’ caregivers.

“We have a colleague emergency assistance fund, which is funded through our annual campaign, and our employees donated over $200,000 back to the ministry. If we have an employee who’s undergoing a big, traumatic life event, they can get a grant up to $1,000 to help pay their bills.”

Of course, the foundation also buys physical necessities and sometimes the very best brick and mortar money can buy.

“One piece of technology the foundation bought was the first Da Vinci Surgical robot that’s still the best in the valley. We had a medical group come to us and say we needed it because it’s the best thing for patients. It gets people back to their lives as soon as possible. It also attracts the best providers to the region, which further promotes healing,” Kaiser said.

The foundation also keeps the gears turning ever more efficiently and effectively.

“More and more, the foundation provides operating costs for programs as well as endowed scholarships, which our employees use to attain higher levels of education.”

Wherever the foundation’s money goes, it stays within Sacred Heart.

“We’re set up so that money donated can only be used here. If you give to the foundation, we won’t grant that money to other non-profits in the community. If you see a sponsorship in town, that comes out of the hospital’s budget.”

The Givers

Sacred Heart Foundation makes the case for giving by connecting.

“We solicit via face to face,” Kaiser said. “We bring people here, and they meet physicians, patients, and administrators. We also do direct mail and we have two events each year. One is an annual golf and tennis classic and the other is our hospital gala. We’ve done that at a car dealership, the Davies Center, Banbury Place, and an airport hanger a couple times. People like the sharp changes in setting and it’s not a typical fundraising event. We don’t do a sit-down dinner. It’s live music with food stations all over. It’s a party atmosphere with games like a ring toss and casino games.”

The givers range from the disciplined to long-term.

“One giver was a woman who was a seamstress. She lived simply and saved and saved. She gave us $10,000 to buy new front doors and when she passed, there was a $100,000 estate gift.”

Another family gives and gives, generation after generation.

“We have a third generation of a family in town who’ve been giving to a variety of things for decades. Their most recent gift is to Women and Infants, which is our birth center. All of the third generation was born here.”

Sometimes those who give less suddenly give more.

“We have people who give small amounts throughout their lifetime and are suddenly blessed with inheritance.”

And some give out of the blue.

“We got a $1,000,000 estate gift from a family in Illinois. We had no knowledge of them, but we assume that the Sisters must have served them somewhere at some time.”

Whoever the giver and whatever the gift, they are all sacred at Sacred Heart.

“It might be past patients or people who benefit from the community services we provide. They find gratitude and meaning in our mission. Whether it’s ten dollars or a million dollars, every gift has a sacred story behind it. Our doctors and nurses change people’s lives and save people’s lives and that’s every donor’s story because they enable that sacred work.”

And where does the money go?

“We go with donor preference. If they want it to go to cancer, it goes to cancer. Second is community needs, such as mental health. The third is the hospital’s strategic direction. All of our expenditures go back to the hospital, so we can track it easily, aided by our finance department. It happens via a person-to-person conversation to confirm that money is being spent as decided.”

Kaiser’s work

Kaiser’s work can make for long days and erratic hours, but it’s more than worth it.

“I love the gratitude on people’s faces, both the giving and receiving. That’s priceless. I gave a tour to a couple who endowed our scholarship program. They got to meet the people empowered by the donors and the donors kept thanking us for the opportunity to change people’s lives. It’s really, really magical.”

Of course, the work is challenging too.

“You have to be patient. There are so many needs and so many things our hospital could do to help people, but you have to be patient to find that right donor and the right time for that donor. Maybe it’s a large fund, and you have to find the right combination of donors to fill that fund.”

Many times it takes more than mere patience: it takes making the case for philanthropy.

“Donors are becoming more like investors. It used to be someone would give and you’d send them a thank you letter, but today, there are more tours and it’s an ongoing long-term relationship so they can see the impact of their giving over time. It’s rewarding for them and us.”

HSHS St. Joseph’s Hospital

Another hospital in the 15-hospital Hospital Sisters Health System is St. Joseph’s Hospital in Eau Claire. Josh Rizzo is its foundation director, and it’s a foundation both separate and connected to the other foundations in the system.

Rizzo said, “Legally, we’re all one foundation, but all the local foundations have separate funds, even though we work together a lot.”

The foundation’s name may change, but its direction remains the same.

“We used to be the Friends of the St. Joseph’s Hospital. Now we’re HSHS St. Joseph’s Foundation. Foundation money has to align with hospital strategy. It gets approved by directors in the departments, as well the CEO, fiscal services, and then the system foundation in Springfield. Philanthropy cannot trump strategy. Everything we do has to follow the hospital strategy.”

However, the donor gets first dibs on how their gift is used.

“If the donor doesn’t check where they’d like the money to go, we decide how to best use it. However, if they wanted it to go to hospice or another area, that’s exactly what we’ll do.”

Rizzo’s role is connecting givers and recipients and tendering all due gratitude.

“We want to do the most we can in the best way possible and provide the best stewardship possible, thanking our donors properly and sharing the impact with them.”

That impact can be considerable.

“We just used some donations for a piece of equipment called a Kid Walk, which enables kids who haven’t been able to walk to walk on their own. We also funded some breast cancer screening equipment, which has reduced call backs and caught cancers earlier than traditional mammography. Wherever the money goes, it all stays with St. Joseph’s. It all remains local.”

The Givers

Much of the giving is also local.

“We have a long, rich history of Chippewa companies supporting St. Joseph, from Mason Company to Northwestern Bank. I’m working with a couple right now. We cared for their parents and she saw later what a difference a great hospice could make, so she set up a charitable gift annuity, where she has income and then we get the gift when she passes.”

Rizzo has seen compassion come from great pain.

“People who’ve experienced suicide in their families have given because they want to cast light from a dark event.”

St. Joseph reaches out to potential givers in various ways.

We do events, a charity ball, a colleague-giving campaign, which raised over $80,000, mails and newsletters, and our Major Gift Campaign, where we solicit from people who appreciate the care we provide to the community.”

And Rizzo appreciates every single giver.

“I love every unique person and their passion and interest in the community and connecting them to how they want to impact the community.”

Giving with confidence

Those who give to either of Chippewa Valley Sisters’ foundations can do so with considerable confidence.

Kaiser said, “Hospital Sisters of St. Francis Foundation has received the distinction of being named a High Performer by Association for Healthcare Philanthropy. We represent the top 25 percent of all reporting organizations. We are very proud of this distinction. With the competition in our healthcare market, it’s important for the community to know that a significant number of individuals are finding us to be worthy of significant investment of their charitable dollars.”

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