In this issue of Give & Take, we talk with Barbara Cooke, the former Director of Development of Oaklawn Hospital in Marshall, Michigan. Having retired in January after an 18-year career in fund raising as well as other management responsibilities at Oaklawn, Ms. Cooke explains why she accepted a position to create Oaklawn’s development program from scratch—and why she loved every minute of it.
Give & Take: How did you get started in fund development?
Cooke: I got involved primarily as a result of my volunteer leadership roles. I initially joined the Continental Bank Charitable Foundation in Chicago, and started out making grants to charities. We set up budgeted giving and a matching gift fund back in the late ’60s and early ’70s when nonprofits were just beginning to realize that there were a lot of corporations out there looking to fulfill their corporate responsibilities to the communities in which they had facilities. I left there to join the American Red Cross in Chicago. I was at the Red Cross until my husband retired and we moved to Michigan.
Oaklawn Hospital did not have an established development department at the time. So I was hired in 1989 to establish a permanent development program that would embrace all the facets of fund raising, and that was what I did. Today, Oaklawn has a full range of development activities, and they have done this with the same staff—one Director of Development professional and two support staff. So it was a small shop that operated on a very tight budget.
G&T: What were the advantages of being in a small shop?
Cooke: I knew all that was going on and I was responsible for everything. And we had some outstanding volunteer leadership, and they helped make things happen. Marshall is a very caring community, so it was always easy to get volunteers because of the high regard people have for Oaklawn. Volunteers were always willing to pitch in and help. People give to people, so it always helps when you have those key volunteers helping you make requests.
G&T: Why do you think you stayed so many years at the Hospital?
Cooke: I thoroughly loved my job. Marshall is a phenomenal place to live, so warm and all-embracing. And my responsibilities were ever-changing and the challenges ever-broadening. There is nothing more exciting than having a blank slate and bringing it to life.
G&T: How did you get started with planned giving?
Cooke: When I stepped back and looked at the various components of fund raising that I wanted to get in place, and what my resources were, and what I could do myself and what I could get key volunteers to help with, I realized that one of the things that I couldn’t do by myself was planned giving. So I went in search of some help and found The Sharpe Group. Sharpe had the legal staff, the writing staff, and the creative staff that I needed to help us with our planned giving communications pieces.
Over the years, Oaklawn has received some wonderful bequests, the bulk from simple wills. And while you never know exactly what prompts many of the bequests that are received, I do know that every newsletter we sent over the years was planting another seed in the recipient’s mind about how bequests and other planned gifts are always appreciated by Oaklawn Hospital.
G&T: Any advice for those who may be just starting out in the development field?
Cooke: In terms of gifts through estates, patience is important because one cannot expect results overnight. You may work on some gifts you will never see. I hope that gifts will continue to come into Oaklawn Hospital a long time from now that I worked on years ago.