Alumni Spotlight: Sarah MacDonald, Beaumont Health Foundation

Posted in News Story Spotlight

The Beaumont Health Foundation coordinates all philanthropic efforts for the Beaumont Health System in Southeastern Michigan – supporting more than eight hospitals, outpatient facilities, and community based-clinics working in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Center for Public and Nonprofit Leadership spoke with alumna Sarah MacDonald, the Director of Research and Prospect Development at the Beaumont Health Foundation about her work in the nonprofit sector and her experience in CPNL’s Nonprofit Management Executive Program.

CPNL: The nonprofit sector is vast with so many important causes to champion, what led you to pursue a career in your particular field?

MacDonald: I currently work in healthcare, but I have also worked in education as well as animal rights. So really, it has been about growing my career, as long as the nonprofit has a component that resonates with me and my value system. For example, I support education, so many people do. Animal rights, I am an animal lover. Healthcare, the power of healthcare especially in terms of gender and racial outcome disparities is so prominent right now. So that is one area of healthcare that I am really interested in helping to make an impact on. That’s a roundabout way to answer your question, but I have a lot of different passions and my career has helped me explore a number of those. 

CPNL: COVID-19 has significantly impacted the nonprofit sector. How has the pandemic impacted your work at the Beaumont Health Foundation? In what ways have you had to adapt?

MacDonald: First and foremost a number of us are working from home now, so that has been a big adjustment. We went from 100% office work, to everyone working from home. That has been a learning curve, using technology. I am also the leader of a team now, so learning how to lead from a distance has also been something I have had to adapt to. In terms of being a nonprofit in the COVID-19 era, being a healthcare institution has put us right in the middle of the COVID-19 crisis. It has been really great to see how we are making an impact that way. I also work specifically in fundraising in the healthcare setting. So if anything, really our fundraising has sped up instead of slowing down. Which is unusual in the nonprofit sector right now, unless an organization is working on police-brutality or, something to do with that movement, or the COVID-19 pandemic. We’ve been busier than ever, really.

CPNL: What is one significant challenge you faced as a leader in the nonprofit sector?

MacDonald: The first one that comes to mind is that it can be really hard to retain and develop talent when you can’t pay as much as the for-profit sector does. A lot of times, the top talent in the field for whatever area it might be – marketing, development, or whatever it is you are trying to attract and retain talent at a lower salary than the for profit world. So that is a challenge for sure. But what you do get on the other side is really passionate people, so I think that it pays off. It’s a trade off that ends up working out in our favor sometimes. But it is hard as a leader to attract and get people to stay in the nonprofit field when they see that they could make so much more money, or have an easier life perhaps, in another sector. I wish that we were able to offer better salaries and benefits right off the bat, and a lot of nonprofits struggle to do that and retain the talent that they need and deserve.

CPNL: How has the certificate program helped you in your career?

MacDonald: It helped me clarify a lot of things and better understand my role in my organization. I have a lot of experience fundraising, but it gave me a holistic view of the nonprofit sector, and my nonprofit in general, as well as how all parts operate together so I can do my job better and fit within that role.

CPNL: What advice would you give to other professionals who are considering participating in the certificate program?

MacDonald: I would say go for it because not only do you get to hear directly from leaders in the field, but you also get to meet an awesome cohort of people you can talk to, and ask for help if you are having issues in your particular job, or at other times in your career. Also, I am from Detroit, so while a lot of people in the program are from D.C, there are truly people from all over the country. So that perspective was really valuable, too. It was such a good display of not necessarily what all nonprofits are doing, but what the highest level, most functional, best practices are.