A moment with: Zahra Nealy

Photo of Zahra Nealy.

Since March of 2022, Zahra Nealy has served as the Manager of Philanthropy Communications at Los Angeles’ California Hospital Medical Center Foundation (CHMCF). Previously, she served as Development Communications Specialist for Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Zahra received her bachelor's degree in anthropology from the University of California at Los Angeles which she credits with her love of communication.

In addition to her work for CHMCF, Zahra is an adjunct instructor for the University of Southern California (USC) Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, where she received her masters degree in public relations. At USC, she teaches Public Relations for Nonprofits, introducing her students to the field of philanthropy.

Philanthropy is …
Philanthropy is about giving back and creating more access to programs and services. It's about creating equity among people and bridging the gaps governmental services might not be able to fill. Philanthropy is about connecting with people who care about causes and helping them help others.
What brought you to health care fundraising?
Unfortunately, both of my parents have passed. I lost my father when I was 17 and he was 52. He died of a heart attack and stroke … things that are easily preventable. A lack of access to resources played a big factor in that outcome for him. My mom passed away from cancer three years later, just a month after turning 60.

Health care philanthropy, especially among marginalized or communities of color, is very important to me because it's about creating awareness and leveling the playing field. It’s about health equity and that's what attracted me to CHMCF and CommonSpirit Health. The mission speaks to me so anything I can do to help bring in more money to help prevent people from having to go through similar experiences to those I've been through … that makes all the difference for me.
Can you tell us about your current role?
My role is managing communications for anything fundraising and development-related for the hospital … creating impact reports and other pieces of collateral, maintaining the foundation website, writing stories and maintaining social media. My role is to help leverage the current hospital community and introduce them to the philanthropic side of the hospital and how they can support the patients who come to us from the surrounding downtown and South Los Angeles communities.
How do you see your work fulfilling the larger mission of CommonSpirit Health?
My role is really to tell the story and show the importance and impact that philanthropy has to change lives. That's where I see my role tying back to the mission.
Is there a specific project or story that stands out to you?
CMHC is one of, if not the most linguistically diverse hospitals in the health system. We had a donation of iPads that are used for interpreter services. I actually got to use one of them with a Spanish-speaking patient and just seeing his reaction … they're in a hospital, there is a lot going on and it's a stressful environment but to be able to speak to him in his native language - his preferred language - made all the difference. The iPads are, of course, made possible with donor support, so that's philanthropy helping with patient experience and making the patients feel comfortable. It's meeting them where they are.
What do you love most about your job?
What I love the most about my job is collaboration and just being tapped into so many incredible colleagues and their teams … gaining an understanding of what they do and how they're making an impact. For me it's creating and ideating all the possibilities to tell their story about how philanthropy helps make a difference. I love being able to wear so many hats. It allows me to tap into my creative juices.
What inspires you?
What inspires me the most is just knowing that I'm able to make a difference. It's just knowing that you have a direct impact on how people are cared for. 
What have you learned through your work?
What I've learned the most is that at the end of the day, people truly do want to help others. People do truly care for others and if they didn't we wouldn't have philanthropy. I think the beautiful thing about philanthropy is just being able to tap into those interests that someone has and seeing how you can make that apply within the organization. 

Also, I’ve learned the importance of just being very adaptable. The last two and a half years showed that we need to be adaptable and changing, but also be able to give ourselves some grace. 
What did you dream of being as a child?
I wanted to be a doctor. That was my first dream.
What would others be surprised to learn about you?
I practiced martial arts for about five years. I practiced Muay Thai boxing, “the art of eight limbs.” I did that for quite some time, so you know if things get rough ...
I haven't done it in a while, but I have a lot of muscle memory.
When you leave the office, what does relaxation look like for you?
This January I made a commitment to myself to do more self care. Later today, actually, I have an acupuncture appointment, which has been wonderful. I have the best sleep after an acupuncture appointment. I’m just taking time to take care of myself.

Another thing I love to do is just jump in my car and see where it takes me. I'm huge on cruising and just discovering various parts of Los Angeles and Southern California, because there's so much to do.