A moment with: Susan Shum

Susan Shum

Susan Shum has been with the California Hospital Medical Center Foundation in Los Angeles for 21 years, serving in varying capacities. On the day before we spoke with Susan, she accepted the permanent position of Chief Philanthropy Officer with the foundation after serving for a time in an interim role. Congratulations Susan!

An English and Religious Studies major, Susan was introduced to grant writing during a college internship while at UC Berkeley. From there, she went on to grant and development communication writing roles for the university and California Pacific Medical Center before moving home to southern California and joining California Hospital Medical Center Foundation.

What do you love most about your job?
People. Whether that’s my colleagues in the foundation or in the hospital … our donors or the people in our community. I truly believe in what we’re doing as a hospital and as a system so it’s easy to feel connected with people when they get what we’re doing and appreciate it. I never feel like I don’t want to go to work because what we’re doing is important and it’s joyful and there are so many opportunities to do good and support good being done by others.

What makes your foundation special?
We’re a safety net hospital and we raise a lot of money from grants, for which we’re grateful. But we’ve wanted to diversify and we’re doing that now with individuals who don’t always use us for medical care but feel connected to the underlying principles of what we’re doing. We’re serving people who may not have other options and helping them get on a trajectory to long-term wellness and being able to thrive. We’re really trying to be a hospital without walls that doesn’t just wait for someone to get sick or injured to come to us. The foundation is showing people who have resources how important this work is and hopefully it connects with them. They may live miles from downtown LA but they still get what we’re doing and want to support it.

Is there one donor story that stands out to you?
We have a donor who is the mother of a young man who was an EMT and worked in our emergency department. He survived two tours in Iraq. He was in a motorcycle accident on his way to work, was brought here as a patient and unfortunately his colleagues could not save him. His mother made a generous gift in his memory to set up a scholarship fund because she said the hospital was like his family. He loved this place and loved his colleagues. She’s older now and I’ve gotten to know her very well, to visit with her and to become friends. It’s joyful for her to be able to give.

Recently, [the Emergency Department] was celebrating emergency nurses’ week, doing something special for the team each day, and the directors came to the foundation to see if we could help. This donor is long-retired and on a limited income but I knew she would be thrilled to be able to do this. She was grateful to be asked and sent in a check to fund breakfast for the entire morning shift. It’s not just the amount that’s given, it’s the emotion and the heart behind it. I feel like she definitely exemplifies that.

What would you tell someone considering entering the field of philanthropy?
Probably that there is a place in philanthropy on the professional side for anyone. I’m one of the least likely fundraisers because I’m such an introvert and have always been shy. But so much of it is about being able to connect with people, genuinely care about learning about them … listening and not just hearing … to find what they are passionate about and then building a relationship organically.

What is something that might surprise others about you?
I rescue rabbits. We have 15 house rabbits that live in pens, not cages, in groups of different personalities. I’m a bunny mom, I guess. People who don’t know a lot about rabbit rescue usually just give me a blank stare when I tell them.

Finally, finish this sentence: Philanthropy is …
Philanthropy is elevated matchmaking. We’re trying to make a connection between our donors and something we do that aligns with their passion, their values and the impact they want to make in the world. It’s truly joyful.