As a major gift officer for Lehigh Valley Health Network, Jane Nordell is a fully integrated member of not just the philanthropy staff, but also the children’s hospital team. Connecting those who want to donate with the hospital, she had a major hand in coordinating philanthropic support of the new lobby at Reilly Children’s Hospital, the much-lauded Lutron Lobby.
“My job is about building relationships between people who care, like Lutron, and this hospital,” she said. “It’s rewarding to be a part of.”
As a mom to 3-year-old fraternal twins, Tate and Johanna, Nordell understood the importance of making the hospital a friendly place for children. From philanthropy to family life, she strives to be her best self, while acknowledging that no one can have or do it all. Nordell’s wife, Erin Firestone, also works full time, making for busy days for the family of four.
“The concept of balance ends up stressing me out, so if I can, I strive for flexibility,” Nordell said. “Flexibility is a better outlook to me. It’s a concept that helps me meet everyone’s needs.”
On a recent rainy December afternoon, Lehigh Valley Business sat down with Nordell, where she spoke more with us about the complexities of achieving work/life balance, the importance of philanthropy, and her three desert island must-haves.
LVB: What drew you to the field of philanthropy?
I went to music school, and while there I started to think about other things I might want to do. I took some nonprofit management courses and found that I really liked them. It was a mental break for me because I spent so much time immersed in creativity and classical music.
Initially, I became interested in nonprofit management because of its relationship to the arts.
As I became more and more immersed, I learned about fundraising and the ability to be a part of finding the funds that help organizations fulfill their purpose.
LVB: At LVHN, do donors approach you with the desire to contribute financially?
There certainly are donors who make themselves known to us. They could be grateful patients, board members, or just people whose general care about a particular area is most realized at a hospital.
LVB: What’s it like to work with extremely wealthy individuals?
For me, interactions with these people can absolutely impact the work we do, and can impact it in a magnanimous way. The impact of working with high net worth individuals is huge. It’s really exciting. But when it comes down to it, people are just people. With $10 or $10 billion, they are still people who want to use their resources to better the lives of people in our community.
LVB: Are there people who donate very small amounts of money?
Absolutely. And some of those gifts are the most touching. We receive gifts of cash, sometimes even just $5 in the mail. Maybe a note accompanies the gift, and it’s written out in shaky handwriting. Maybe it’s an elderly person, and what they can give is just that $5. That that person cares so much, that’s really heartwarming. All gifts matter. It’s important to let yourself be affected by every gift, by how much people care.
LVB: Do you ever encounter resentment from community members who think, ‘LVHN has so much money, why do they need to go out looking for more?’
I’ve heard that, but at the same time, that’s not backed up by the perspective we have working here every day. We are eight hospitals and counting but we are still a community supported organization. A lot of our projects, like the street medicine program, are 100 percent donor supported.
In the street medicine program, nurses and volunteers take medicine to people on the streets and in homeless shelters, sometimes straight to their encampments. It is a service that is needed. These people aren’t being taken care of anywhere else. Figuring out how to connect people to social services so they can live healthier lives is a huge thing that philanthropy funds. It also funds capital projects, endowments…Without philanthropy we couldn’t do those things and the community wouldn’t be as well-off for it.
LVB: Tell me about a particularly challenging time in your career.
My pregnancy was really hard and my twins were early. Being able to keep up with the demands of the job while meeting the needs of the babies was a challenge. I have a desire at all times to do well, and it was difficult to make choices. There was a lot of adjusting to do.
LVB: Tell me more about how you manage a work/life balance.
I’m not gonna lie. It’s hard. There are definitely times of a heavy workload here. But it was a friend at Lutron who told me not to try to achieve work/life balance but to try to find work/life flexibility. It reframes things in your mind. Maybe I have a couple of weeks where work is super busy, and then maybe there are weeks where there is more time for my family.
I need to make time for me, which I do, but I have to acknowledge that I have twin 3 year olds who need me. There will be more opportunity for even more “me” time later.
LVB: Let’s have a little fun with the next few questions. We’ll start with your hometown. Where did you grow up?
Bedminster, New Jersey. But I’ve lived in lots of places. Easton is my home now. I’ve been in Easton longer than anywhere else I’ve lived.
LVB: What book you are reading right now?
Radical Candor by Kim Scott. It’s a business communications book. It is about telling the truth in a kind, compassionate way in order to build high-performing teams and achieve results.
LVB: If you were stranded on a desert island, what three non-necessity items would you want with you?
Apple music, sweatpants, and my piano.
LVB: Which person in your life influenced you the most?
My father. I watched him in his career as I grew up. He worked for American Standard in product development and marketing for 40 years. It was interesting to see him navigate the changes in his career with humor, grace, humility and diplomacy. What that demonstrated to me was that nothing as too difficult to overcome or withstand. He liked what he did and believed in what he did.
LVB: What advice would you give to your younger self?
Be patient. I have a tendency to hurry things up and want things when I want them.
LVB: If you could bring anything to the Lehigh Valley from any other part of the world, what would it be?
Hoagie Haven in Princeton, New Jersey. Double meat, double cheese, double bacon cheesesteak. It will kill you, but it’s amazing.
LVB: Are you a print person or a digital person?
I wanna be a print person, but I’m a digital person. I’m often reading on my phone at night. But I love the feel of a book with real pages. A book forces me to take some time away just for myself.
LVB: Do you have any other thoughts you would like to leave with our readers?
I would encourage women to do what is best for their family and their work, in whatever order that makes them happy. I think the workplace is adjusting to accommodate the lives of women and families and men and families, but it’s a work in progress. Exercise your right to have a work life and a home life. Insist on it. And we will see where the future takes us.