Jenny Stafford is an East Coast transplant who moved to Colorado Springs to take a chance on her then-boyfriend — who is now her husband of nearly 16 years.
Stafford is the philanthropy director for Children’s Hospital Colorado Foundation in southern Colorado. Originally from Baltimore, she attended the University of Maryland in College Park, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in art history.
She’d planned on attending graduate school at Columbia University in New York City, but put her plans for a Ph.D. on hold and moved to Colorado Springs to be closer to her significant other, who is in the military reserves in Colorado Springs.
Stafford, a 2014 CSBJ Rising Star, spoke with the Business Journal this week about raising funds for a living and creating a special place for sick kids in southern Colorado.
Having grown up out East, what do you think of Colorado Springs?
I love Colorado Springs, I honestly can’t imagine now living in a fifth-floor walk-up in Harlem getting a Ph.D. in art history. … This is a great place to live. It’s a slower pace of life than the [Washington] D.C. and Baltimore area. And you can make an impact here as a young person.
What did you do when you first moved here?
I taught art at a charter school for a year. I was 21 years old and some of my students were just two years younger than me. … The financial environment at that school was really challenging. I had to do a lot of fundraising just to support my program and take kids on field trips. And so that really got me interested in fundraising and nonprofits. I decided to turn down my schooling at Columbia and I applied to an accelerated graduate program at CU Denver — a master’s in public administration. I entered right into that program after one year teaching.
Did you commute to Denver?
Every single day. But that was a long time ago. It would take about an hour and 15 minutes to get to the Auraria campus. I was super disciplined and would get to school super early to get my work done and ready to go. … It was a cohort program and there were 16 of us who went through the program together.
The summer between teaching and graduate school, I interned at the Fine Arts Center. … They put me in the development department.
When I finished my degree in 2003, the FAC had undergone a really big change. Jon Stepleton was the interim CEO. The development department had been six or seven people when I was interning and when I came back, it was down to two people.
They asked me if I would come on full-time as development coordinator. I got to pick up where I left off as an intern. … At 24, I was offered the development director position. I was at the Fine Arts Center for about four years and director from ’04 until ’06, during their capital campaign for a new building and renovation. I oversaw annual fundraising to be sure we had programs, kept the lights on, paid salaries. … If we didn’t meet our monthly goals, we would have had to borrow money.
What came after the FAC?
In July 2006 I had my first child. Jon Stepleton had become a mentor of mine and he started at Pikes Peak Community College and asked if I would be interested in a part-time job there. I was there for almost seven years. I worked part-time and he was executive director of the community college’s foundation. I did a lot of work in the scholarship area — raising money for scholarships and giving them to students. We also did a lot of work around self-sufficiency with students.
I also had a small consulting practice around strategic planning and board development and I did a lot of volunteer work too.
About four years ago I left the community college. I was ready to do something different. I felt like I was at a point in my career where I’d be chugging along in roles not at a leadership level if I didn’t make a move. … About that same time, my son’s best friend was diagnosed with leukemia in kindergarten. … He was up at Children’s Hospital in Aurora at the Anschutz Medical Campus on and off for over a year. … He’s rebounded amazingly, but my life hadn’t been touched by Children’s until then. Coming from the East Coast, I was amazed at the level of treatment he could get in Colorado. At about the same time, I learned that this job had been created for southern Colorado. It just seemed meant to be.
Talk about being at Children’s.
I was hired in 2013 to start a fundraising program in southern Colorado that would help to support the expansion of the hospital locally. We always had generous people in southern Colorado supporting the hospital, but never before did we have people from this region supporting the hospital in this region. So I got to stand up this office and staff and create a team and fundraising plan. It’s been a great opportunity.
How have plans for the new hospital affected your position?
It gave us a really clear focus. When I was hired, Children’s hadn’t formally decided to build a hospital in the community yet. The focus had been expanding programs. … The hospital just finalized floor plans at the end of February while dirt is being moved. Our fundraising is kicking off in 2017 in a really big way.
What’s the fundraising goal?
From philanthropy in general, we’re looking at about $20 [million] to $30 million. The overall cost of the hospital is about $155 million. That $20 [million] to $30 million goal is very aggressive for this community. The hospital would love it if we get as much as we possibly can. It’s truly mission work for the hospital to expand in this community. We’re a safety-net hospital, which means we serve as many Medicaid and TriCare patients as needed. … In this community 75 percent of our patients are Medicaid or TriCare patients. Those typically pay 50 cents on the dollar for cost of care.
What are the advantages to being a young professional here compared to the East Coast?
I’ve been in Colorado Springs my whole career. Every single person I know of from my high school graduating class and all of my friends from college live from Virginia to Boston. No one is really west of Frederick, Md. Their lives are very different. Their commute times are longer. Most people don’t have a choice to work part time and raise a family because of the cost of living. … If you want to live close to your job, the schools aren’t going to be good. … A lot of people start families later because they need longer to climb. They love their lives, but I have such a different life.