The First Day and the future of SCVMC, O’Connor and St. Louise.

Today is the first day of Santa Clara Valley Medical Center existing as a multi-hospital system. The first day of its kind in 160 years.

At 12:01am today, the County of Santa Clara began operating O’Connor and St. Louise hospitals, as well as the DePaul Health Center in Morgan Hill. This massively expands the scope and scale of health care delivery by the public safety net system our Foundation supports. 1025 licensed beds.  Over 170,000 emergency department visits.  7,700 total staff.

Our question: What does this mean for the future of the VMC Foundation? The quick answer is: “We don’t know just yet”. That’s because each foundation at O’Connor and St. Louise were not part of the county’s acquisition, and are therefore tied up in the bankruptcy proceedings. Each foundation has a board, but each board has little power at this point. Each hospital has a gift shop, but neither are currently operating. What will be left after the bankruptcy process? How will we integrate and begin supporting such a larger system? Again, we just don’t know yet.

So we felt it was important to focus first on what we DO know. That’s why, below, we have drafted a Statement of Principles that we feel should guide our efforts on this matter—and on most other matters, frankly.

Please read and if you wish, drop me line. This is such an important time period, such an opportunity. We thank you for your continued service to the VMC Foundation.

Yours In Community Service,

Chris Worrall, Board Chair
Chris Wilder, CEO


The joining of O’Connor Hospital, St. Louise Regional Hospital, the DePaul Health Center, and Santa Clara Valley Medical Center Hospital & Clinics under a single umbrella represents a historic moment for our local healthcare delivery system.

For decades, these institutions have served this valley with a deeply held conviction that healthcare is a human right, and that language, class, race and income should never be determinants of good health.  Dedicated staff, volunteers and community leaders have worked tirelessly to build these hospitals into vital community assets.  Each has made a profound impact on the lives of thousands of Santa Clara County residents.

Action by the County of Santa Clara ensures that these vital invitations will continue serving this community for decades.  Each will still maintain their unique identities, but how we leverage our collective strength to forge a new, single foundation that advocates on behalf of the entire safety net will be where the greatest difference is made.

The role of philanthropy in supporting these efforts is potentially massive.  No other health system will do more to provide care to vulnerable populations in Santa Clara County.  The need for community support will be tremendous, and a new foundation structure must be in place to meet that need.  How that foundation structure evolves to incorporate all three hospitals and ultimately the broader community is the most pressing job facing us today.

The Valley Medical Center Foundation is an independent, 501c3 charity organization founded in 1988 to serve as the fundraising arm for Santa Clara County’s public, safety-net healthcare system.   Since that time, it has raised over $90 million in philanthropy, and $2.5 billion in public support for vital health programs and services.  The VMC Foundation is the only nonprofit organization in California to be accredited under the Standards for Excellence: Ethics and Accountability Code for the Nonprofit Sector.  Our vision is that one day, with philanthropic support from community, all people in Santa Clara County will have access to high-quality health services.

As we enter conversations with partner foundations on a new, unified structure, we are focused on these core principles to guide our work:

  1. Health care is a right: as a community, we should work collectively to reduce and eliminate all barriers to care
  2. Ethics: we must follow the highest ethical standards in all aspects of our work, from internal policies and procedures to how we treat and listen to each other
  3. Honoring the history: each hospital and affiliated foundation brings a unique history and culture that must guide our future actions. We will work to preserve the identity of each.
  4. Honoring donor intent: funds donated for a specific purpose must be preserved for that purpose, such that a merger does not cause a diversion of funds for unintended uses
  5. One team: through a collaborative process, we must develop a unified governing and administrative structure so all three hospitals can be served by a single Foundation aligned with County of Santa Clara policies and procedures

If done correctly, we can become the preeminent health care charity in Silicon Valley in terms of scope and impact.  It’s a challenge we embrace fully, and we look forward to sharing the journey with new partners and friends.

We have a policy on cultural humility. Here’s why.

The work of the Valley Medical Center Foundation directly supports an incredibly diverse patient population in Santa Clara County, and a health system dedicated to delivering care in that context.  This has lots of practical implications, like providing translation services or recruiting a workforce that reflects the local community. But it also means understanding how health disparities are directly linked to racism, sexism, homophobia and other forms of oppression.

As such, the Board of Directors of the VMC Foundation implemented a Policy on Cultural Humility in 2018 to better align our work with the community we serve.  We did this for many reasons, including;

  • Culturally aware staff members are more successful at working with and building trust within multicultural communities.
  • Increasing cultural humility among the board, organizational leadership, staff, and volunteers can help employees and clients feel more comfortable and secure in the workplace.
  • Nonprofits with inclusive practices are often more successful at attracting and retaining high quality talent.
  • Nonprofit organizations work more successfully with partner organizations when they have strengths internally in cultural humility.
  • Ultimately, greater attention to inclusion and cultural humility will result in our organization being more effective in our work because we will benefit from and utilize a wide range of talent, input, and engagement in achieving our mission.

The full policy can be read here.

We aren’t the only organization doing this kind of work, and we hope others join in.  Please connect with us if you do.

VMC Foundation achieves highest certification for nonprofit ethics

Read full press release here.

SAN JOSE – The Valley Medical Center Foundation has become the only nonprofit charity organization in California to achieve the Standards for Excellence Institute® “Seal of Excellence”, the nation’s highest level of accreditation for nonprofit governance and ethics. The designation comes after a year-long process to test compliance with Standards for Excellence®: An Ethics and Accountability Code for the Nonprofit Sector, with specific measures for honesty, integrity, fairness, respect, trust, responsibility and accountability.

“The number one commodity we have is donor trust,” said VMC Foundation CEO Chris Wilder. “We felt the best way to honor that trust was to put ourselves to the test and see if we are worthy of it. And we just aced that test.”

The process to achieve the accreditation was exhaustive, involving the entire VMC Foundation Board of Directors and staff. And that is by design. The full scope of the organization was tested, well beyond the annual audit typical of most nonprofit organizations. To do so, the Standards for Excellence Institute® drew upon its cohort of 80 licensed consultants and 100 volunteer nonprofit professionals to review all aspects of the VMC Foundation’s governance and operations. That included an examination of financial policies, employment policies, strategic plan and code of ethics. It also measured how prepared the organization is for the unexpected, from a natural disaster to sudden departure of the CEO.

“This is about making sure that we have systems in place that will guide the organization no matter who works here,” said Wilder. “This is ultimately about protecting our donors’ money. Good intentions only go so far. We want to institutionalize systems and a culture that promotes transparency and integrity in all that we do.”

As part of the compliance process, over 25 new policies were drafted and approved by the VMC Foundation Board of Directors, with the application itself comprising 649 pages of content. The process touched on issues such as diversity, gender discrimination and racism that are roiling many American workplaces.

“I’m most proud of our new Cultural Humility Policy that address head-on our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion,” said Wilder. “That came out of this process, and we are a much stronger organization for it.”

Though the VMC Foundation is an independent agency, its mission is to serve as the fundraising arm of the County of Santa Clara Health System and its flagship public hospital, Santa Clara Valley Medical Center. Those are public entities and subject to meticulous oversight. Wilder wanted the same for the VMC Foundation.

“Our work reflects on the County of Santa Clara and Santa Clara Valley Medical Center,” said Wilder. “We have to be held to a high standard.”

This achievement would not have been possible without the support of the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University, which worked directly with the Standards for Excellence Institute® to promote the accreditation program to Silicon Valley organizations.

“The Markkula Center reviewed programs nationwide before becoming a replication partner for the Standards for Excellence Institute,” said Joan Harrington, Assistant Director of Social Sector Ethics at the Markkula Center. “This is the most rigorous and meaningful certification program in the social sector. We are so pleased that the VMC Foundation stepped up as a leader in Silicon Valley.”

The Markkula Center is keen on seeing more organizations apply as a way to strengthen the local nonprofit sector, and to give potential donors a new tool to seek out philanthropy partners. Wilder hopes to support that effort.

“Volvo famously did not patent their seatbelt,” Wilder said. “I hope to share lessons learned with other organizations and help them apply, because we want to send a message to our donor community that the nonprofit sector in Silicon Valley is driven by the highest standards for ethics.”

About Valley Medical Center Foundation

The Valley Medical Center Foundation is an independent, community-driven 501c3 nonprofit organization founded to support Silicon Valley’s most vital public health institution – Santa Clara Valley Medical Center Hospitals & Clinics. In partnership with SCVMC, the VMC Foundation raises philanthropic dollars to improve existing services, pioneer new models of care, and advance the cause of high quality healthcare for all. To learn more, visit

About Standards for Excellence Institute®

The Standards for Excellence® originated as a special initiative of Maryland Nonprofits in 1998 and has since expanded into a national program to help nonprofit organizations achieve the highest benchmarks of ethics and accountability in nonprofit governance, management and operations. The program is offered by eleven state, regional and national affiliate organizations, and is supported by nearly 80 Licensed Consultants and over 100 volunteers with professional experience in nonprofit governance and administration. Since its inception, the program has accredited or recognized over 200 individual nonprofit organizations that completed a rigorous application and review process to demonstrate adherence to the Standards for Excellence®: An Ethics and Accountability Code for the Nonprofit Sector.

a picture of Chris Wilder holding up and posing with devices that all say "Healthcare for all. We mean it."

A new look for a new year

Since you’re reading this post, we probably don’t have to say the obvious: the VMC Foundation has just launched a new website alongside a new logo.   Planning started nearly a year ago, and on the way we engaged with dozens of champions and experts on how to best execute a new look.  We’re very pleased with the outcome, and hope you are too.   A few quick thoughts.

The logo

Our goal here is clear – we wanted a look that better reflected the hospital and health system that this foundation was created to serve.  The old, cursive logo was too often misunderstood by the general public, and had no obvious visual connection to SCVMC.  Yes, the Foundation is an independent, nonprofit organization legally separate from the County of Santa Clara and SCVMC, but our mission, values and work are totally connected.  The new logo tells that story.  It was designed pro bono by Maricich Health, the folks that brought you the “Go Public” campaign.

The website

We worked with designer extraordinaire Annabel Mangold to bring you a sleek, contemporary site that adds lots of new functionality.  You’ll see a new section dedicated just for SCVMC and Health System staff so that they know best how the Foundation can support their work.   You’ll also see a listing of nearly all our programs and campaigns, and an overview of all the ways you can support the VMC Foundation.

The site photography is all original as well, shot at various SCVMC locations by Atlanta-based photojournalist Artem Nazarov.  It captures unique, intimate and otherwise visually compelling moments that convey the day-to-day magic of SCVMC.

We’re very proud of the new site and logo, just like we’re proud of the work we get to do each day.  Thanks for reading, and thank you for being a champion of our public healthcare system that serves everyone and anyone regardless of ability to pay.

Have feedback on the site?  Send us an email.

Can’t get enough of 2016? Check out our Annual Report

We are pleased to share our 2016 Annual Report, highlighting the terrific people and projects that made last year a special one.  The report also includes our Includes Independent Auditors’ Report and Financial Statements.

To read the report, visit our “Publications” page under the “About” menu, or click here.

The State of the County 2017

Last night the President of the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors Dave Cortese gave his State of the County Address to a standing-room-only crowd. He spoke for sixty minutes, far longer than his previous SOC address.

…because in 2017, I think you’d agree, there’s more to discuss.

President Dave Cortese (second from  left) with a crew of us who fought for Measure A last year: Ben Field, Betty Duong, Tom Steyer, Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren, me, Supervisor Cindy Chavez and Derecka Mehrens. 

A reminder: The County owns and operates Santa Clara Valley Medical Center and the Health & Hospital System of which it is part–the busiest healthcare deliverer in Silicon Valley and making up roughly half of the 19,000 employees of Santa Clara County (not including some 25,000 home care workers, according to President Cortese, whom he also praised).

But no matter where in the County one works, Dave’s message resonates and in my view, informs how we must think and act: 2017, Dave proclaimed, will be the Year of Compassion.

I was sitting in a section of the Board Chambers last night reserved for we who helped pass Measure A, the County’s historic supportive housing bond. Along with my colleagues Kevin Zwick and Derecka Mehrens, we applauded throughout Cortese’s speech and took pride every time he referenced the bond measure to upend the housing crisis. And the reason we did, he reiterated again and again, was that ours is a compassionate community.

At times he openly defied recent federal threats to our region’s marginalized and underserved, referencing the recent County lawsuit to defend sanctuary policies. It says a lot about our County that this was the strongest applause line of the night: All the work we’ve done, all the people we’ve helped, all the distance we’ve come… We are not going to turn back and abrogate our responsibilities now.

His message of dogged determination and the need for deliberate compassion certainly resonated with me. See what you think; here is Dave Cortese’s State of the County Address (and it’s been edited somewhat; don’t be afraid). Read it and let me know what speaks to you.

Our new Information Kiosk (yes, it really is a big deal…)

Me, my hat (it was cold), Kim Lopez and two excellent volunteers showing the way.

Santa Clara Valley Medical Center just got a little easier to visit, and a little more welcoming!

We’re so proud of our new information kiosk, purchased through generous donations from VMC Foundation supporters. It’s sturdy, wired for electricity, and expertly constructed. It’s even kinda cute; you can’t see in the photo, but it has a tiny Spanish tiled roof.  I was so thrilled when it arrived last week, and was curious to learn how much of a difference it would make.

So, to find out, I spent time there today volunteering. Wow—what an education I got!

Most hospital campuses are huge and sprawling, and ours is bigger than most…and let’s face it: Most of our visitors and patients would rather be somewhere else. They arrived stressed, sick, confused, emotional—and then suddenly have to decide which building is their destination. Signage can be missed, but what cannot be is a friendly face eager to help. Our volunteers are amazing, speak many languages, and now have a station where they can provide a comforting word, a map, and the encouragement of “You’re in the right place; it’s just there, through those doors.”

In the time I spent with our volunteers today, I watched and helped them direct an elderly couple to the Sobrato Cancer Center. A frightened woman was shown our urology clinic. A man, obviously not feeling well, got to the Express Care center with no trouble. Absent our kiosk and the team inside, I’m convinced their experiences would have been less positive. I mean, it’s hard finding your way around any complex set of buildings (remember your first day of middle school)…and when you’re under the weather, it’s much harder.

That’s why, I’m convinced, that another frequent request is “Can you help me find my car?” When parking in a 5-story garage, and your mind is on a loved one who is hospitalized…well, you get the picture. We’ve all done it, and nothing takes the edge off like having someone there to help you.

This is just one more way that your public hospital is making the experience better for everyone…and we at the VMC Foundation are so pleased to have helped make this possible. If you are a donor, THANK YOU, because YOU helped make this tiny bit of new real estate a reality. And as small as it is, it’s already making a BIG difference every hour, every day.

My final interaction before I left the kiosk was a man who approached and said “This is where I get information?” I told him it was.

“Great. What’s the capital of South Dakota?”

Support the VMC Foundation on Giving Tuesday

November 29th is Giving Tuesday, a national day of selfless generosity around the annual shopping and spending season – and we’re asking for your support.

For today only – all donations we receive, up to $5,000, will be matched dollar-for-dollar by a very generous donor. Click here to donate.


The kindhearted donor who offered this match is Judy Cosgrove, the VMC Foundation’s former Major Gifts Officer. Most recently, Judy served as a rockstar member of our Board of Directors. Judy is a dedicated and tireless advocate for Valley Medical Center.

Please take a moment to show your support for the life-saving care provided by Valley Medical Center, home to San Jose’s only Level 1 Trauma Center. This is a service any of us could rely on in case of a serious accident, regardless of where you typically receive your healthcare.

Giving Tuesday is a great way to balance the consumerism marked by Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and the rest of the holiday season. Please join us by making a gift to the VMC Foundation today, and have it doubled. Click here to make a secure donation.

A great victory…and the future it informs.

yes-on-aThere is an adage that goes “success has a thousand parents; failure is an orphan”. This, obviously, speaks to people and organizations who seek credit for a good thing happening. Sometimes that’s unjustified and unfair.

But what about when a great success really does come about because so many stood up and stepped up? That’s powerful and profound, and that’s exactly what happened in Santa Clara County this summer and fall…and the victory came together the night of November 8, 2016, when Measure A was approved by the voters.

…not that we knew it at the time.

We needed 66.67% to win, and it took nearly two weeks to certify that we won with 67.67%. Obviously, we won by a very, VERY narrow margin of a single percentage point.

A reminder, in case you’re late to this party: Measure A provides $950,000,000 to build supportive housing, low-income housing and to help first-time home-buyers.  The lion’s share, paid for with a property tax increase, will kick Silicon Valley’s homelessness crisis to the curb. That crisis is arguably the worst in the nation, and county voters demonstrated on Election Day that they have heart, they want to help, and they embrace the common good. Considering the results at the top of the ticket, this victory and the compassion it reveals is extremely important.

What’s also electrifying is the number of non-profit organizations that got involved, many for the first time. To do that, their leadership needed to confront and reject a myth that 501c3 tax-exempt charities cannot “do politics”. I’ve written about this myth before, and this summer and fall after jumping in head-first to this effort, I worked to educate and urge my colleagues in the “public benefit sector” that contributing time, talent and treasure to Measure A was

  • Perfectly legal;
  • A moral obligation;
  • A path to your own success, and;
  • The only way we were going to win.

Let’s explore these four areas a little…and at the end, I’ll explain why.

Perfectly Legal. That is, if you follow the rules. No big deal; we do it every day. It’s legal to drive your Corvette 70MPH. But only on some roads. If you’re sober. And you’re a licensed driver. Rules…we learn them and abide by them. In the case of charities and elections, California’s rules are quite clear: Your charity cannot officially support a candidate, but you can support a non-partisan initiative or measure so long as it relates to your mission (why homelessness and health care are related should be evident, but if it’s not don’t worry: It will be by the end of this essay).

The general rule is 20%–that is, a nonprofit charity can donate 20% of their annual budget to a ballot initiative in California, and spend right around that much staff time advocating. There are reporting requirements that get a little complex, but not nearly as complex as, say, your annual audit!  Again, it’s a matter of learning the rules and following them. If you’re lucky and can afford it, a nonprofit or election lawyer is smart to engage…or better yet, talk one into joining your board!

Here is a great place to start to learn the details of campaign/lobbying rules…and remember, rules change all the time, so don’t just rely on one source of information.

A Moral Obligation. Those who work for/run nonprofits do so to get rich and buy jet airplanes. Kidding! We are fiercely dedicated to the idea of reconfiguring parts of the world for the betterment of others. We love animals and want them safe. We detest prejudice and injustice. We want to slow climate change so it doesn’t destroy Florida.  Or, in the case of Measure A, we feel that everyone deserves a place to live and that homelessness is worth fighting.

None of that makes us saints or even unusual. People who run hotels and who sell falafel for a living also care about these things…if they didn’t, Measure A wouldn’t have passed. But here’s the difference: If you work for a homeless shelter or a food bank, you understand the issue WAY better than the average person. If you and your agency sit on the sidelines while the community discusses supportive housing, the issue and level of discourse is short-changed. Your voice is necessary. Your opinion piece in the newspaper is vital. Your agency’s money is a bit greener. Your endorsement counts…more than that of others. Not getting involved is simply not okay.

A Path to Your Own Success. Homelessness, for example, is sad and awful. That’s why people are compelled to help. Also, homelessness is expensive. I knew the number was big, having spent time with so many providers, but even I was shocked when I learned that Santa Clara Valley Medical Center (the hospital my agency supports) spent nine hundred million dollars over a four-year period providing care for people who are homeless. Add in other county (tax-payer provided) interventions like law enforcement and social services, and you’ll find we spend over five hundred million in just one year, not counting the program budgets of the dozens of nonprofits on the front lines.

And the real tragedy? People are, generally speaking, NOT getting better. How could they? Managing people’s chronic health conditions while they’re living in a creek bed? Helping people with mental health conditions while they’re living under a freeway overpass? What the ping pong balls do we expect? This is why the housing first model makes logical sense, and why so many nonprofits ultimately came aboard the Measure A Campaign: Working hard to serve people whose lives aren’t measurably improved by your service is soul-crushing—among people like doctors, nurses and social workers whose hearts and souls are huge.

Fundamentally, the heroes of Santa Clara Valley Medical Center—along with my colleagues who run nonprofits like HomeFirst, The Health Trust, Destination Home, Momentum for Mental Health, Catholic Charities…they care about people. When asked why a hospital foundation was all-in on a homelessness measure, I would often site those great agencies and say “I want their work to work better.”

The Only Way We’re Going to Win. Like it or not, campaigns are expensive. Cheap compared to the homelessness crisis, but still. We faced the longest ballot in California history, and local measures are way, way down near the bottom. To earn the attention and vote of enough Santa Clara County residents this year, we figured we’d need to raise a million and a half bucks. At least.

But here’s the problem, which is really the central message of this rambling treatise: Lots of nonprofits didn’t even know they could get involved! What an untapped resource (I reasoned), and opportunity to exceed those fundraising goals. By the time I jumped in, our badass County Supervisor Cindy Chavez had already convinced several charities to give big, and the VMC Foundation immediately endorsed and gave (gulp) $100,000. This was not funny-money; this was operational reserve. This was a risk.

cookieNow, we’d done that before and more than once, so I also saw that my obligation was to help educate other 501c3’s that they needed to ante up. Boy, did they ever! By November the Measure A Campaign had raised a whopping $2.3 million. There has never been a time in Silicon Valley where more nonprofits joined housing developers, wealthy progressives and other stakeholders to amass such a war chest. All that money was turned into direct mail to voters, radio, TV, YouTube, and (not making this up) 15,000 cookies given out on college campuses…anything really, to rise above the Clinton/Trump noise and Be Heard. We also hired seasoned campaign professionals – the best we could find.

The nonprofit community stepped up in other important ways. Many of us are members of the San Jose Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce, and together, we convinced them to withdraw their initial opposition to Measure A. We wrote letters to editors, penned opinion pieces for every newspaper in the valley, and spoke at every community gathering we could find. Closer to November 8, we got on the phones and never stopped dialing. We pounded the pavement with literature. We went bananas on social media. If not bananas, then


Election Night, November 8, 2016. The shock of Donald Trump’s victory muted what would have otherwise been a great celebration: Measure A passed—by a hair. This is revealing on a number of fronts. First, we needed every agency, every donor, every dollar to win. Had any of our handful of six-figure contributors sat on the sidelines, we likely would have lost. And because giving means commitment, agencies that contributed were also there with volunteers walking and phoning. It took every one of them to get us across that goal line.

Second, this victory speaks to who we are in Silicon Valley. With civility and compassion in short supply nationally, we dig deep and find it here. We’ve done it before, many times, for similar reasons: If Washington won’t help us solve problems, we’ll solve them ourselves. For example, with the election of George W. Bush in 2000, Santa Clara County leaders realized no one was going to help us provide care to underserved kids. Thus, the Children’s Health Initiative was created by county officials, labor leaders and funders who responded to the problem and built an innovative solution to it. Years later, it would be replicated by most counties in the state. Years still later, Governor Brown made it the law of the land. As a result, every child in California has access to health coverage.

That’s a major triumph, right? That’s why my third and final point is that we must keep the band together. Pundits and newspapers described Measure A as “game-changing”, a “hail Mary pass”, “staggeringly ambitious” and “unprecedented.” Every nonprofit who joined the coalition should feel proud and electrified, because all of us, together, made it happen. I’ve already described how every ounce of energy and every dime donated was necessary to win, so now let’s ask the obvious question: What’s next?

Keeping a coalition together is never easy, but the “other” major event of November 8 reveals that we simply must. If Trump’s promise to repeal the Affordable Care Act is actuated, if persecution of specific religious groups is encouraged, if trickle-down economics widens evenangela further the economic canyon swallowing more and more in our community…well, you get it. We’ve got our work cut out for us.

So, even loosely, we nonprofits have to stay united to further the progressive policies on which we agree. We have become a multi-celled customizable action tank for addressing needs. As the greatest needs emerge, and as solutions are proposed, and to the degree those solutions require a massive coalition of idealistic leaders, we must be ready and be together. If you’ve read this far, you may very well be one of those idealistic leaders. We’ve proven we can do amazing things. You are awesome. We are awesome. Let’s meet for coffee soon. I’ll buy.

Chris Wilder honored by PACT – this is what he said

Chris at PACT

On Thursday, October, 13, VMC Foundation CEO Chris Wilder was honored by People Acting in Community Together (PACT) as the 2016 Top Community Builder. This recognition was bestowed on Chris for his leadership and commitment to the health and well-being of the Silicon Valley community through many roles and causes over the past 25 years. PACT is a multicultural, multi-faith, grassroots organization the empowers everyday people to create a more healthy and just community.

Chris was recognized alongside John Tortora, COO of the San Jose Sharks.

Below is a transcript of his remarks to the 500+ guests in attendance at the Santa Clara Convention Center.


Thank you Leah [Toeniskoetter who introduced me], our Board of Directors past and present, our amazing staff past and present, friends and family.

My pal J and I went out Sunday to Los Gatos and dropped literature for Measure A. (show measure A). While doing this, we were able to reminisce about our time in the late 80’s/early 90’s doing door-to-door canvassing. The real stuff: Not just leaving a flyer, but actually knocking on doors. Not just gathering signatures or votes, but raising money! How many of you have done this? [many hands raised].

This is super hard work; the hardest way to raise money I know. J and I were laughing about all the stories, the things that happen to you when you’re knocking on doors…from being totally ignored, or being threatened with a trespassing lawsuit, to verbal abuse to unwanted sexual advances – and that’s just when you knock  on Donald Trump’s door!

Sorry, I didn’t write that; these jokes write themselves.

Anyway, it’s no wonder canvassing is hard – you knock on someone’s door at 6:30 at night, they’re trying to feed the baby! And the toddler! They just got home, they’re tired. They’re certainly not expecting YOU…never once did I knock on someone’s door and have them say “you know, I was just thinking about the reauthorization of the clean water act, hoping someone would come by and engage me civically!”

And yet, on any given night, a canvasser could expect to raise a couple hundred bucks and sign up five new members of the group. Then we’d go to Sacramento and meet with senators and show them how many of their constituents cared about this or that issue—cared so much, in fact, they were willing to give fifty bucks to this hippy stranger who just showed up on their front door! And then in 1990 Anna Eshoo came to our office and said, “You know, I lost my race for congress two years ago and I want to run again, and you guys go door-to-door in what would be MY district, so you probably know the electorate better than me – what can you teach me?” I was 22. That was cool. Then of course, she did get elected and has served in Congress to this day, representing—in my view—the public interest very powerfully.

So the point here is that this work matters and people really do care! If they didn’t, disasters like Flint Michigan’s water supply would happen more often. Powerful people who put their interests over public interest would win more often, thanks to people like you and organizations like PACT, this is a better place to live than it would be otherwise. The fact that people care is the reason that, if I deserve this honor at all, then we all deserve it. People give to the VMC Foundation not because of me, but because VMC is a jewel, essential for all who live here. Let’s be clear:  I don’t save lives! Doctors like Balaji Govindaswami, SCVMC’s Chief of Newborn Care is sitting there, and over there is Dr. Gregg Adams, our Chief of Surgery, and there’s lifelong RN Sue Kehl, the Director of Women and Childrens’ Health…THEY save lives! And our leaders like CEO Paul Lorenz sitting right there, and COO Benita McLaren who run the place…what do I do? I TALK about it all! And ALL the caregivers are amazing, and everyone deserves quality health care…and guys like John Tortora and the Sharks and SAP care as much about the community as they do about winning hockey games. That’s why I don’t deserve this award unless you all deserve it too. And you do.

I’d like to close with a word about RISK. In the late 80’s I left a potentially safe career in hotel management and fell into political organizing. And 13 years ago I joined the VMC Foundation despite having exactly zero knowledge about medical care. And yes, I raise money in unconventional ways…and so people say “wow, you’re willing to risk!”

Maybe…but I’m frankly a little tired of successful, wealthy, well educated, straight white men telling rooms-full of people that they need to be willing to risk. Because that’s not fair. If you’re struggling to feed your kids and pay the rent, and you have no savings and you don’t have a college education, then your opportunities to risk and throw caution to the wind are pretty limited. If you don’t have a spouse like I do, willing to support my risky moves, then the risks may be too high. Kate and I don’t have kids, we’re not a paycheck away from a shelter, so I’m lucky enough that I get to risk.

But organizations like PACT give folks a chance to risk, by putting themselves in unfamiliar and scary situations, and to band together to get things done—without undue risk in a world that doesn’t always reward it.

So yes, I do this work because I am lucky and I get to. And because bad things are wrong, and somebody should do something about everything. Or, put slightly more eloquently by Bobby Kennedy in 1966 in a speech to students in South Africa that I only learned about in 1999:

Each time a [person] stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, [they send] forth a tiny ripple of hope. And crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.

Thank you PACT, for sending forth those ripples, and thank you all, for helping build that current. I’m honored and grateful.