Cathy Luce joined MeHAF in April 2002 as an administrative assistant and over 17 years later, left her role as MeHAF’s Director of Grants Management in August 2019 to pursue a PhD in Philanthropic Studies at Indiana University’s Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. Before she left, Communications Associate Jeb Murphy sat down with Cathy to gather her reflections on long tenure at the Foundation. This blog captures highlights of that conversation.
Jeb Murphy: Looking Back on 17 years at MeHAF, what has changed?
Cathy Luce: I wasn’t drawn to MeHAF because I wanted to be an administrative assistant. I was drawn to MeHAF’s mission, because of experiences I had as an uninsured person, a person who was insured through the Medicaid program, and even someone who had had private insurance.
We definitely started with a traditional view of what we thought philanthropy was. We were here to screen for eligibility, and make sure that the money was not ‘wasted.’ And even if we tried to do it in a humble way, it was still sort of the ‘oversight philosophy.’
I think what has been great, is that over the years, we have really taken strides toward focusing on being good stewards, but in a way that’s more about serving nonprofits and partners. We’ve worked to transition towards what we hope philanthropy will be.
JM: Although I’m sure there are many things that will come to mind with this question, what do you think you are most proud of in your time at MeHAF?
CL: I’m most proud of really giving grants management a voice in the organization, because not all foundations are designed in a way where grants management staff is part of the program team and have a voice in shaping content as well as process.
I’m proud of bringing our grants management system to something more modern and user-friendly for our applicants and grantees. Everything that I’ve tried to do in grants management has always taken into account the nonprofits that we serve, their work, and how I could make things as easy as possible for them. Knowing that they have to go through this grant writing exercise, it is always important to ask ‘is there a way to make it a little less painful?’
JM: What are your final thoughts as you leave MeHAF, and Maine, to embark on something new?
CL: My message to Maine nonprofit organizations seeking to improve health and health care is to keep up the good fight. Be open to the mindset of being a partner with MeHAF as opposed to seeing the foundation as a benefactor. I think that MeHAF is really trying to listen and change, and be more responsive to communities, grantees, and the nonprofits doing the hard work. Just continue. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Don’t be afraid to even question why we’re doing something the way we’re doing it because it’s important for us to hear that, and sometimes we forget. Don’t be scared to apply for a grant.
As far as health and health care, Maine still has a lot of work to do around equity and inclusion. The equity work that we’ve been doing has been really important. Part of me says, ‘it’s about time.’ It’s an issue that a lot of Mainers don’t necessarily see, you know? And I haven’t always seen some of the racial structures and systems and how they were created.
JM: And, with 17 years of hands on experience, any final thoughts on Philanthropy as an industry?
CL: We have to stop thinking about Philanthropy as grant writing, grant getting, and donations. Philanthropy, at its true purpose, is not just for the rich, or top one percent, or even endowments and foundations with lots of money.
“Philanthropy,” as defined, means the love of humanity and betterment of others and is really something that just about everyone can engage in at some point in their life. The Lilly School, where I will be pursuing my PhD, has a tagline that states: Improving Philanthropy to Improve the World.
I believe in that as a philosophy and I’ve spent the last few years coaching myself to be willing to just not accept what is, and to go after what can be.
I think, really, philanthropy, done well, can change the world.