Leadership insight: Q&A with Colleen Zimmerman

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Executive director of development and alumni relations Colleen Zimmerman talked with Kate Wright about her role at the school, raising money from nurses, and her hopes for the future of the school.

Kate Wright (KW): What does the executive director of development and alumni relations do at UMSN?

Colleen Zimmerman (CZ): I oversee all of the fundraising, alumni relations, and some of the external relations. We work with alumni and non-alumni who have an interest in nursing or the future of nursing, or frankly, the future of health care. Corporations, foundations, also hospitals and clinics want to work with UMSN. We are a liaison for not only fundraising and revenue, but also for relationships and exposure.

KW: How did you find your way to UMSN?

CZ: Prior to my joining all of the great people here, I was at the U-M Office of University Development. I was looking for my next challenge, and I happened to see Kate Potempa (former UMSN dean) speak at a women’s leadership conference.  When we had a conversation and she explained her goals for a new School of Nursing Building, I immediately signed on. That was in 2011.

KW: So that was your first big challenge.

CZ: Yes. The building fundraising and the capital campaign were my first big projects. A capital campaign is a great way to set and communicate priorities so that everyone who donates knows what the goals are.

KW: Have you found the nursing community to be different or unique compared to other groups you’ve worked with?

CZ: Nurses tend to think about others. So when approached about giving money, nurses don’t often want to give money in their name. What I have found is that nurses will name something after someone close to them. Nurses as volunteers are incredibly efficient. If you give them something to do, they complete it immediately and come back for more.

Nurses are very detail-oriented and they know if you make a mistake. And they will point it out, usually in a kind way.

KW: What gets people most excited about UMSN?

CZ: I think once someone understands the real impact of a single nurse in a patient’s life, they are excited about UMSN. The stories that I hear about are deeply emotional. People know that if it wasn’t for a nurse, or nurses, their experience in a health care system would have been very different. Patients and their families will tell you how critical nurses are.

KW: If you could snap your fingers and make three things happen for UMSN, what would they be?

CZ: The first is I would like a naming gift for the School of Nursing. People think putting your name on a building is the important thing, but it’s actually the impact of what those dollars do for a school. If we had 100 million dollars for the School of Nursing, we could do so much!

The next is I would like for everyone – not just the university, but everyone, nationally, globally – to understand the quality of work that goes on in this school. This school produces new theories, ground-breaking research, the evidence basis for practice, and all of that turns into practice changes for healthcare.

Third, I would like for University of Michigan School of Nursing to be the number one nursing school in the world. Oh, and I’d like a winning football team. A national championship. It’s good for fundraising.

KW: What would people be surprised to know about your job?

It’s very personal. You make personal connections with donors. When something happens to donors it’s like it happened to your own family member.

KW: Tell me about your career prior to university fundraising.

CZ: I have a background in accounting and finance. I spent about 11 years at Sallie Mae in operations management. Following that I was an economic developer for the State of Kansas. In that role I recruited and retained businesses to the state. From there I went to the University of Kansas.