For her job interview with CHOC President and Chief Executive Officer Kimberly Chavalas Cripe, Jessica Miley showed up an hour early.
As chief operating officer of the Children’s National Hospital Foundation in Washington, D.C., Jessica was responsible forsecuring six of the eight $10-million-plus individual gifts the hospital has received in its 150-year history, including its largest ever of $96 million to support neuro-oncology, during her five years there.
Jessica, who has 20 years of success in fundraising, with 17 years spent at children’s hospitals, had a couple of offers on the table when CHOC reached out to her about the position of senior vice president and chief development officer of the CHOC Foundation. She arrived early for her interview for a reason.
“I sat in the lobby of the Bill Holmes Tower (at CHOC Hospital) and watched how the security officer and every hospital associate interacted with visitors, and the way parents’ and kids’ faces lit up when they saw the bright colors and the Disney themes, and in my heart of hearts, I knew I belonged here,” she recalls.
“There’s a special spirit here. I’ve been to dozens of children’s hospitals, and there’s something so unique about CHOC.”
Jessica nailed the interview and began her duties July 11, 2023.
Jessica has ambitious goals for fundraising as construction continues on the Southwest Tower, the nine-story outpatient building opening in summer 2025 on the Orange campus, and as CHOC progresses on its enterprise-wide roadmap to transform into one of the nation’s leading pediatric healthcare systems.
The CHOC Foundation is in great hands, longtime admirers of Jessica say.
“You guys are so lucky to have her,” says Margaret Holman, a New York-based fundraising consultant whofor more than three decadeshas worked with a variety of non-profit organizations, including hospitals, to help them raise money and who has been a mentor and close friend of Jessica for almost 20 years.
“Successful fundraisers have to have a variety of skills,” Margaret explains. “The primary one is the ability to really listen. You also have to believe in the mission of the organization and definitely be a people person. And you have to understand what motivates donors to make gifts.
“Jessica is a very skilled listener and she’s very intuitive. The biggest gifts a donor will make come from their heart, and not from their head. Jessica has all of these skills in abundance, as well as a big heart.”
Jessica’s desire to help others — as well as her extraordinary organizational, motivational, and people skills — was evident in middle school. When she was 12, she started a club that later became the non-profit organization Wisdom Keepers, which sent busloads of students weekly to visit a seniors home (the non-profit no longer is active).
“The people who lived there didn’t get a lot of visitors, but they were full of wisdom,” says Jessica, “and they viewed us kids as full of wisdom because we taught them computer skills.”
She adds: “I knew when I was growing up I wanted to help people. I was enthusiastic about knowing that I could do something to improve other people’s lives. And this experience really opened my heart and was when I first realized I could make a career out of it.”
Jessica’s family had just moved to Erie, Penn., where Jessica spent her teen years and went to college.
In high school, she was named Pennsylvania’s volunteer student of the year for developing educational materials for teens about AIDS and HIV – an accomplishment that landed her an invite to the White House and a special meeting with Magic Johnson.
Her volunteer work also earned her a spot among a contingent of Erie officials during a summer visit to sister city Zibo, China.
At the University of Pittsburgh, where she studied sociology and psychology, Jessica volunteered for the Make-A-Wish Foundation, counseled youth in juvenile detention centers, and spent a summer in a small village in Tanzania with pre-med students on an AIDS-related research mission.
For being named senior of the year, her name is etched on a large stone outside the Cathedral of Learning, the 42-story skyscraper that serves as the centerpiece of the University of Pittsburgh’s main campus.
Meeting her mentor
After college, Jessica remained at the University of Pittsburgh as manager of volunteer programs while she pursued a master’s degree in public administration. She stayed at her alma mater for several years before she moved to New York City to become the national director of development at the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America.
It was during her three years there when she met her mentor, Margaret.
“She attended a seminar I ran and asked several intelligent questions during the Q&A,” Margaret recalls.
Jessica and Margaret met after the seminar and neither had lunch plans so they dined together. A close bond was forged.
“She was charming and knew her stuff and knew the correct questions to ask,” Margaret says, “and I was very much impressed. She’s just an extraordinary person and I’m lucky to know her.”
More than a career
Margaret urged Jessica to take her next job: senior director of international development, principal gifts, at Boston Children’s Hospital Trust, where she worked fromMarch 2009 to April 2018 before joining Children’s National.
At the nation’s top-ranked pediatric hospital, Jessica conceptualized, launched and led its first international fundraising program, growing revenue to $33 million in 2018 from $1.4 million in 2014. That effort took her to 13 countries annually.
Children’s hospitals had become more than a career for Jessica.
Her son, Mateo, has had long-term colorectal health issues and is on the road to recovery.
Jessica and her husband, Alejandro Brubaker, who she met while they were both interns at Walt Disney World, also have a daughter, Adriana.
Empowering her staff
As head of the CHOC Foundation, Jessica manages a staff of around 60.
“My team doesn’t work for me. I work for them,” explains Jessica. My role is to make sure they have the tools and strategic guidance – everything necessary to be successful. My goal is to make the CHOC Foundation the No. 1 donor experience in the area.
“I want people to say, ‘I want to give to CHOC, not only because of the mission and the great work they’re doing at the hospital, but because the foundation staff makes it a really good experience for me.’”
Although Jessica is an expert at securing principal/transformational gifts for children’s hospitals, every gift is important, she says.
One of her favorite accomplishments at Boston Children’s was finding a donor to support a global fellowship for nursing education.
“This nurse had an idea that if you teach other nurses around the world, you can make a difference,” Jessica says. “There’s something so powerful about connecting a donor’s goals to a mission, and that gift totally changed the career path of that nurse. It’s moments like these when I realize this is what fundraising is really all about.”
Jessica is excited about CHOC’s future.
“I cannot wait for a year from now, two years from now, five years from now and say, ‘Look what we’ve done for the kids in Orange County and beyond,’” she says. “‘Look what we’re doing for the kids all over California. Look what our research is doing for kids out of the country.’
“As the philanthropic entity of the hospital, the CHOC Foundation has the opportunity to help make these big visions come true. It’s really cool, and so exciting!”