Shanna Hocking is the Associate Vice President, Individual Giving at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, providing strategic leadership and direction to a team of 35+ across annual, major, planned, principal, and international giving. Previously, Shanna was the Senior Director of Major and Planned Gifts at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, where she led the major and planned gifts program, and served as a senior fundraiser for the institution, engaging alumni primarily in New York City and London. In addition, she developed and directed Wharton Women in Leadership, an initiative to engage senior executive alumnae as volunteer and philanthropic leaders with the School. She previously worked in development at The University of Alabama, Duke University, and the Jewish Theological Seminary. Shanna frequently speaks, writes, and serves as a podcast guest on the topics of leadership, fundraising and career development. She has been published on Fast Company, The Huffington Post, Career Contessa, Forbes, and Motherly. Shanna’s expertise has been featured in the Harvard Business Review and Thrive Global. Shanna received a B.A. in Psychology from Columbia University and a B.A. in Modern Jewish Studies from the Jewish Theological Seminary. She is a Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE).
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Ifeel like my whole life led me to this career path. As I was growing up, I considered becoming a writer, a social worker, and even a rabbi. Fortunately, I found fundraising when I was a freshman in college, and I worked for four years in the development office at my alma mater. Over the last 18 years, I have built a successful career in development. Now I lead a team of 35 committed individuals who advance the fundraising mission of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. In addition, I am a speaker, writer, and podcast guest on the topics of leadership, fundraising, and career development. These career choices have allowed me to combine all of those dreams I had growing up, by serving others, helping people accomplish what they never thought possible, and encouraging others to use their voices.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
What I love so much about my job is working with the amazing people in my office. Every month I organize a meeting for my full team where we share stories, learning, wins, and ideas. Many of my favorite, and most interesting, work moments happen in those meetings — when someone offers feedback, when we learn something new, and when we laugh together.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I don’t know if it was so funny to me then, but it does seem funny now — when I first started out, I thought I was supposed to do things the same way as everyone else in the company. I had nearly forgotten that what got me into the role was my innovative approach and willingness to take on new projects. It was important for me to remember that great leaders appreciate people for their individual value and contributions, which has allowed me to bring my best self to the organizations for which I have worked.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I work at one of the best pediatric hospitals in the world. Every day, there are nurses, physicians, and staff who are advancing science and providing hope. When I walk into the main atrium of the hospital, I feel pride at what is made possible through my organization. I feel that same pride in my monthly team meetings when I look out over my incredible team members and see their passion and commitment to the work.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Right now, I am working on a project to fundraise for the second children’s hospital in our system. This is a huge first for Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. We serve patients and families from around the region, country, and world, providing world-class care, and we will expand our capabilities. I am confident this will help many people.
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
I would tell female leaders to trust themselves. They are strong, and brave, and deserve the roles that they have. To help their team thrive, they should use their voices to speak up in meetings; coach and mentor earlier career staff; advocate for their team’s needs; and model strength and vulnerability. I would remind these female leaders of how amazing they are, and then encourage them to bring out that amazingness in others.
What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
Be true to your best and highest use of time. You can’t be involved in all of the details anymore, nor can you be as present with each individual team member as you may have been in the past. Coach your team to your vision, trust and empower your team to make decisions, model for them how you want to be kept informed, and celebrate with them. This may feel like you are losing control, but instead you are expanding it.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I am grateful to so many people who helped me get to where I am today. I can think of one personally especially. At 19, I cold called the Associate Vice President of Development at Duke to ask him to hire me as a summer development intern — when there weren’t any job openings. That phone call to Bob Shepard changed my life. He hired me for the summer, hired me back the next summer and remains one of my most treasured mentors all these years later.
As I started to think about how I may want to leverage my strengths and grow my career before taking the job I have now, I sought Bob’s counsel. I talked about jobs that were one level above in the organizational chart and he listened and thoughtfully offered advice. During one of our conversations, he offhandedly said, “You know, I think you could be looking at AVP jobs, if you wanted to.” I remember thinking in that moment how much his feedback meant to me. This was, after all, the role he had been in when I first met him — the job I wanted to have “someday” — and he thought I was ready.
Women can tend to downplay their skills and accomplishments; we do not think of our achievements as special compared to others. The value in Bob suggesting this idea to me is that I learned to consider it for myself and what it really meant. It wasn’t about a title for me; it was the opportunity to lead an organization at the enterprise level with all the challenges and learning that came with it. My own thinking had been limiting me from doing exactly what I wanted to do and Bob reminded me of my strengths.
Throughout my career, Bob has been a sounding board, an advocate, and a sponsor. From the very beginning, he took a chance on me. He challenges me to think broader and bigger, sharing his insights while encouraging me to follow my own path. Bob is the kind of person who says great things about me to other people when I am not there. He believed in me and I learned to believe in myself.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I love this question. I believe it is my responsibility to bring goodness to the world. In addition to my work that I do every day to create breakthroughs through Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, I speak and write about leadership, fundraising, and career development to help others on their journeys. I coach and mentor people at different stages in their careers. I volunteer with other nonprofit organizations to support the communities in which I have lived.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
You Don’t Have to Know All the Answers
It is common for first-time managers to expect themselves to know the answer to every question. I spent far too long thinking how much I knew reflected how “good” I was at something. Instead, I should have valued the learning process, which allows you to continue to grow.
Learn as much as you can about your role, your team members, and your company. This way, you’ll have a foundational understanding and also can identify others who are resources. Be willing to say, “I don’t know” when you really don’t know. Your team members will appreciate your vulnerability, and being a part of finding the answer with you.
Manage People the Way They Want to Be Managed
It can be natural to think that what is meaningful to you will also be meaningful to others. As a successful leader, you should manage people the way they want to be managed. This means asking questions and listening. Seek to understand who your team members are as people, what their needs and values are, as well as their strengths, and then manage them the way that suits them best.
Know that your team members may need different things from you depending on the task and their experience. Assess what each situation needs and lead them accordingly. Being a leader is about flexing to the moment you are in and serving as needed.
There Is No Such Thing As Perfect
I mistakenly thought I could be perfect. All through school, it helped me excel. The drive and needless worrying also wasted energy and time. I agonized over the perfect decision for everything.
What I understand now is that perfectionism is a mask for vulnerability. I believed that revealing any flaw would show others (or worse, myself) that I didn’t really have it all together or was as great as I appeared.
I also learned being your truest self resonates with others. I wish I had stopped searching for perfect and instead found myself. Because once I did, I never looked back.
Feedback is Guidance
I spent far too long avoiding feedback early in my career. I happened to read an article in the New York Times about women and feedback, and it said that feedback was an indication of what others needed from you, not a reflection on yourself. I found this to be insightful, and encouraging of a growth mindset. Using that concept as a guide, I worked to be open to feedback from others — and have committed to sharing feedback to support others’ growth. I personally subscribe to Kim Scott’s concept of radical candor, which means giving feedback because you care. Now I teach my team and others to embrace giving and receiving feedback, as well as the language you need to deliver it effectively, and the confidence to ask for it from others on your way to becoming your best self.
Happiness is Success
From the moment I decided what I wanted to do with my career, I was determined to achieve my goals. I aimed high and raced to reach them, thinking that was where I would find happiness. This worked for a while, but you will not always reach the goal, and sometimes your goal changes. Instead of celebrating progress, I was frustrated I didn’t achieve something.
Ultimately, I realized you don’t find sustainable joy from success; happiness creates success. You are more than your outcomes.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
My goal is to inspire a movement to “Be yourself boldly” — intentionally putting your truest, best self out there, because the world needs you.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Some of the best advice I received was: Remember you are making the best decision you can with the information you have at the time.As a working woman and working mother, I have found this reaffirming and supportive of my choices. Now as a manager, I coach my team on this as well, so they know I support and trust them in leading from where they are.
We are blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
It would be fun to have lunch with Tiffany Dufu. Her book, Drop the Ball, was influential in my life as a working woman and mother, and I have shared it with female friends and colleagues. She started her career as a fundraiser, like me, and now she is raising capital as an entrepreneur to help even more women.