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VOL. 126 | NO. 14 | Friday, January 21, 2011

Service and Community at Heart of Chastain’s Career Choices

By Aisling Maki

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Chris Chastain’s career can be characterized by two main themes: service and community.


(Photo: Lance Murphey)

Before stepping into his current role as executive director of the Crittenden Regional Hospital Foundation in June of 2008, Chastain served as associate director of annual giving at Rhodes College, development officer at Baptist Memorial Health Care Foundation and director of institutional advancement at Lausanne Collegiate School.

“I consider myself lucky to have had the opportunity to work with and lead organizations that give me an outlet to satisfy my call to serve,” said Chastain, also a graduate of both the Memphis Leadership Academy and Leadership Arkansas.

But despite the breadth of his fundraising employment experience, he attributes much of his nonprofit know-how to the influential people he’s encountered along the way.

“I’ve learned a great deal from the many people I’ve been lucky enough to surround myself with, who have an attitude of service and a concern for helping people – not just at arm’s length, but really rolling up their sleeves, being hands on and working to form those relationships,” said Chastain, who manages the fundraising arm of the West Memphis hospital, which serves patients in seven counties.

The foundation’s donor base has grown considerably since Chastain took the helm two and a half years ago. Revenue and assets have increased by a sizeable margin, and employee campaign revenue has grown by more than 20 percent.

“Leading a nonprofit organization in 2011 can be a challenge compared to 10 or even five years ago,” he said. “You still need that innate passion for serving people, but now more than ever, leading an effective nonprofit requires business experience to ensure that the organization remains sustainable.”

Chastain’s strategies have included the development of a well-received annual speaker and dinner series, which got off the ground in 2009 with physician and activist Patch Adams, portrayed by Robin Williams in the 1999 film of the same name.

And last year, Chastain brought Sean Swarner, the first cancer survivor to climb Mount Everest, to The Peabody hotel for an evening to share his inspirational story.

“We’re really excited about the exposure that the series has given to the hospital and the foundation,” Chastain said. “It’s been tremendous, and I’m excited about what it means for bringing in donations and the opportunities to work with vendors. And it’s not always about the money; it’s about being able to have build relationships and develop different ways that everybody can benefit. When it comes down to it, it’s all about the patient.”

Chastain said that one of his goals for 2011 is to “solidify an effective annual giving campaign. We’re in a position to plan for one and execute one, which will do wonders for the future of the hospital and the foundation.”

Chastain’s other initiatives have included the development of an employee crisis fund that provides short-term assistance for hospital employees who’ve experienced hardships, and a patient assistance fund to provide immediate financial assistance to patients in need.

“The patient assistance fund mostly involves purchasing medicine for people so they can be discharged from the hospital,” he said. “That fund has increased 570 percent since last year. In 2009 we approved 17 requests and provided $1,500 in assistance. In 2010, we approved 64 requests and did almost $9,000. It’s doing fantastic things for patients.”

Additional recent projects have included the purchase of a Web-based patient education system and a new child vision-testing system that can diagnose vision problems in children as young as six months of age; the renovation of an Intensive Care waiting room; and the creation of “jungle room” for pediatric day surgery patients to choose a stuffed animal friend to watch over them during what can be a frightening time for a child.

“It’s fun to watch these kids go to the jungle room and actually pick out a toy. It doesn’t take away from the fact that they’re going to have surgery, but it does help to bring them some comfort,” said Chastain, himself the father of two young girls with his wife, Autumn, an attorney in the Shelby County Juvenile Court.

The couple, who met as undergraduates at Rhodes College, owns Mango Street Baby, an independent children’s boutique located in the Regalia Center in East Memphis.

“We’re a good team. We’re a fantastic team,” he said about his wife. “We’re both able to understand the bigger picture, and that’s really about our family.”

The family man is also a weekend warrior who has competed in such esteemed events as the New York Marathon and the Ironman Florida Triathlon, which he calls “the best stress relief I can imagine.”

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