Kay Coleman: Building Consensus and Inspiring Change Through Her Career and Volunteerism

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Kay Coleman joins her fellow Board Members and staff from The San Diego Foundation after receiving the American Cancer Society St. George Award.

Anyone who knows Kay Coleman, Board Chair for The San Diego Foundation and Founding Partner of Del Mar Venture Group LLC, will attest to how committed she is to giving her all to make the organizations she supports stronger.

Throughout her entire career, Kay has been someone that leads by example and inspires others to give their best efforts, too.

As a management consultant, she has spent decades helping executives, teams and employees enhance their processes to improve quality, strengthen performance and accomplish their missions. Her career has taken her across the world and into just about every business sector imaginable, spanning the largest Fortune 500 companies to new, emerging corporations.

And no matter what type of organization she is helping, one thing reigns true according to Kay. As she described, “By working collaboratively with others, you can always find new ways to achieve a mission and meet even the most ambitious goals.”

One consulting experience, in particular, was a true test and demonstration of her commitment to doing whatever it takes to support her clients. Over the course of one year, Kay flew three legs and 12 hours each way leaving home on Sundays and returning home on Fridays to get to the Oil Sands in Fort McMurray, AB Canada. The weather was the biggest test of all, going from 60°F in San Diego to  -40° F in Fort McMurray in the winter. She led a team of energy executives and frontline employees through the redesign of their maintenance processes from beginning to end. Implementation required building shared commitment and accountability for its success between all parties, including the C-suite, Engineering, Production, I/T, and HR.

Kay’s unique perspective and skillset has helped support and enhance positive change throughout her career. Yet despite her success as a management consultant, Kay was never just destined to use her skills in the workplace.

In 1998, Kay’s life changed when she was diagnosed with cancer. It was at that moment that her doctor delivered some of the most sobering words she had ever heard in her life – she may not live through the next decade.

After hearing the news and being asked to consider a high-risk treatment, she remembers thinking, “what will my legacy be and what impact would I have had on the world if I passed away right now?”

Kay had always been a driven professional, loving family member and active community member but was there something more she could do? Having always loved academics, the first thing Kay did was to endow a scholarship at her alma mater, the University of Tennessee. Then she started to think about how she could blend her professional skills and her passions to make a meaningful difference in the world.

That’s when she started to get involved with the American Cancer Society.

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Left to right: Board of Governors member Constance Carroll, President & CEO Mark A. Stuart, and P. Kay Coleman

“I knew that I wanted to find a way to help others who were diagnosed with cancer and to help fight cancer from every angle,” shared Kay. “Not being a healthcare professional or a cancer researcher meant that I can contribute best by using my organizational and fundraising skills in a volunteer capacity to further this mission.”

Since then, Kay has served in just about every volunteer leadership role possible for the American Cancer Society and its sister organization, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN), which fights for more funding and policy changes to end suffering and death from cancer.

As the Chair of the ACS California Division Board during ACS’ 2017 organizational transformation, Kay was tapped to chair the West Region Volunteer Transition Team and lead the Board Chairs of six other Western States and Guam to the “New ACS.” Kay’s skill in change management helped get everyone on board and excited about working together under the new structure. And, currently, she serves as the Board Chair for ACS’ Desert Coastal Area and also serves on the ACS CAN National Board.

Kay lights up when she talks about a new program that she helped launch this past September. Years ago, she recognized that there was an opportunity to enhance the way we honor and uplift cancer care providers across the country. She envisioned an annual event that would put a spotlight on the individuals who are saving lives every day.

After building enthusiasm and support from her ACS staff partners and pulling together an external review committee of representatives from 10 of San Diego’s leading healthcare institutions, she was able to see this vision turn into a reality with the creation of San Diego’s Celebration of Cancer Care Champions. This is an event that Kay describes as a “combination of the Academy Awards and the People’s Choice Awards for everyone who works in cancer care.”

The inaugural event brought together the San Diego cancer care community to honor individuals and institutions who were nominated by their patients and their peers for excellence in cancer care. Now, after its overwhelming success, other communities across the country are planning to replicate the event as a way to recognize excellence in cancer care across the U.S.

The event is just one example of how Kay has dedicated her life to causes greater than herself.

In recognition of her achievements, Kay was recently awarded the prestigious American Cancer Society St. George National Award, which recognizes community volunteers who have given their time and talent in service of the American Cancer Society’s strategic objectives and mission driven programs. As the highest honor bestowed by the American Cancer Society, the award represents a commitment to a cause greater than all of us.

During the awards ceremony, leaders who have worked with Kay all spoke about her tenacity and unending commitment to making a difference in the fight against cancer and to making life better for those impacted by cancer. Kay also received an award for being the ACS CAN Star Ambassador in California in 2019 due to her tireless work ethic and advocacy efforts in Sacramento and Washington on important health issues.

That’s also the same tenacity she brings as Board Chair for The San Diego Foundation. Using her management-savvy and decades of leadership experience, Kay is working with President & CEO Mark Stuart to increase the impact of the organization now, and for generations to come.

Learn more about our other Board Members