Why Bill Littlejohn, CEO of Sharp HealthCare Foundation, Believes Our Greatest Legacy is to Become a Guardian Angel

by Laura A. Roser


“I will be eternally thankful.” – “I cried with tears of joy finally holding our precious angel.” – “I knew my mother was in excellent hands.” These quotes are from a collection of over 40,000 stories gathered by Sharp HealthCare, San Diego’s leading health care provider. Sharp’s Guardian Angel Program gives grateful patients and their loved ones the opportunity to share their stories of gratitude about the doctors and nurses who served them in the hospital.

But it goes far beyond good business.

“When you give, you inspire others to follow you,” says Bill Littlejohn, CEO of Sharp HealthCare Foundation. Your giving ripples out and motivates others to do the same. “What you do today will impact people you will never know.”

The Experience of Philanthropy

“Philanthropy isn’t a taught experience,” Littlejohn continues. People must actively participate in giving to feel its impact. It’s not something you can simply teach a class about.

Kids should be a part of the giving process from a young age. Littlejohn tells the story of having his family name put on a plaque after he and his wife gave to a hospital project. His family—he, his wife and children—gathered around the plaque and smiled for a photo that is now a part of their family scrapbook. “It wasn’t for me,” he said. “We wanted our name on that plaque for our children so that they would have a physical representation of our family’s heritage of giving and know that they played a small part in helping to improve patients’ lives.”

Many are not aware of how much our country has been impacted by charitable giving of the past: libraries, museums, churches and hospitals. “Did you know Sharp HealthCare—now a $3 Billion hospital—first started with 12 people who had to go out and collect money to build a hospital on their own?” Littlejohn asked.

So many think that our buildings and infrastructure were provided by the government. They were not. Most of our hospitals, health initiatives and equipment were privately funded.

Wealthy families like the Rockefellers and Carnegies (and many more) had a vision for a better future and gave to ensure future generations would have parks to play in, universities to study in and hospitals to heal in. It’s not only about the ultra wealthy, either. Plenty of nonprofits are kept alive through the small donations and service of many. Year after year, the CAF World Giving Index lists the USA as one of the top three countries that has the highest percentage of its populace donate money, volunteer or help a stranger. This idea of being a “guardian angel” is ingrained in our country’s heritage.

It’s All About Vision

“There’s a difference between fundraising for need verses fundraising for vision,” says Littlejohn. When you have a vision, you don’t ask for funds to solve an immediate problem with no regard for how it fits in with the larger picture. With a vision, you ask for funds to build something great—a legacy that will impact generations. It’s the difference between asking for a new incubator in the ICU because a baby is going to die versus raising funds to transform health care or create a better community.

The future is made great when vision combines with capability. Whether it’s helping an elderly man cross the street, giving funds to cure cancer or sharing an inspiring story with a stranger, your contribution matters – more than you may ever know.


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Bill Littlejohn is the chief executive officer of the Sharp HealthCare Foundation and senior vice president of Sharp HealthCare, San Diego’s leading health care provider. In addition, Littlejohn provides fundraising counsel to the Grossmont Hospital Foundation, Coronado Hospital Foundation and all of Sharp’s entities. He lives with his wife and children in Solana Beach, California.

Sharp Healthcare Guardian AngelHonor Your Guardian Angel: Sharp HealthCare gives grateful patients and their loved ones the opportunity to pay tribute to caregivers who made a difference during the patients’ visit or stay. Learn more at  sharp.com/guardianangel