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M Reef Profile

Dual Mentor/Mentee Michelle Reef Looks to Bring Out the Best in Herself and Others


The Organ Donation and Transplantation Alliance (The Alliance) has facilitated mentorship connections for more than 530 donation and transplantation professionals since the inception of its Mentorship Program in 2017.

“I’ve always been connected with The Alliance,” says Michelle Reef, Director of Hospital and Partner Relations at Gift of Hope Organ & Tissue Donor Network, who serves on The Alliance’s National Donation Leadership Council. “When I saw their mentorship program, I thought ‘I really like coaching people to be the best that they can be.’ And I really appreciate mentoring myself because I always have something to learn and want to grow. So, I thought that was a great option for me to be able to give back, but also get some growth myself.”

Not only does she currently support two mentees, David Johnson of HonorBridge and Ariella Tomback of LiveOnNY, but Michelle continues to stay in touch with her previous mentee, Chris Wright at the Living Legacy Foundation of Maryland. Most recently, Michelle Reef, requested to be paired with a Mentor and was matched with R. Patrick Wood, who serves as the Executive Vice President and Chief Medical Officer at LifeGift.

A recent project with mentee Tomback, Director of Family Services at LiveOnNY, brought together teams from Gift of Hope Organ & Tissue Donor Network and LiveOnNY to share best practices in the timing of conversations initiated with potential donor families and the language used in those conversations. “The words you say to families and what they hear during the grief process and then the education and collaboration between the hospital development teams and the family support teams are important,” says Reef. “We’re borrowing some of LiveOnNY’s content and we’re sharing some of our initiatives in hospital development with them that they may be able to take back and utilize. It’s been a really beneficial partnership.”

Tomback of LiveOnNY concurs. “We’re just both excited about the idea that Chicago and New York both have challenges as both are big cities and this idea to save lives in multiple places and support each other through that is huge,” says Tomback. “I’m rooting for them the same way that I’m rooting for us. We’re basically one waitlist. I’m glad to be a part of anything I can do to help people in other parts of the country.”

Tomback, who formerly worked as a dialysis social worker, has also signed up to serve as a mentor. “Although we’re separate OPOs and we have our own teams, in a way we’re all one team working toward the same goal to save lives through transplantation.”

Tomback said that initially she and Reef scheduled time to talk once a month as part of the formal mentorship program, “Then it became a little more often,” she says. “Sometimes twice a month. Now we have each other’s phone numbers. We call and text each other. We have had this amazing ability to connect on a peer level and on a supervisory level. And I would like to think we developed a friendship even, which is really nice.”

Reef was influenced by her high school and college volleyball coaches, who she said were very passionate about helping people be their best but in a loving, firm way. “They were always positive,” says Reef. “They gave constant feedback. They were always in your corner and were able to pull you out of negativity when you were down on yourself. They had a vision for the long-term goals and helped me see the bigger picture.”

She grew up as an only child in a close family in Monticello, IL, and now lives with her husband Ryan and two children, ages 12 and 14, in Morton, IL, which is known as the Pumpkin Capital of the World because 85 percent of the world’s canned pumpkin is packed there. As a child, she played sports and volleyball was her passion. “I played volleyball in college,” says Reef. “I even ran a high school club volleyball program for a few years and coached at the college level for a couple of years.” Reef choose to attend Monmouth College because it was just a couple of hours away from her parents so they could see most of her games.

Reef, who celebrated her 10th anniversary at Gift of Hope in April 2022, was working in pharmaceutical sales when she received a recruitment call from Marion Shuck, Vice President of Governmental Relations and External Affairs at Gift of Hope but, at the time, was Recruiting Specialist. “We had a fabulous conversation,” says Reef.  “I was sold on the mission of Gift of Hope and never looked back. I’m glad I took the leap.” Reef joined Gift of Hope as a Donation Coordinator and has risen steadily up the ranks over the past decade. “I can’t think of anything better that I get to do than try to help save lives every day. I don’t know a lot of people who can say that.”

In 2021, Reef was promoted to Director of Hospital and Partner Relations at Gift of Hope where she manages a team of 31 staff members and four managers who serve 180 hospitals in Central and Northern Illinois as well as Northwest Indiana. Her team includes hospital development professionals who facilitate education in the hospitals, referral management, and approach families to discuss organ donation. “Health care is so complex, and there are many different care teams that touch any one patient,” says Reef. “Our goal is to educate anyone that touches the donation process.”

Reef received her Master of Arts degree in executive leadership in May 2022 through an online program at Liberty University and earned coaching and leadership certifications from GiANT Worldwide. “What drew me to GiANT Worldwide was their personality test called 5 Voices that can really help with your communication style,” says Reef. “For example, I’m a pioneer guardian, so I have the loudest voice which can be perceived as dominant or sometimes arrogant if you’re not a mature pioneer. That resonated with me because I want to be that leader that doesn’t talk first. I want everyone else to talk first because I don’t want to stifle anyone else’s thoughts or ideas that I can absolutely learn from.”

Enrollment for The Alliance’s Mentorship Program is available through July 1st for other experienced leaders interested in paving the way for the next generation and early-career professionals in need of additional guidance and support. More information about The Alliance’s Mentorship Program can be found here.



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