The Public Phase (Part III)
by Glenn Vallach,
Vice President for Public Relations and Communications,
Ghiorsi & Sorrenti, Inc.
Debra Gill, Executive Vice President of Philanthropy for Bozeman Deaconess Foundation (BDF) is back for the third segment on GSEye on Philanthropy.
As BDF’s EVP, a position she has held for 14 years, Debra is leading the Cornerstone Campaign which is supporting a new Emergency Services Department at Bozeman Deaconess Hospital (BDH) in Montana. BDH celebrated its centennial anniversary in 2011 and the campaign is the largest and most successful in the Hospital’s history, securing the organization’s first ever seven-figure gift, three additional gifts at the million dollar level, and an outpouring of generosity from the BDH family and community. We are honored that Debra is collaborating with us in a three-part blog concerning the road to a successful capital campaign. Part I focused on campaign readiness and the planning study, while Part II reviewed the critical Advance Leadership Gifts Phase. Here, in Part III, Debra discusses the Community Phase of the capital campaign with our own Peter Ghiorsi:
Peter Ghiorsi (PG): Debra, it’s been just over a year now since you publicly announced the Cornerstone Campaign…Realizing the Vision for Bozeman Deaconess Hospital. We know you were in a great position to transition to the Community Phase. What has the experience been like for you?
Debra Gill (DG): It has been exhilarating and very rewarding, Peter, but it was also a great challenge, of course. We are working really hard in the public phase to uncover every potential gift, using every resource available to us, so that no money was left on the table. We made full use of every one on our campaign committee, and compelled them to reach out to others who could help identify other sources.
PG: Many healthcare organizations transition to the community phase of the campaign, perform the rudimentary tasks laid out in the campaign plan, and raise the necessary final gifts to reach goal and even move beyond that. You really embraced the public relations and communications aspects of the community phase, and used them to your great advantage.
DG: Thank you, Peter, and we worked hard with GSI to develop the best strategy. It quickly became apparent to us that a comprehensive and prolonged communications agenda was critical to the success of the campaign, and frankly to any other similar fundraising effort we may do in the future. This was a new process to so many in our community, and we wanted everyone to play a role.
PG: Most impressive, we thought, was your dogged determination to follow through with events and messages to media outlets that were almost predetermined to help because of relationships you had developed.
DG: Yes, we thought it was really important to spread the word with a grass roots effort, and we were fortunate that there were people on the campaign committee with media roots. First, though, with GSI’s help, we crafted a communications plan based on a significant truth that is perhaps a bit unlike other capital campaign situations. In many campaigns, the community phase refers to those in the hospital’s general catchment area, some of which will have a close connection to the institution, while others will have a tertiary, at best, relationship. We knew, in Bozeman, that the community phase was critical, because it refers to everyone here in town. We had a responsibility to engage and involve as many as we possibly could, because all have a stake, a real stake, in the hospital’s future and their own care. There are no other options.
PG: We were very impressed with that approach, Deb. You’re right, a wide breadth of communications is always recommended, because we feel it has tentacles that reach beyond the campaign. A good communications strategy is impactful because it straddles the campaign and the actual operation of the project component…in this case the Emergency Room…casting a positive continuous glow on it. It was particularly important for you, though, because of your community. In our view, it worked so thoroughly, it’s a model for everyone employing a community phase. What were the key aspects of the plan?
DG: I appreciate that, Peter. We wanted to ensure everyone in Bozeman was aware of the critical nature of the project, and then, of course, how important it was that community support was maximized. We used a comprehensive mix of news, public service announcements which you indicated were quite effective in other campaigns, social media and on-the-street grass roots strategies with widespread signage. Of course, our stories were reality-based with real ER patients playing key roles. We wanted to create a buzz in town, establish an extensive awareness. All indications are we succeeded. The campaign was well known and even top of mind. That buzz even helped generate further news, because selling article ideas and reports to media was easier.
PG: What was the most effective tool you used in this process?
DG: Our largest asset was radio through GapWest Broadcasting. Also, ABC-TV conducted a couple of morning interviews with me that was very high profile, and allowed us to tell the project and campaign story effectively. Certainly, the Bozeman Daily Chronicle was very good to us with campaign event mentions, and campaign progress stories. We also employed a three-phased teaser campaign through advertising and publicity that really piqued the community’s interest on a continuous basis, and helped us extend the shelf life of the campaign message. We first crafted the catch phrase “What do you expect today?” We aired it on radio spots, ran it a couple of times as a newspaper ad, and featured it on promotional items. Then, we extended the message by adding a benign answer from people. For instance, “I just expected to go skiing.” Then, ultimately, in phase three unveiled around the time of the public launch, it was revealed they didn’t expect to break a leg and end up in Bozeman’s ER. Clearly, no one expects to need ER care on a daily basis, but we wanted to demonstrate that when the situation demands it, the Bozeman facilities have been enhanced to meet those expectations and provide the best care possible.
PG: Obviously, all this helped generate giving momentum, since you are so close to reaching your $9 million goal.
DG: It does make the process of approaching potential donors easier, both individually or in group situations…and we conducted many of those kind of campaign approaches in the community phase…because everyone was so familiar with Cornerstone. The campaign had a highly positive image in town, and its momentum was self-fulfilling. We really found that people were anxious to help and play a part in this extraordinary venture.
PG: We consider your campaign a model, Deb, and congratulate you on staying the course throughout. As you know, campaigns are won and lost in the Advanced Leadership Gifts Phase, and cemented in the community phase. You conducted all phases with a fervor and intensity that ensured success.
DG: Thank you, Peter. It was, and continues to be, with only a few dollars to go, a great experience.