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Celebrating the past with purpose: Children's Healthcare kick-starts a second century of service

When we began thinking about how to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Children's Healthcare of Atlanta in 2015, we couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed by this extraordinary opportunity. We felt an incredible responsibility to do justice to the story of an institution that has meant so much, to so many, for so long. 

 

Even though we are a nonprofit, we knew the anniversary couldn’t be just about fundraising. This event is relevant to families, employees, donors, volunteers, and countless others who have helped shape Children’s over the past century. And therein we found our answer: Our story is really made up of the personal stories—of patients and families, of long-time residents and newcomers, of the young and the old— who created our unique history through their encounters with Children’s. 

Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta as Georgians know it today began in 1915, with the opening of the Scottish Rite Convalescent Home for Crippled Children, which later became Scottish Rite Medical Center. In 1998, Scottish Rite merged with the Egleston Children's Health Care System to become Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. In 2006, Children’s assumed management responsibility for Hughes Spalding Children’s Hospital. 

We realized we had an opportunity to reaffirm the connection prior patients had made with us, and to introduce ourselves to new audiences with a message built on trust and credibility. 

Scottish Rite, Egleston, and Hughes Spalding each had its own rich legacy, and together they grew into one of the largest and most respected pediatric hospital systems in the country. During this first 100 years, we saw decade after decade of groundbreaking research and medical breakthroughs that improved and saved young lives. But something else, just as special, also grew over the century: a connection to our community built on inspiring patient stories.

In building the centennial campaign around those stories, both personal and institutional, we learned lessons that will be of benefit for years to come, and which can be used by other organizations planning to recognize a significant occasion.

1. CLARIFY WHY YOU’RE CELEBRATING. 

Anyone can throw a celebration. Understanding what you want to accomplish will focus people, leading to better decisions and ensuring financial resources are well spent. We realized we had an opportunity to reaffirm the connection prior patients had made with us, and to introduce ourselves to new audiences with a message built on trust and credibility.

2. START ORGANIZING YOUR ASSETS EARLY... 

We began organizing approximately two years before the anniversary. We should have started earlier: Files and historic artifacts had been lingering for decades, poorly preserved and unorganized. Once we gathered our precious historical photos, documents, equipment, and other artifacts— some dating back to 1915—we needed a way to archive them with practically no budget. We hired a Georgia State University graduate student to organize, store and digitize these materials, a very cost-effective way to get our arms around a century of relics and start to tell out story. 

3. ...BUT GET EXECUTIVE BUY-IN EARLIER. 

The executive team’s involvement is fundamental to determining how much you should invest in time, money, and message awareness regarding your celebration. Like many health care organizations, Children’s is hyper-focused on looking forward and finding the next great solution. That’s why the value of looking back at our history was not immediately apparent to some leaders. Articulating how many in our community had a high affinity for our brand based on their own stories, and the value in affirming that connection, made the internal sale. To equip each employee with tools to help tell our story, a first step in our content creation plan was building an internal hub to host collateral pieces, presentations, and core messaging. 

4. DECIDE ON THE STORY, AND HOW YOU WANT TO TELL IT. 

Be clear about the story you want to tell, including all messaging, and then share the story through many efforts and platforms. For us, these included a 30-minute television documentary, social media campaigns, public relations efforts, advertising, speeches given by Children’s leaders, our intranet, and our 100th anniversary microsite. Using a “contentcentric” approach helped us stay consistent, even across multiple channels. 

5. ENGAGE EMPLOYEES BY GIVING THEM THE TOOLS TO TELL THE STORY. 

To equip each Children’s employee to tell our story, a first step in our content creation plan was building an internal hub to host collateral pieces, presentations, and core messaging. We also invited staff to participate in celebrating throughout the year, like on “Cape Day,” when employees and others in the community wore capes and honor superhero patients to mark the 100th anniversary. 

6. ASK THE COMMUNITY TO TELL YOUR STORY, TOO.

The community you serve can fuel your campaign with great personal content. We created a “Share Your Story” web page that proved to be a popular, powerful means of capturing stories from former patients and their families. More than 300 people shared stories of Children’s impact, which we shared throughout the year.

No matter how well-loved your brand is, the people who will take action around the brand—the true zealots—tend to be a niche group made up of volunteers, employees, and other key stakeholders. 

7. BE TRUE TO YOUR BRAND. 

We used many important brand descriptors from the past that were still relevant— ”kid-focused,” “trusted,” and “expert”— emphasizing the consistency of our service. Even though we started in 1915 with a small staff and a wood-sided cottage, what patients loved us for then is what they still love us for today. 

8. UNDERSTAND THAT MOST PEOPLE WON’T LOVE YOUR STORY AS MUCH AS YOU DO. 

No matter how well-loved your brand is, the people who will take action around the brand—the true zealots—tend to be a niche group made up of volunteers, employees, and other key stakeholders. Take that into consideration when planning the goals and objectives of your campaign, but be sure to plan around those audiences: Those closest to the organization will want to participate.

9. MEASURE WHAT MEANS MOST TO YOU. 

Think about your quantitative goals, but also about your “soft” measures. For Children’s, shared stories were important in both senses: First, because they furthered our connection with the community, which we measured in our quarterly tracking studies, but also because we had been looking for a way to build a repository of historical patient stories. Our anniversary gave us an opportunity to collect stories that we will share for years to come.

10. LOOK FORWARD CONNECTING OLD AND NEW. 

Celebrating history and being true to your brand are not as useful if you can’t leverage them to help your organization move forward. By defining the consistent qualities that have made our brand successful over the last 100 years, we demonstrated how we will continue to serve Georgia’s kids for the next 100 years. No matter how well-loved your brand is, the people who will take action around the brand—the true zealots—tend to be a niche group. 

Children’s 100th anniversary served as the perfect opportunity to pause, reflect, and take pride in our journey to date. But it was also the perfect opportunity to show that this milestone is just the beginning, and that we are tireless in our pursuit of making kids better today and healthier tomorrow. 

Tim Whitehead is vice president, marketing and communications, of Children's Healthcare of Atlanta.

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