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Employees raise a half million dollars to build rural replacement building

5/13/2015

The Extra Mile

Published 05.12.15 by Laura Putre of Hospitals & Health Networks (American Hospital Association)

Rural hospital staff raise big bucks to build a new facility for their outdated hospital.

When rural Memorial Hospital in Carthage, Ill., was in dire need of a new building to replace its outdated World War II-era facility, CEO Ada Bair anticipated that her employees would offer to pitch in and help in some way with the capital campaign. She wasn’t expecting that they would offer to raise a half million dollars.

“You could have just scraped me up off the floor,” Bair says of the meeting in 2007, in which that goal first came up. “I thought, ‘How in the world is that ever going to happen?’ ” The hospital, which serves a community of 19,000, has slightly more than 200 employees.

Six years’ worth of yard sales, bake sales, barn dances, talent shows, golf outings and 5K races later, it happened. In September 2013, Memorial employees celebrated the end of the campaign with a barbecue cookout (paid for by an appreciative community member), and $527,000 raised for the new hospital complex.

Dina Schaller, R.N., director of nursing, enthusiastically offered to chair the $500,000 undertaking. Schaller’s previous experience with fundraising was selling candy for a school band and Girl Scout cookies. Syndi Horn, the hospital’s director of information technology and Schaller’s self-described “sidekick,” was similarly inexperienced but ready to roll up her sleeves.

“I was born at the hospital and my children were born at the hospital, and now I have a granddaughter who was born here,” says Horn. “To know that the hospital was here for me, and will continue to be for my kids and grandkids, that was so important to me. And I think it is for a lot of my fellow employees and the community, too. We’re in a small rural area, and we have to rely on each other for support.”

From the kickoff — “a chili-soup supper type thing” — the spirit was inclusive. “We wanted to make every employee feel as though they were a part of the committee,” Schaller says. “We always wanted their ideas; this was everybody’s effort.”

About 25 staff members devoted considerable time and sweat equity to the campaign, while others helped when they could. “We did anything that we could come up with that would help us raise money,” says Schaller. “Sometimes we made a hundred dollars, and sometimes we made thousands of dollars.”

Family members got involved, too. “You learn more about the people you work with and their families as you spend time together,” says Horn. “Some of the events you went to, you brought your kids, and your husband was there to help set up tables.”

They didn’t discount anybody’s idea, whether it was carving stackable snowmen to sell during the holidays (a dietary employee offered to do that with her husband’s help) or transforming a donated-for-the-night machine shed into a dance hall. “Maybe someone wasn’t interested in selling flowers on Valentine’s Day, but they sure liked to bake cookies to sell out in the community,” Horn says. “Each event pulled in different people.”

They even enlisted local livestock for various “animal drops,” in which you put money on a square, and if the animal “drops” (i.e., poops) on your square, “you win the pot of money,” Horn says. “We’ve had anything from a duck to a cow to a horse to a lamb. We had an exotic goose with curly feathers. I mean, if it could drop, we probably had it at one of the dances.”

Horn appreciates that administrators “were always there to support us, but they never micromanaged us.” Acknowledges Bair, “I’ve found that often, one of the best things you can do as a CEO is to get out of the way. So, whether it’s a capital campaign or planning a new service, sometimes if you just turn your team loose and let them be creative and run with it, you end up with something far better than it ever would have been had you become too involved.”

Schaller and Horn are still involved in raising money, now with a focus on the hospital’s foundation. In March, they and others were planning an adults-only “fancy dance,” to be held during the high school prom season. “I’m a nurse and I have no experience in fundraising,” confesses Schaller, “but I feel as though I can put it on my résumé now.”