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Ideas That Work: An annual report raises awareness and expands reach for one hospital foundation

By Laurie Hileman

When it comes to your reading wish list, most annual reports probably rank somewhere between the telephone book and the owner’s manual on your garage door opener. However, when one small hospital foundation decides to load up its first-ever annual report with engaging patient success stories, caring employee testimonials, and eye-popping photography—the results are big.

The Background

Founded in 1966, Hills & Dales General Hospital is a critical access hospital with 25 beds serving Tuscola County and surrounding areas in Michigan’s Thumb Region.

“We have many, many services that the hospital and staff have been building up in order to keep things here locally, as opposed to people having to drive so far to get those services,” says Danielle Blaine, director of the Hills & Dales Foundation. Blaine was hired in the spring of 2012 to manage the foundation, a separate non-profit entity that deals with charitable contributions to the hospital.

The Problem

Blaine faced two key challenges upon her arrival. The first involved building awareness of the hospital and foundation services in the community. In recent years the hospital expanded its services to include an orthopedic and general surgeon on staff, newly remodeled operating rooms, and an extensive lab where, Blaine says, “people can come and get their lab work done in a professional yet friendly environment with experienced staff.”

The second, more specific challenge revolved around raising awareness of the foundation with lawyers and financial planners in the geographic region who work with individuals on planned giving, estate planning, and setting up wills and trusts. The objective was to help them understand Hills & Dales Foundation as a viable, local giving option. According to Blaine, many of these individuals “would have no reason to know the foundation was here otherwise.”

The Solution

Blaine knew she needed a professional piece that could stand out in her readers’ crowded mailboxes. She opted for a full-color, eight-page annual report that features custom content and vibrant color photography to communicate her messages.

In the close-knit communities of Tuscola County, where it seems everyone knows everyone, a focus on local patient success stories was paramount. Beginning with a full-bleed photo of a well-known local farmer and his grandchildren on the cover to several patient success stories on the inside, the publication focused on the quality of care available close to home.

Meanwhile, a calendar of events, employee testimonials, and short pieces on hospital services subtly reinforced the work of the foundation in supporting the mission of the hospital.

Blaine also chose to include a giving envelope and appeal within the report. “We wanted to test the waters to see what kind of response we would have with a direct mail giving campaign. It had never been done in the past and we wanted to gauge what kind of response we’d get.”

The piece mailed to more than 4,000 households based on zip codes and income.

The Results

According to Blaine, feedback was instantly favorable, hitting the mark on her goals of outreach and awareness for both the hospital and its foundation.

“Everyone who received it was very, very impressed with how it looked and all of the content,” she says, noting the patient stories tended to hold the most appeal. “That’s what makes it relatable.”

Response to the mailing was so strong, the hospital elected to transition its quarterly newsletter into a similar format—a format that takes advantage of strong photography, custom content and engaging design.

And the giving envelopes? Responses were few, although “money is still money,” says Blaine with a smile. She considers it valuable market research for future giving campaigns.

“I certainly had some [fund-raising] goals that I was hoping for, but having never done something like this before, we just did not know what we were going to get. Now we know where to invest the money in that type of thing,” says Blaine.

Next year, Blaine plans to connect the foundation annual report with an issue of the hospital newsletter. “The results were there for us very much. It was exactly what we had hoped for and it reached a lot of people for us,” says Blaine.

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