Joanne Pulles on Making a Difference with the HCA Hope Fund

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As president of the HCA Hope Fund and the HCA Foundation, Joanne Pulles oversees activities that help and uplift thousands of HCA employees. We took the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the HCA Hope Fund to talk to Joanne about the Power of Hope. HCA Hope Fund has assisted more than 18,000 HCA employees and their families, but it is a marketing challenge to reach the more than 220,000 employees with the message of the Hope Fund.  Many healthcare employees are in clinical settings throughout the day without access to conventional methods.  Delivering  messages to them must take different forms like social media, texting, place-based media and direct mail.

1.  How did the HCA Hope Fund get started?

The HCA Hope Fund was born out of a desire from our employees to help their co-workers who had suffered loss after prominent natural disasters as well as individual losses from cancer, death, car accidents and more.  The out-pouring from employees in 2004 after Hurricane Charlie was the catalyst that launched our exploration to set up a fund as a public charity to help our 200,000 employees in times of crisis.  We had completed our application with the IRS for charitable status in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina devastated our employees and facilities in the Gulf Coast.  With an emergency ruling from the IRS in-hand, we quickly went into operation assisting hundreds of our employees who had lost homes in the storm.

2.  What makes the HCA Hope Fund unique?  

It’s prominence in our culture.  We share stories with our employees every month on the what the fund has meant to their colleagues during their personal crisis.  Personal stories are also told locally in our hospitals from employees who want to their co-workers to know how they have been helped when they needed it the most.

Our leadership support is outstanding – from our executives at corporate and from our hospital leadership across the country.  Not only do they give generously from their personal resources, they lend their voice in staff meetings and employee communications to signal the fund’s importance as part of our wonderful culture at HCA.

3. Who are other companies like HCA who have instituted Employee Emergency Assistance Fund?

Many, many companies have employee relief funds. Some do it through a fund at a community foundation, which is an easier entry point, especially if you just want a fund set up for disasters. Other companies do it like we do at HCA – establish their fund as a public charity and invite employees to support each other in a true “employees helping employees” model that helps workers in a multitude of situations beyond their control such as a serious illness or injury, death in the family, disasters and more.

We are part of a growing group of companies who hold a conference each year and have quarterly phone calls to share best practices. This group includes Home Depot, Levi Strauss, Dollar General, Asurion, Macy’s, Cracker Barrel, PetSmart, and many others.

4. How do you promote the fund? What type of messaging resonates with donors?

We use multiple channels to promote the fund: company email and print communications, at-home mailers, social media like Twitter and Facebook, and even posters still get the attention of our employees who work in busy clinical settings. We have a compelling value proposition for employees when we ask them to contribute financially:

1. It is something they care deeply about – their co-workers in a crisis

2. Thanks to HCA, we are able to offer employees the chance to double their impact through company matching funds, which is a strong motivator for donors and

3. HCA also pays for the staff time that is allocated to the fund so that we have the ability to let employee donors know that none of their contribution goes toward administrative expenses – 100% goes directly to an employee in need. Donors love the value they get from contributing to this fund.

5. What makes the Hope Fund an important choice for employees among other non-profits they might support?

We see giving to the community through other charities as equally important as supporting our own employees through the Hope Fund.  We support more than 1,000 charities with millions of dollars annually through our employee giving campaign, corporate sponsorships and The HCA Foundation.  We offer the same match opportunity to an employee’s charity of choice as we offer for own employee relief fund.  We promote the idea that employees should make at least two gifts – one to our employees in need through the Hope Fund and another to their charity of choice.

6. What are some new ways you are working to reach employees?

It is a challenge to reach our employees in the course of their very important work saving lives and providing critical care in our hospitals and surgery centers. Last year, we can began new experiments with social media to provide other popular channels to connect with employees. We also conducted our first text message campaign. We are now exploring the effectiveness of sending more mail to employees’ homes. This is important for us because, when you are trying to reach your own employees for charitable giving, you tend to over-rely on the cheap and easy methods like company email. But raising funds through direct mail is still the most important tool for most charities and continues to show a positive ROI. Given the clinical nature of our business, this channel may need to become a bigger part of our approach.

7. What are the metrics you use to determine how successful your donor campaigns are?

We measure dollars (in total and by business units) like every other charity because, at the end of the day, this is what it takes to help our employees when they need it most. But our primary message and focus is not dollars – we do not set or impose dollar goals on any campaign leader in a business unit. What we want is engagement. We ask employees to just join our movement for as little as $1 per pay period. We believe the thousands of inspiring stories from our employees who have been helped will motivate donors to give at an appropriate amount that fits their individual capacity. This has worked well for us thus far and we have thousands of donors who give at “Leadership Circle” levels, which for us means gifts of at least $500 annually.

8. What continues to excite you about the Hope Fund?

For me, it is the feedback we receive routinely from employees who have been helped. As I sit here responding to your question, I am thinking about the letter I read this morning from a married couple (both employees) who were in a serious car accident last year. She took three pages to re-count her accident that almost claimed her life. She never expected to need the help of a fund like ours, but now she wants to remind us all that life can literally change in a split second. Unexpected bills began to pile up while she recovered for a period of months and was not able to work. It was the gift from her fellow co-workers that gave her hope during the most difficult battle of her life.