The Parkland Memorial Hospital Campaign

Parkland Memorial Hospital


In August 2015, Parkland Health & Hospital System in Dallas opened its magnificent new $1.32 billion facility. Financing for the new building – the largest hospital construction project in the country – was complicated and included a bond issue, as well as cash reserves and investment income. Unprecedented for this storied public hospital was $150 million in philanthropy:  more than 12,700 gifts ranging from 50 cents to $50 million from all segments of the community.

The campaign is an inspiring story for public hospitals who increasingly rely on philanthropy. But when Scott Lange, Ron Arena, Sarah Williams and I took on this assignment in 2007, the signs were not promising.

The Challenges:

  • The first and only Parkland campaign had raised $12 million.
  • Parkland Foundation was not a fundraising organization; its role was primarily to manage federal and state grants, so the hospital had no experienced group of fundraising volunteers and staff.
  • Public hospitals are notoriously difficult institutions for which to raise private money, increasingly so as our society’s sense of acting together for the common good has frayed.
  • Parkland had become a lightning rod for controversies relating to healthcare.

On the other hand, Parkland had a number of unique things going for it:

  • It was the public hospital in the region, with an extraordinary Level I trauma center that daily saved the lives of people from all social and economic strata.
  • The physicians educated at The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center are trained at Parkland and more than half of the physicians practicing in Dallas were trained there, many under the tutelage of beloved Dr. Ron J. Anderson. Dr. Anderson, the hospital’s long-time CEO, developed a public health model for the care of indigent and disenfranchised populations now followed all over the world.
  • To this day, the hospital retains the aura and mystique it acquired through its physicians’ heroic efforts to save President Kennedy.

Five factors made this improbable effort such a success.

A public/private partnership.  Hospital, city and county leadership were able to put aside narrow political interests to create a strong public/private initiative that joined forces with the Dallas community’s great philanthropists.

Telling an inspiring story.  Following our planning study, Parkland hired the Richards Group of Dallas, a marketing and branding firm, to develop the initial PR strategy for the fundraising campaign with the tag line, “I Stand for Parkland.”  Communications around the campaign built a belief across the community that this project mattered to every citizen. “I Stand for Parkland” has become the brand of Parkland Foundation.

Fearless asking for an inspiring purpose.  Serena Simmons Connelly, who became Honorary Campaign Co-Chair, and her sister, Lisa, convinced their father, Harold, to make the $50 million lead gift. Our conversation with them during the study, and the Foundation’s ongoing discussions with the family, helped them recognize that Parkland is a national treasure that commands a leadership position among the country’s public hospitals. This became a powerful theme of the campaign – one that evoked the community’s deep pride in its hospital.

Committed Volunteer Leadership.  Campaign Co-Chairs Nancy Strauss Halbreich and Don Glendenning persisted in cultivating and asking for gifts – through the recession, through a federal audit of Parkland’s quality of care, through the inevitable plateaus of every campaign.

A Strong Staff Team.  David Krause, President and Chief Executive Officer, and his team stayed at it from 2007 to 2015 – organizing, coaching, soliciting, providing support and encouragement to all the volunteers.

While the Harold Simmons Foundation’s lead gift, along with a $25 million commitment from The Rees-Jones Foundation, raised half the goal, two smaller efforts drew special – and deeply meaningful – support from the community.

  • Parkland offered two limited time campaigns during which anyone who contributed $10 or more would have their name etched into the windows that form the exterior walls of the hospital. More than 9,000 people responded, raising $300,500.
  • Anderson died last year. In his honor, the primary care clinic on the new campus will be named for him. Fundraising for his memorial is on-going.

The patients now being cared for in the new hospital have little knowledge of the many efforts—large and small—which made this amazing facility possible. This campaign was hard work, but it was such a satisfying engagement for everyone involved because of the formidable obstacles overcome. Even more importantly, the Dallas community put aside narrow parochial interests and came together with an inspiring degree of caring and compassion for the underserved.