Shepherd Center Foundation Sees Success in Raising Funds for Patient Programs and Hospital Facilities
Foundation progresses from humble beginnings to a multi-million dollar fundraising support system for Shepherd Center.
In 1975, David F. Apple Jr., M.D., the medical director of the newly opened Shepherd Spinal Center, asked friends to make a contribution to the hospital if he completed the Peachtree Road Race.
He did finish the race, and a friend named George Johnson gave him a $100 check that was the first donation from anyone who was not involved in founding the hospital.
Many years later, Dr. Apple and Dell Sikes, then the head of the hospital’s development department, went on another fundraising call.
“It was pretty awkward,” Dr. Apple recalls. “We went to see Virginia Crawford, and I guess I kept talking so I didn’t have to ask her for money. Finally, Dell waves his hand under the desk, and I asked her for several million dollars, and she said, ‘sure.’”
Mrs. Crawford’s donation helped fund the Virginia C. Crawford Research Institute and illustrates why the Shepherd Center Foundation was established in 2005. As the hospital grew in size and complexity, it became necessary to separate its operational expenses from such things as unreimbursed patient care, rehabilitation equipment, capital projects, and housing for patients and their families.
“We felt that a charitable approach with different goals and objectives than the hospital board had was important to make the center viable,” Dr. Apple says. “We assure donors that their contributions are going for what they intended, not operational expenses or high salaries for executives.”
Ultimately, says Foundation Executive Director Scott Sikes, the idea was to create a group that is “self-replicating and would take over the mantle of fund raising and volunteerism from the Shepherd family.”
The Foundation’s first board chairman was Atlanta businessman Duncan Beard, a longtime supporter of the hospital. He says the key to getting it started was persuading David M. Radcliffe, then the head of the Southern Company, to serve on the board.
“My thinking was that if other people knew David was on it, they would agree to serve, too, and that’s what happened. That got us up and running,” Duncan recalls.
Foundation board members serve three-year terms, attend meetings, make a donation and are asked to bring potential donors to the hospital for a tour conducted by co-founder Alana Shepherd.
"We tell donors that when people have a family member in the hospital and their world is upside down, we want them to focus on their loved one," Duncan says. "We’ve got a room for them. We want them to get some rest and visit their loved one without having to worry about finding a hotel. That room is free to those people, but not to Shepherd Center. It’s very expensive, and we tell donors if you want to make a difference, give us some money to pay for that room.”
More than twenty Shepherd Center programs are paid for through donations. These include the housing program, which provides 30 days of housing in the adjacent Irene and George Woodruff Family Residence Center for family members of patients who live outside the metro-Atlanta area, the chaplaincy program, recreation therapy and the SHARE Military Initiative.
In addition to the Board of Trustees, Shepherd Center Foundation relies on the support of several other volunteer committees, including the Advisory Board and the Shepherd Center Auxiliary. The Junior Committee, through its Derby Day, the Shepherd Center Society, through its Summer in the City, and the Shepherd Center Cup Golf Tournament Committee also elevate awareness and raise funds for the hospital.
Although the hospital is now 40 years old, Duncan says he is still amazed when he meets someone who is not familiar with it.
“If you lined up all of the patients Shepherd Center has helped, you wouldn’t be able to see from one end to the other,” Duncan says. “It’s an incredible place. If you take the employees out of that place, it’s a hay barn. But you put those employees back in it, and you've got the finest facility of its type in the world."
The Foundation raises $6 to 8 million annually to support departments, programs and services. “On top of that, we raise additional funds for occasional new construction or renovation,” says Scott Sikes. “For example, this year we raised an additional $12.5 million for a new building between the Shepherd and Marcus-Woodruff buildings.”
But 40 years after that first $100 check, raising funds is still a challenge.
“People know who we are now,” Dr. Apple says. “But they say, ‘You all are successful, why do you need money?’ We need money from donors every day to help patients and their families.”
Written by John Christensen
Shepherd Center, located in Atlanta, Georgia, is a private, not-for-profit hospital specializing in medical treatment, research and rehabilitation for people with spinal cord injury, brain injury, multiple sclerosis, spine and chronic pain, and other neuromuscular conditions. Founded in 1975, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News & World Report among the top 10 rehabilitation hospitals in the nation. In its more than four decades, Shepherd Center has grown from a six-bed rehabilitation unit to a world-renowned, 152-bed hospital that treats more than 900 inpatients, 575 day program patients and more than 7,100 outpatients each year.