Child-focused Donor Recognition: Opportunities for Creative Design

Designing donor recognition for projects focused on children provides special challenges and special rewards. “Bright and colorful, playful, engaging, interactive…” are the first instructions we hear. If a brand manager or the architect is in the room, “integrated, coordinated, and tasteful” get added to the list. Facilities chimes in with “safe, durable, and easy to maintain.” The foundation reminds us, “we may need to add names later” and “it has to be cost-conscious.” Such was the case in Chattanooga, Tennessee but there is so much more to be said about the Kennedy Outpatient Center at the Children’s Hospital at Erlanger.

This project was special from the start. Heurista was asked to supply a qualifications document, and once short-listed, to participate in a design competition. During that competition, we focused on our past experience with children’s hospitals and schools, our expertise in donor recognition program planning, and our design process. We brought several concepts to the table and discussed the options, pros and cons, and relative cost of each. Within just a few hours, we were chosen for the project. And what an exciting project it’s been! In addition to working with the team at the Erlanger Foundations, we were introduced to Bruce Komiske, a world-renowned expert in children’s hospital design, and Dan Luhrs, the HKS Architects lead for the project. We learned that this building was the first of many that will enhance the care available to children in the region and transform the Third Street landscape. This building has a new and distinctive look that is unforgettable, not to mention a full-size steam engine in the parking lot!

In 2017 Erlanger Health Systems broke ground on a 90,000-square-foot outpatient center, creatively designed to engage a child's imagination and distract from their illness. The center is phase one of plans for a new Children's Hospital, and it is part of a visionary, multi-year re-imagining of our downtown campus.

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Heurista was asked to provide designs for three categories of donor recognition: a tiered area naming sign program, a signature display in the lobby to celebrate campaign donors of $5000 or more, and a history wall to highlight key points in the transition from TC Thompson Children’s Hospital to the new campus envisioned by the Believe Campaign. Read more about the details of each component:


The Believe Campaign used transparent bubbles as a theme. Heurista picked this up as a motif for the donor recognition, creating a magical yet subtle presence for the donor recognition. Throughout the hospital round, silver-toned signs were paired with the bright colored wayfinding signs, artwork and architectural features of the building.


The campaign list – presenting hundreds of names listed in groups and on individual circles for donors of $100,000 or more – is a 12’ x 20’ arrangement of translucent circles suspended on cables. Dichroic film allows the circles change colors based on the time of day, light conditions and the viewer’s position in the room.


The history wall is comprised of the Children’s Hospital logo and three words: believe, children, and erlanger. Each element in the logo and words is a backlit, dimensional wooden shape with images and story about the progress of the Children’s Hospital within the community on its face. This display serves as a timeline but the presentation is unconventional and engaging for all audiences.


On December 2, 2018, donor events celebrating the success of the project began. There was a public grand opening on December 11th and patients were seen in the facility beginning December 17th. On the heels of the success of Phase I, the Erlanger Foundations are already securing philanthropic gifts to open the MRI suite in the Kennedy Outpatient Center and will then move on to fundraising for other facilities identified in the master plan. If all goes according to plan, Heurista will continue our involvement with Erlanger Foundations through these projects and beyond. Stay tuned!

Written By Anne Manner-McLarty

Anne Manner-McLarty is the managing editor of the Journal of Donor Relations and Stewardship. She founded Heurista in 2011, a leading resource for consulting specific to donor relations and stewardship, with particular expertise in the donor recognition program design and implementation.