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Featured Non-Profit Interview: Coke S. Matthews III

Interview by George Williams, Communications Specialist, Planned Legacy 

Chief Development Officer, Children's Hospital of Alabama
Special to Planned Legacy

Children's Hospital of Alabama

Coke Matthews recently joined the Children's Hospital of Alabama to oversee all aspects of the hospital's statewide development programs, including their highly successful affiliation with the Children's Miracle Network. He began his career as an attorney with Protective Life Corporation, serving in a legal, administrative and ultimately in a marketing capacity for nine years. Coke also served for 10 years as a partner in the nationally recognized firm of Slaughter Hanson, a company that combines creativity and philanthropy for community impact.

Planned Legacy: Please tell us a little about your background and family life. Where did you grow up? Did you have a feeling you would someday pursue a career in development? 

Coke Matthews III: I grew up in Birmingham, Alabama, and although I attended college and then took on project work around the country, I settled back here after law school. I married an amazing Cuban woman nine years ago and we have a young son Coke (the 4th with the name). I had absolutely no idea that I would someday end up in development, though if I looked back on the path I took, I might have seen it coming.

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Planned Legacy: What were the major influences that led you to your career in non-profit development? How has your career progressed?

Coke Matthews III: I attended law school with the belief that a legal education would serve me no matter what direction I headed with my career (and because medical school took too long!). After practicing on my own for a period, I was recruited by a local insurance holding company as a staff attorney. I was with Protective Life for nine years, serving in a variety of capacities including marketing roles. This exposed me for the first time to high-end estate planning and tax law. Additionally, the culture of the company also taught me about community activism.

I left Protective Life to join a small firm that officially was an advertising and design company, but which was actually a philanthropic group of souls trying to have an impact on the human condition with their creative talents. I became heavily involved in a number of community projects over the years, including raising funds for numerous causes that made a difference. I was a partner with this benevolent company, Slaughter Hanson, for 10 years.

One day, Dr. Jim Dearth, the CEO of Children's Hospital of Alabama (and an old client), called me out of the blue and informed me that the highly successful, long time head of development, Jack McCullough, was retiring, and that he thought I was a perfect fit. After a brief scare with my son in the Children's Hospital Emergency room, I felt that perhaps I needed to be paying attention. I immediately sold my interest in Slaughter Hanson and accepted the position of Chief Development Officer.

I am not sure if he was right about the fit, but Children's Hospital is an inspiring place to work. I walk in every day on fire to find funds to help the doctors and researchers and staff continue to perform the miracles on our state's kids.

Planned Legacy: What are your responsibilities as the Chief Development Officer?

Coke Matthews III: Children's Hospital is blessed in that we have always enjoyed widespread, ongoing support from the community and around the state. We are the only free standing pediatric hospital in Alabama, which means we take care of kids from all over the state. My job is to coordinate the communication of our mission and our good works statewide, and to make sure that individuals, corporations, foundations and families know that in order to deliver on our promise to care for all children regardless of their ability to pay, that we need support — and a lot of it. I have to determine how best to identify this support, then be sure that our entire staff develops the type of long term relationships that facilitate gifts, large and small, for the benefit of the hospital and the kids of our state.

We do not have a large development budget, so a good deal of time is spent working closely with Marketing, PR, Government Relations and Community Development to maximize our efforts. We have a very skilled and experienced statewide community development and advocacy network as well, directed by Garland Stansel. They work with doctors, families, and local communities and fundraise through our affiliation with the Children's Miracle Network. They do a great job. When people hear our story, and what we are trying to do, we receive our share of donations. 

Planned Legacy: Children's Hospital of Alabama is part of a statewide network of primary and specialty care offices and services. What are some of the other services and organizations and how do they work together with regards to development?

Coke Matthews III: We have several "affliliated" organizations that are a part of our hospital's vision to treat not only sick or injured kids, but their families as well. Children's Harbor works with families of kids with long term, serious illnesses. The Amelia Center provides grief counseling for families who suffer loss. The Ronald McDonald House provides a place for families to stay while their kids are in treatment. We have an outstanding Women's Auxiliary and Charity League. I could go on. All of the groups listed above raise funds for their efforts. We support these efforts because we believe they are vital parts of our mission, and that we could not address all of the needs of every family we encounter, without them.

We try to match our resources, typically building space (which non-profits are always short on!), with their talented people. We try to coordinate items such as timing and fundraising specifics where possible. Sometimes we conduct development efforts together to fund a certain initiative. This "quilt" of care-giving services in and around the hospital is integral to our Board's vision for a healthier Alabama.

Planned Legacy: Children's Hospital of Alabama houses the largest pediatric burn center in the southeast U.S., a leading pediatric hematology / oncology center, and a kidney dialysis center. Do different areas of the hospital have their own separate development programs or do they all work together as one?

Coke Matthews III: This is a bit complicated, but like all Children's Hospitals, we are affiliated with a teaching hospital. In our case, it is the world-renowned medical center at the University of Alabama in Birmingham. The medical school's doctors perform their pediatric residency training here at Children's, and much of our medical staff is faculty at the University of Alabama.

This dual relationship creates some great development opportunities. We have doctors that have devoted their careers to certain fields of endeavor, and who are able to generate significant government research grants on their own. Other doctors are so talented that our hospital and community works hard to keep them by endowing chairs and fellowships to ensure their good works continue here.

We are in the news every day around the state, and almost every patient contact or news story produces a development possibility. People care mightily about what we do. Almost everyone who leaves the hospital comes away realizing what a special place it is. We have a compelling story, and people want to be a part. Yes, it is indeed a challenge to get everybody working together as one sometimes, but that's only because everybody is trying to reach the same end...just by different means!

Planned Legacy: Can you tell us about any special success stories in regards to the children who have recovered from serious illnesses or injuries at Children's Hospital of Alabama?

Coke Matthews III: Our Dr. Wooley recently performed his 100th Cochlear ear implant operation on little kids. The life and death tragedies play out every day here, but I have seen the face of a 2-year-old hearing a sound for the very first time...oh my goodness, you can't help but burst into tears with joy. And be thankful to be a part of it.

Planned Legacy: What is your typical workday like? What different hats to you wear, with respect to your development work? What is the most important aspect of your work?

Coke Matthews III: Like everybody in development, I begin the day returning any calls or contacts from donors or prospects. We work hard to make sure that our donor's needs and questions are addressed immediately. It is simply easier to keep donors happy then to find new ones! Nothing else beyond the first calls is typical.

In addition to contacting prospects, I work with Marketing and Communications, Public Relations, Community Development and Advocacy, along with the medical staff, our Board members, and anybody else who has an influence on how we communicate our mission. As I said previously, if we effectively tell our story and talk about what we are doing with our resources, the development task is a relatively straightforward one.

The most important aspect must surely be to confirm to a donor that he or she is making a difference, and that we appreciate it. Community supporters, including those that support our hospital and other causes, are an incredibly valuable part of the fabric of our society. The people of Birmingham and Alabama are unusually generous. Though we are not a rich state, statistics indicate that our citizens believe in our charitable institutions, and support them wonderfully.

Planned Legacy: Do you have an annual capital or fund campaign? Can you describe how it is organized and the specifics of what makes it work? 

Coke Matthews III: We only conduct capital campaigns when needed. As I previously mentioned, we are blessed with a generous Board that will not only make the necessary calls on donor prospects, but who have also personally supported the hospital through the years, especially with regards to capital campaigns.

Our "annual" plan is actually our statewide Children's Miracle Network program. We have one of the best in the country. Garland Stansel runs it beautifully, and it has produced between $2-3 million annually — 10,000 checks a year sometimes! It is a great fundraising effort, highlighted by a year-end telethon, but it is also a very strong, valuable component of our overall PR effort.

Planned Legacy: Do you have a planned giving program or an endowment fund? If so, can you describe the specifics of what makes it work?

Coke Matthews III: Our planned giving program is in its infancy. We have always received a number of estate gifts each year, but not as the product of an overall, concerted effort. 

Planned Legacy: Do you have any special fundraising events that have really worked well? If so, what makes them work so well?

Coke Matthews III: I would have to defer to Garland Stansel in our Community Development office, his folks run the fundraising events. We do a ton of them, large and small, culminating with the telethon / radiothon at the end of the year. 

Planned Legacy: What is the most important factor in your relationships with your donors? How do you strengthen your current donor relationships? Are there any specific techniques that have worked especially well for you?

Coke Matthews III: We try, like everyone else I am sure, to let donors know the impact that their generosity is having on kids. I have done a great deal of fundraising in my time, but never in the "life and death" world of a hospital.

If we can let a donor know that their gift helped save a child's life, or gave a baby his hearing, or perhaps contributed to the cure of a disease, believe me, they are donors for life! If people can just see what these talented people do every day, they want to be a part of it. This has got to be one of the greatest development jobs in the world. 

Planned Legacy: How do you attract new donors to your organization?

Coke Matthews III: As a statewide organization serving kids and their families from every county, we literally have a reason to share who we are with almost everyone who grows up here. For instance, we conduct over 600,000 outpatient services a year, in a state with slightly more than four million residents!

Families appreciate what we do. The miracles that are performed by our doctors and staff are highlighted frequently in the news media, and this never fails to attract donors' interest. Our Board also continues to be a source of relationships that can be counted on through thick and thin to support the hospital's mission.

Planned Legacy: What does Children's Hospital of Alabama do to recognize its donors? Are there any specific programs that have worked especially well for you?

Coke Matthews III: We are quite traditional in this area, with plaques and recognition boards located throughout the hospital which recognize the generosity of our supporters.

Planned Legacy: What role do you see new technologies such as the Internet, Web sites, e-mail, electronic newsletters and Web-based kiosks playing in the future of philanthropy? What other changes do think we will see regarding methods of fundraising and development?

Coke Matthews III: I believe the Internet will continue to play a vital role in communicating a non-profit's mission; communicating a non-profit's needs; and communicating background information about the non-profit organization. With major gifts, I believe face to face, one-on-one interaction will continue to "close deals".

Our Internet effort has enabled us to reach so many more people and that will continue to generate leads and some funds...but at Children's Hospital, nothing tells our story as well as a visit to the hospital!

Ask me again next week, when it will all change again.

For more information please contact:

Coke S. Matthews III
Chief Development Officer, Children's Hospital of Alabama
1600 7th Avenue South, Birmingham, AL 35233
Phone: (205) 939-9003 Fax: (205) 939-9189
E-Mail: [email protected]

A little history… 
Children's Health Systems (CHS) and the
Alabama Children's Hospital Foundation

In Birmingham during the early 1900's, children sick with diphtheria and other illnesses could not find access to the quality of health care they really deserved. The city at that time was overflowing with people who came seeking work in the steel mills. Hospitals were as overcrowded as the city itself, and they were not specially equipped to care for children.

This desperate need for pediatric health care prompted a small group of local Episcopalians, in 1911, to form a hospital just for children. They named it The Holy Innocents Hospital for Children. Of course it began quite small, just like the patients it was to serve. Located in a rented frame house near Forest Park, the hospital opened its doors with only 24 beds.

Doctors donated their services and caring women donated their time to help with the needs of the children. Because of widespread public interest in the hospital and to broaden its base of support, the Holy Innocents Hospital Association voted in 1914 to change its name to The Children's Hospital. (It was some years later when it officially became The Children's Hospital of Alabama.)

In 1924 the hospital moved into a larger brick structure on 31st Street and 7th Avenue South. However, the number of sick and injured children kept growing. By 1961, an expanded, more modern hospital was built on the present site in the heart of Birmingham's developing medical center.

The hospital, in 1968, entered into an affiliation agreement with nearby University Hospital, which established The Children's Hospital as the primary site for pediatric educational programs within the medical center. This partnership created an excellent environment for the training of pediatricians and nurses.

Today, Children's Health System exists as the premier health care institution for the children of Alabama and neighboring states, providing for approximately 12,000 hospital admissions and over 300,000 outpatient visits annually. It also leads in pediatric research and education, affirming the need for the formation, in 1990, of The Research Institute at Children's Hospital.

Children's Health System has earned and maintained the highest respect of health care professionals and families from all walks of society. It holds high its mission of providing care for any child in Alabama who needs its services, ranging in scope from care for the critically ill to providing public awareness of current medical and social issues. Because there is Children's Health System, no child in Alabama should suffer today for lack of availability of the latest medical technology.

In the lobby of Children's Hospital is a colorful display board, which highlights special appreciation to our major donors each year. Upper level gifts received through the children's Miracle Network Broadcast, the Festival of Trees and the Foundation, are identified here by their sources. We value our donors among our most treasured assets.

Children's Health System sincerely appreciates each donor and each dollar that comes to us to help promote our mission of improving the lives of children. More than any other time in our history, greater numbers of children in Alabama are now turning to us for help. We have committed to be here for them. Opportunities are numerous for you to take a stand with us, and watch your name go up in lights on our Donor Board.

For information about what your gift can do for a child, call the Foundation Office at (205) 

For more information please contact:

Alabama Children's Hospital Foundation
1600 7th Avenue South
Birmingham, Alabama 35233
Ph: (205) 939-9393

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