He’s always getting invited to visit various departments within Emory Healthcare, sometimes just because he’s mistaken for SpongeBob Squarepants. He can be found riding the employee shuttle on occasion because his head doesn’t fit into a car. That can happen when your head is a gift box.
Ty the Giving Guy isn’t a typical employee at the Atlanta, Ga.-based hospital system. But, he’s not supposed to be, either. He’s the mascot for Emory Healthcare’s employee giving program. “I’m a P.R. practitioner at heart and you need something to break through the clutter,” especially in large organizations, said Debra Bloom, director of employee fund development and community relations, who’s also known as “mother of Ty.”
The employee-giving program was launched in March 2010 and a contest was developed in 2011 to help create the personality or name and look of a mascot. “It was important for us to invite people to participate, even if they did not feel particularly creative, but knew what they wanted the mascot to represent,” Bloom said. About 20 entries were received, some were designs, some were drawings and some were just text that described what the mascot should represent. Entries were posted on the hospital’s intranet and employees voted for their favorite. There were two octopi, a few bears and an Emory Healthcare Superman. The winning design came from a medical secretary in the orthopedic section of Emory, who drew Ty as a person, as opposed to an animal. “The final design did not stray too far from what she’d submitted,” Bloom said. The original design depicted Ty in his white coat, with a gift box upside down for his head, and a bow serving as his tie. The name Ty now works as an acronym for Thank You but originally it was just a takeoff on his tie, which doubled as the ribbon of the gift box, which was his head.
There were a lot of little things to think about:
- There’s the abstract: What’s his personality?
- There’s also the practical: Will he have mittens or fingers for hands?
In Ty’s case, he had to have fingers. Since he doesn’t speak, the only way he communicates is through gestures but also handing out fact sheets about giving that he carries in his pockets. Ty wears hospital scrubs and pockets were necessity to be able to distribute forms or envelopes. The back of the costume says, “Every gift counts,” so that’s the last thing people see when he leaves the room, or something to which he can point. It wasn’t as important to have a logo for the giving program or the hospital system, said Bloom.
In evaluating the designs, Bloom said people needed something uniquely Emory Healthcare — something that you weren’t going to see in either another facility or another commercial type of organization. She worked with the vendor for three months to create the mascot costume – more than two weeks just to get his smile just right – and Ty made his debut in September 2011.
Ty visits Emory’s about 10 affiliated sites once or twice a month — except in the summer, when it’s too warm in Atlanta to don a costume. “We focus it on the giving season,” said Bloom. He also makes appearances — along with a speaking guide — to thank staff and show what impact their contributions have made.
Quantitatively, it’s been a challenge to tie an actual gift to the mascot, said Bloom, though she’s noticed that for a few days after a Ty appearance in a particular department, there might be a spike in payroll deduction gifts. She can’t be certain that a gift came as a direct result of Ty but she often will receive emails from people thanking Ty for visiting and reminding them to make a gift. Typically, giving among Emory’s 14,000 or so employees has been just about 10 percent.
“What’s been more important is what he represents culturally,” Bloom said, adding that Ty was driven by the creative minds of the staff. He’s just fun too, and makes people smile. “He’s someone who’s well received by both patients, family members and employees. When Ty walks through hospitals, he’s there representing employee giving but about half of the people we encounter are patients and families,” she said. Ty also provides an opening into a conversation about giving that can sometimes be a challenging discussion. He carries with him an information guide on giving, and a form for people to donate.
“We have lots of opportunity for growth obviously in the program but we’re thrilled with where we are in terms of starting a brand new philanthropy program, and one that’s driven by employees in almost every aspect,” Bloom said. Emory chose to do a program instead of an employee giving campaign, she said, to be more low key, not intimidating or challenging staff to get involved.
People are always curious who’s in the Ty costume, which adds to some of the fun and intrigue. “They’re never right, of course,” Bloom said. “It’s been fun, a real hit at employee donor appreciation events,” she said. “It’s fun, it gets people involved, people play along with it,” said Bloom. “It’s been a win-win for us.” NPT