It all began with a tour of the Children's Hospital . . .
"Anyone who takes a tour of North Carolina Children's Hospital and isn't moved in some way isn't breathing," says Phil Zachary, President and COO of Curtis Media Group (CMG), remembering his first tour of the Children's Hospital in early 2002.
Zachary and CMG owner, Don Curtis, were so moved, in fact, that Curtis Media Group formed a partnership with N.C. Children's Hospital to help raise money. The campaign was dubbed “The N.C. Children’s Promise,” and much to Zachary's surprise, it would be the Children's Hospital's first ever hospital-based fundraising endeavor.
"We had a bold plan—a 20-hour radiothon on November 20," recalls Zachary. "We'd ask our listeners, 'Got $20? Send it in!' It was a brash demand. And there was genuine concern; what sort of response would we get?"
After months of planning, the day of truth arrived: November 20, 2002. Six radio stations went live from the Children's Hospital lobby at 5 a.m., eight broadcasting from their studios throughout North Carolina. Phone calls and donations from listeners started trickling in. By 6 a.m., the radio personalities began live, on-air interviews with patients, families and their doctors. The slow trickle of calls soon grew into a stream, and pledges began to flood the phone room, many of them greater than $20.
By 1 a.m. on November 21, after 20 hours of live broadcasting, the grand total was announced: $183,253—all of it raised one donation at a time. It was a phenomenal fundraising achievement, but for Phil Zachary, it was something much more.
"It was as much a celebration of those hundreds of people at the hospital who toil in obscurity every day as it was about raising money," says Zachary. "I'll never forget, a custodian approached me and said, 'My wife never thought much about what I did. Thanks to what you're doing, now she knows I'm part of something really important.'"
"The N.C. Children's Promise" is no longer a single-day campaign but the name of the Children's Hospital's development department, with a staff that raises money year-round. The radiothon is now a radiothon/telethon, with Time Warner Cable's News 14 Carolina providing television news coverage from the Children's Hospital throughout the day. The event is held annually, always the Thursday before Thanksgiving, and serves as the celebratory culmination of the year’s fundraising.