Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children is globally renowned as one of the most remarkable pediatric facilities in the world. To ensure that the hospital is able to continue to provide its incredible care and research efforts means a transformational approach to how SickKids positions and talks about the brand, and how donors and employees experience the brand . Those activities are driven through the efforts of almost 200 employees at SickKids Foundation.

I met with Mark Jordan, Director, Digital Projects on the Brand Strategy & Communications team at SickKids Foundation to discuss how they’re becoming more digitally adept and how has the organization has built an enviable culture in the charity and not-for-profit sector.

HBMark, what exactly is your role and responsibility here at SickKids Foundation?

MJ: As part of the Brand Strategy & Communications team, I am responsible for leading enterprise-wide projects that predominantly involve marketing of the SickKids brand. As succinctly put as possible, our broader Brand Strategy team’s role is to elevate the SickKids brand, the propensity to donate, and the likelihood to spread the word through the experiences and content we create, and the engagement we are able to achieve as a result. Our team also supports all of the fundraising teams at the Foundation as their marketing ‘engine’.

When I started here 5 years ago, I was responsible for shaping and leading the first of three waves of deepening and improving our digital capabilities. The first wave  involved a vision and a strategy for the digital experiences and places we had already built a presence and engagement in (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, our website). The second wave involved deepening the sophistication and maturity of our efforts as well as the experiences and content we were creating, and rolling out things like social listening tools and rationalizing our setup and what we were measuring in tools like Google Analytics. We are now poised to start  building on 12 core digital capabilities we believe will underpin the entire organization moving forward. Those capabilities range from donor facing (e-commerce for example) to internal workplace sharing and collaboration. Overall, we’ve got a strategic direction that will focus our efforts over the coming years, and that perhaps most importantly has buy-in and ownership across the organization.

HB: What does “digital transformation” really mean within the context of your business?

MJ: First and foremost, it is about setting the benchmark for what we mean by ‘transform’. That starts with a donor-centric view. It’s about recognizing that our donor expectations don’t exist in a vacuum just because we’re a charity. That means that we can’t be benchmarking ourselves solely against the other amazing charities in Canada or around the world for that matter. If we implement a commerce experience, our donors compare that to Amazon. If we create a donor services experience, our donors might compare that to the experience they have with WestJet. The bar that we set for ourselves is the same bar that other organizations outside of the non-for profit space are looking to exceed.

Overall, we are transforming the brand from a charity brand to a performance brand, like a Nike or an Adidas.

That transformation needs to be reflected in all the experiences a donor or prospective donor, employee or partner might have with us.

The opportunity becomes delivering that ambition within the natural constraints of our own business. When we transform it has to be with a very clear and unambiguous objective and a goal that drives the transformation.

HB: What objective has been set by SickKids Foundation? How is this driving your organization? 

MJ: We are about to embark on the most ambitious fundraising campaign in the history of SickKids, and indeed in the history of healthcare in Canada. In order to propel SickKids to be at the forefront of the transformation of paediatric healthcare delivery, we are looking to raise an unprecedented amount in donations over the next five years. An ambitious goal to be sure. SickKids has a track record of winning, and we know that we’re up for the challenge.

What does that mean in real terms each and every day?

It means a concerted effort on each of our core pillars that underpin our digital vision: Experience, Culture and Tools. Experience refers to the efforts that envelop our donors and we have to constantly be looking to raise the bar on ensuring we earn their donation by delivering incredible experiences. Culture is how we enable our employees to ‘walk the talk’ in all areas and functions to help deliver those experiences. Tools is the technology layer that enables the experiences we create, through things like intelligent manipulation of data, internal collaboration tools, and integration of donor experiences.

As you can appreciate we operate a very lean operation so we have to maximize every single point.

HB: Can you talk about some of changes and what you’re actively working on?

Everything communicates – SickKids have even emblazoned the new values on the cutlery in their staff kitchen. Ingenious reminder and reinforcement. 

MJ: We’re very fortunate that our sector naturally attracts very passionate employees and equally passionate donors. Unlike perhaps our colleagues in the private sector, we strike a deep cord with both and that’s definitely an advantage. As such, we regularly score very well in the area of Donor Experience and the way we engage and nurture our donors. We literally couldn’t exist without them so that’s something we never take for granted. Scoring well in this area is wonderful but the challenge is to never become complacent. Back to my earlier comments about benchmarking ourselves against the best in class, we’re paying particular attention to ensure our Experiences are always human and simple.

We can’t make it hard to donate, participate, fundraise or buy from us. Every touchpoint is an opportunity to sustain and build upon our high donor experience ratings.

We’ve been working very hard on the Culture component too. Building on the momentum we’ve created with “VS”, and looking to other organizations in the private sector, we’ve recently launched our Employee Promise. Like other organizations we have a great set of values.  Turning those into real, tangible expectations of behavior is something we have looked at more closely as we have transformed the external-facing brand. The alignment between values and behaviours have historically been more implicit than explicit. I’m proud to say we’ve recently unveiled a new well-defined set of behaviours to the organization and they’ve gotten a great reaction.

Our HR Director has been a real champion of this and it’s been great, as part of the Culture working team, to see these articulated and shared internally. Interestingly we took some of our inspiration from our massively popular “VS” brand platform which has really done an incredible job positioning SickKids as a true world leading facility. Taking a page from that attitude and tone, we’ve crafted behaviours which are inspirational but speak to the very heart of the Foundation.Among those, On the Frontlines, Not the Sidelines”, “Act Like A First Responder are very genuine behaviours here, and now we’ve made them more explicit in the context of where we are going as a brand and as an organization.


The roll-out of these new behaviours is just underway. Just as we’ve done with our donor journey, we’ve started to map our employee journey from talent spotting and hiring through to reviews, succession planning and even areas like exit interviews. Now the task is to deploy them and keep monitoring, modifying and refining them in the day-to-day actions of our colleagues.

HB: That’s a very audacious move. How do you plan on actually making this happen?

MJ: It will involve the whole organization. Working at the Foundation is a privilege that we don’t take for granted. Beyond articulating the behaviours themselves, we will be looking to highlight examples of how we are acting to live these behaviours every day. In certain areas of the organization it might be easier for employees to see themselves in these new behaviours.

Many of our donor facing roles do much of this intuitively, back to my earlier comment. The responsibility as managers, leaders and the Culture advocates is to ensure that our back-office colleagues understand the intent of these behaviours for their important roles.

Inherently a behaviour like “Act Like A 1st Responder” means being agile, responsive and delivering on promises. That’s something that everyone from Reception to our Accounts Payable can understand and get behind.


I’m also having to think about my own behaviours and see which of them I can dial up in line with what’s expected here now. One of the new values “Treat Every Relationship Like A Donor Relationship” has particular resonance with me. I see myself and our team at the Foundation as ambassadors for the brand every day. One example of this for me, in terms of personal behavior, was when I and a group of Directors were out for lunch at a restaurant that had just opened up around the corner. At the end of the meal Itweeted mythanks to the restaurant. Amusingly, in this social media world, that tweet turned into an exchange between myself and the restaurant and then an introduction to my corporate colleagues at the Foundation, culminating  in a $10,000 donation, and now an ongoing multi-year corporate partnership. I call it ‘the $10,000 tweet’. It’s a great personal example of taking every opportunity to use every touchpoint as a way to build a relationship. You never know where a conversation, or a tweet, might turn into something bigger. On the heels of that story, I’ve made a mental note to tweet more. (Laughs)

HB: What advice would you give your peers in the not-for-profit space or those going through a similar experience?

MJ: The one reality we have to deal with is budget restraints that our private sector colleagues may not have as acutely. This can be viewed as a constraint or, on the positive side, a way to really  focus your attention on the things that are most important.

We may not have the same technology purchasing budget as a bank but we have an  incredibly engaged team  of employees who love what they’re doing and the impact they’re having. That’s a distinct advantage we have and its up to us to harness and focus that.

The other is patience. Even within this environment it’s a concerted and deliberate process to define those winning behaviours. Now when we deploy them and learn where the pressure points are, we’re going to have to keep learning. modifying and working them through. That’s okay and we expect it. The great thing is we’re all excited about the momentum we have already created for SickKids. This will just accelerate it.


This post is part of an ongoing series exploring the intersection of Culture and Digital Transformation – and the challenges organizations face when those two forces meet. This challenge will, I believe, shape the business agenda for the next decade so we all have a lot to learn. 

I intend to highlight organizations that are uniquely traversing this challenge and share their stories.

If you’d like to share your story, please DM me on Twitter @ZimHilton or reach out via LinkedIn.

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