1. Harper, Mary G. MSN, RN
  2. Pendry, Elizabeth BSN, RN

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In this era of financial challenges and shortages in nursing, the Education Department of our three-hospital system was confronted with the common challenge of doing more with less. The visionary manager of the department formed a task force with the nurse recruiter and the director of the hospital foundation to form the Foundation for Nursing Excellence (FNE) to promote and recognize distinction in patient care. As a subsidiary of the nonprofit hospital foundation, the FNE accepts donations from staff, patients, families, or other philanthropists who desire to support nursing excellence.


Oversight of the FNE is maintained by a committee chaired by the Director of Education, with membership including the recruiter, the director of the hospital foundation, and representatives from nursing leadership and staff from all facilities and divisions. The functions of the committee are to review applications and make decisions on disbursement of monies and to conduct fundraising activities. The committee meets monthly.


Funds for the FNE are raised by donations from a variety of sources. Staff may donate directly or may have a small amount deducted each pay period. During the annual employee campaign, when charitable donations are solicited for organizations such as the United Way, employees are also given the opportunity to donate to the FNE. Funds are also obtained from patient and/or family donations. When a patient and/or family would like to give a nurse a gift of cash, they are given a brochure about the FNE with instructions to make a donation in the nurse's honor if desired. The nurse is subsequently recognized with a certificate of appreciation acknowledging his or her donation and is encouraged to apply for FNE funds for an approved purpose.


In addition to receiving donations, the FNE conducts fundraising events. One annual event, the HeartGram sales, is held every Valentine's Day. Simple HeartGrams are paper hearts with an inscribed message that are sold for US$1.00 and delivered by members of the FNE on Valentine's Day. As the popularity of the HeartGram program has grown, it has expanded to include small gifts that may be preordered for delivery on Valentine's Day. In 2005, the HeartGrams raised US$1,100 for the FNE.


The primary fundraising event for the FNE is conducted in collaboration with the annual hospital foundation gala. During this formal annual event, which features celebrity entertainment, the FNE holds a silent auction. Members of the FNE work with staff and volunteers from the hospital foundation to obtain donations from area businesses. This year, units that employ nurses have been charged with developing a themed basket for the auction. Baskets with themes such as golf, automotive, picnic, day at the beach, day of beauty, and hurricane preparedness are being developed for the auction. Area businesses are generous to donate artwork and free products and services for this prestigious event. In 2004, US$10,000 was raised from the silent auction.


Dispersing monies has been contingent upon fund raising, and in its second year, the FNE began making endowments. The FNE awards money for four different purposes: education, retention, technology, and missions. Education funds are typically awarded to nurses for them to attend conferences or to continue their formal education. In addition, scholarships are granted to nonnurse employees who desire to pursue a nursing career. Employees who accept scholarships must commit to one year of employment as a nurse.


Retention efforts have primarily been aimed at offering certification review courses for emergency nurses and critical care nurses. Nurses from the organization attend the review course at no charge and then receive tuition reimbursement for the cost of the certification exam. Professional certification allows staff nurses to advance on the nursing career ladder. Certification reviews for other specialties are planned for the future. Because certification classes have been opened to nurses from other institutions at a customary price, they have proven to be a recruitment tool because nonemployees learn that employees have the benefit of attending the course for free.


To date, no requests have been received for technology or mission funding. Our hospital system is a religious-based organization and supports outreach to the community and the world. Lack of applications for technology and mission funding may indicate a lack of awareness of staff that funding is available for these purposes.


The application and award process for monies is depicted in Figure 1. Employees who have successfully completed their 90-day introductory period and are in good standing with the organization are eligible to apply to the FNE. Receipt of tuition reimbursement through the organization benefit program is evaluated. Currently, applications are accepted only three times a year: October, February, and June, with an endowment date extending two months. Applications are assigned a case number so that anonymity may be maintained in the review process.


The FNE governing committee has encountered challenges in its infancy. Although cases are presented by number, committee members are often aware of staff who have made their request known to others. As a result, committee members have struggled with making unbiased decisions. Another challenge is determining the amount of award to staff who elect to attend private, more expensive nursing schools when less expensive, state-supported community colleges and universities are available in the immediate area. Another issue that requires resolution is the use of FNE funds in conjunction with tuition reimbursement. The initial foundation charter indicated that individuals who currently receive tuition reimbursement are not eligible for FNE awards. However, the governing committee has, on occasion, waived that exclusion. To maintain consistency, clear guidelines for awards in conjunction with tuition reimbursement must be delineated. In addition, as the popularity of the program is expanding, the governing committee is evaluating the need to accept applications more frequently to expedite allocation of resources.