Unlocking the Secrets of Grateful Giving Programs in Healthcare

  • Published December 6, 2021
  • / By Frank Interlichia

As the chief advancement officer at an academic medical center, I had the pleasure of working with many “grateful patients” and families, as well as the physicians, nurses, dentists, scientists and other caregivers who were so important to them during some of the most difficult times of their lives. 

I remember vividly a conversation with one seven-figure donor, the widow of a Parkinson’s Disease patient who had been seen by the same physician for a number of years. When asked if it ever felt uncomfortable or awkward to talk about giving with the physician, she responded without hesitation:  “After what we’d been through together, he could talk to me about anything.” Then she added, “In fact, I wondered what took him so long to bring it up!”

At its heart, grateful giving (including patient-and-family giving with motivations other than gratitude) is a simple, positive and very important human interaction. Yet, the process of organizing and maximizing philanthropy from these individuals can be very complex. It touches on issues ranging from institutional culture to HIPAA compliance, from prospect management to relationship-building with faculty, from ethics to effective communication. It’s common to see programs that have grown organically over the years and have solid components in place, yet many are neither systematic nor well-integrated into the fabric of either the Development Office or the institution.

So, what does it take to build a patient-and-family-giving program that is successful, sustained and becomes part of your institution’s culture?

There are four critical commitments that organizations must make:

  • Visible and sustained commitment from top leadership—both Institutional and Development.
  • Ongoing Recruiting and training of a core group of “philanthropy champions” who will lead by example and be outstanding partners with Development.
  • An intelligent and robust approach to patient data that underpins strategic donor acquisition efforts (mail and digital) prospect identification and reliable reporting.
  • Excellent execution of development fundamentals including relationship building with physicians and care providers, prompt follow-up, clear and regular internal and external communications and creative stewardship.

Commitment from Top Leadership

As wonderful, capable and well-liked a Development leader may be, the impetus and long-term commitment to a long-term grateful giving program must come from the medical center or hospital leadership. This includes developing a genuine understanding and appreciation of the effort, supporting budget needs of the program and being a visible name and face for participants. For example, one medical school dean launching a Marts&Lundy Philanthropy Champions program helped select faculty/staff participants, invited them to join the program, reviewed the curriculum and gave input on the training approach and logistics, gave the welcome at the opening training session, attended all the sessions and provided useful feedback. Afterwards, the dean recorded a video describing the importance of the program for those who couldn’t attend the sessions.

Ongoing Recruiting and Training Engaged “Philanthropy Champions”

Avoid the temptation to see large, lecture-based seminars as the quick-and easy solution to grateful-patient success. The best programs start small and strong, with a hand-picked “coalition of the willing” as the first cohort of “philanthropy champions.” Tailored, multipart training sessions should feature interactive exercise, discussion and learning from peers. Champions and assigned Development Officers participate side by side at every stage of training, helping to jump-start, or reinforce, durable and genuine relationships.

An Intelligent and Robust Approach to Patient Data

While always remaining HIPAA compliant and sensitive to patient privacy and confidentiality, there are ways to move far beyond simple wealth screening to identify patient prospects and to segment and target acquisition efforts. Applying advances in machine learning to patient data can provide real-time and dynamic guidance for programs. In addition, thoughtful decisions about data structure, definitions and reporting early in program planning will make longitudinal reporting accurate and useful in the eyes of Development and institutional leaders.

Excellent Execution of Development Fundamentals

Wars can be won or lost because of logistics. Likewise, without excellent execution of development fundamentals it will be impossible for a grateful giving program to be credible and sustainable. Effective gift officer management and clear protocols for follow up and communication with faculty/physicians/care providers who make referrals are fundamental building blocks for earning trust. When physicians and care providers see that Development partners are reliable, sensitive and effective, great things will happen!