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CEO Corner: 2021 Healthcare Philanthropy Outlook

Alice Ayers
Published:  02/16/2021
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Photo by Danil Aksenov on Unsplash

Happy New Year! I think everyone is eager to put 2020 in the rearview mirror and are excited to see what hope 2021 will bring. I’ve been reflecting on last year and have been thinking about what to expect for healthcare philanthropy in 2021. 

After discussions with AHP members, a theme that became clear is that healthcare, and philanthropy specifically, will continue to feel the effects from 2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic throughout 2021. Here are a few of my predictions for the new year: 

After an unprecedented year, philanthropy is even more important 

In 2020, hospitals in the US and Canada faced even higher revenue pressures than normal as procedures were delayed and parts of the hospital were shut down to free-up staff to care for COVID-19 patients. 

I think we’re going to be in the situation where we’re going back and forth between being able to open in a ‘normal way’ from a hospital perspective, and then going back to a COVID focus based on surges. This means that philanthropy is even more important than it might otherwise be. 

I've had conversations with so many AHP members across the past year about how they've been really very surprised, at the outreach and the outpouring of gifts from donors. They range from people who are already donors that want to give more and then those who are new. It’s important to capitalize on that momentum and make sure you are tailoring your message to each audience. 

Predicting donor behavior will be more challenging 

Since 2020 was such an anomaly, trying to predict donor behavior based on last year or even 2019 will be tricky. There were a large number of new crisis donors and also many existing donors that contributed more than in years past, recognizing the outsized need of hospitals across North America. It’s hard to predict if crisis donors will give again in 2021 or if major donors will match the gifts we saw in 2020. 

It’s important for organizations to continue the message that the need is still here. We’re already starting to see a move in the press away from the ‘help our heroes’ message. Instead there are more and more stories focused on the challenges with the vaccine rollout.

I worry that could negatively impact how donors view the work being done since hospitals are being asked to deliver the vaccine even though they have no control over distribution challenges and setbacks.

There’s a risk that the complications of the vaccine rollout could impact the halo effect around hospitals and health systems. To combat this, the message this year to donors should underscore that we’re still facing a crisis with COVID-19, health equity and much more, and your community needs your charitable donation.  

Meaningfully using technology will remain critical

This past year has forced even the most reticent to adopt and even embrace technology as an alternative to in-person interactions. This has allowed for creativity, and, in many cases, more meaningful interactions with donors and the broader community. 

I’ve talked with so many philanthropy teams that were able to invite the chief medical officer to a community-wide WebEx to update them on vaccination efforts, or engage donors with other C-Suite members for educational interactions.

People are eager to hear updates on where we stand and by utilizing technology people can hear it directly from a hospital executive they otherwise might not get to interact with. What an amazing new stewardship touch - meaningful for donors and relatively low-commitment for our C-Suite partners.

Virtual events are here to stay

We still don’t know yet when ‘life will go back to normal’ or how to predict some of the more lasting effects of this pandemic, but offering a hybrid, virtual or in-person option for events will likely be the new norm. 

Even in a COVID-free future, by not including virtual options you could be missing a big part of your donor-base. If you think about people who can’t join an event because they aren’t in town, you might still want them there while they are sitting in a hotel room on a business trip. 

The hard part will be how to make it a meaningful experience for both in-person attendees as well as virtual. Some of the things we’ve learned on the virtual event side won’t necessarily translate 1:1 for a hybrid model so figuring out how to do a hybrid event well, should be a key focus area in 2021. 

What I know for sure is that this membership of incredibly gifted, talented, creative and dedicated people will meet the challenges of 2021 and find the opportunities to continue to transform healthcare through philanthropy. 

Thank you for all you do - I look forward to hearing your 2021 innovations!

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Meet The Author

Alice Ayers
President and CEO
Association for Healthcare Philanthropy

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