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Hospital Executives Reflect on 2020 and Predict Trends for 2021

Samantha Hunter
Published:  03/02/2021

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Photo by Diego PH on Unsplash

A group of Canadian Hospital Foundations executives, based in Ontario and Manitoba, gathered in January to discuss the changes 2020 brought to their work, the things they see on the horizon, and the concerns they have for the coming year. Here are some highlights from the conversation.

The local impact

In Ontario and Manitoba, as is true across Canada, it has been a year of extremes. Some sectors and businesses are doing very well and find themselves busier than ever.  Others are really struggling with shutdowns, lay-offs and furloughs.  

Being affiliated with hospitals has brought a unique dynamic in the charity space. People have seen how critical the health system is and have stepped up to help. However, event driven charities faced significant challenges. In many cases, events had to give way to focus on major gifts for foundations to remain successful. 

This year, vaccines are bringing hope, but there are issues with supply and we’re already seeing it create tension in hospitals and the general public. That coupled with some high-profile terminations of hospital CEOs is eroding the public trust in the healthcare organizations, which, if not quickly remedied, could have a real impact on giving this year.

Finally, a new hospital opening in the next few months in Ontario and the significant expansion in the government’s investment in long-term care brings concern about whether that focus might have an impact on government investment in other areas of the healthcare system.

An increased focus on wellness

When reflecting on changes the pandemic brought, the topic mentioned the most was the importance of wellness. This includes wellness of the fundraising team, the executives themselves, and for hospital caregivers.  

Executives shared creative ways to help fundraising teams handle the stresses of working from home, managing remote donor visits, home-schooling children, and managing anxiety related to COVID itself. For example, after stopping in-person birthday celebrations, one team created birthday videos for team members instead. Other teams started holding virtual lunches for colleagues to have lunch together. 

Even while we may all be in the same storm, we’re traveling in different boats. It’s critical  to understand that people are managing all sorts of issues at home that they may or may not feel comfortable sharing. It still has a significant impact on their ability to manage the workday at home.  Some teams were overt in saying, “sometimes people get to 3:30pm and hit a wall – it’s ok to call it quits for the day and come back refreshed tomorrow.” 

When talking about caregiver wellness, the conversation turned to “health crisis” or “employee wellness” funds.  Previously these funds were mainly given by employees to help others. But because of the increased public understanding of the burden on caregivers, outside donors were more likely to make contributions. 

Additionally, as caregivers discovered that these funds were available to help with their own behavioral health needs, those who were not previously engaged with the philanthropy teams became aware of the work they do and expressed their appreciation. As a result, teams have found that caregivers are now more engaged with philanthropy which bodes well for a deepening culture moving forward.

Donor engagement trends

Many hospital foundations have seen an increase in charitable giving through the pandemic, both from new donors and long time contributors. One executive said they had major gift donors calling to find out what the needs of the hospital were so they could increase their gift because they weren’t traveling or spending money in traditional ways. Some sources of wealth – whether real estate or other investments – did well despite the pandemic, which is likely fueling several multi-million dollar gifts already reported in 2021.  

Due to in-person restrictions, most donor engagement has moved online. Many donors have been able to engage directly with clinical leaders and other members of the hospital community. Organizations have held virtual information sessions with topics like updates on the progress of fighting coronavirus or what is happening at the hospital and in the community.  

Some organizations have seen donors reaching out to hold virtual events on behalf of the foundation. In many cases donors seem more willing to take phone calls and engage with direct mail campaigns than before. This is likely because most people are now spending more time at home. 

As we look to 2021, foundations are planning outdoor events in the summer to capitalize on good weather for signature events. Also as a result of the unpredictable nature of 2020, many foundations plan to always have a virtual “plan B” or to only hold hybrid events from now on to ensure there are options no matter people’s circumstances. Virtual platforms can be expensive, but investing in them may be necessary because donors might expect more from a virtual experience than they did before.

Lessons learned from COVID funds

While many organizations reported strong fundraising in 2020 through COVID related funds, there are also some good lessons learned for future crisis fundraising. At the outset, donors immediately came forward to contribute to the purchase of ventilators and other recovery equipment. Then several months later, the government announced that it would reimburse hospitals for the COVID-related needs. 

As a result, foundations had to go back to donors and have discussions about repurposing their gifts. Some organizations approached this conversation by explaining that the government would reimburse for specific items but there would be other needs. So a gift to the COVID fund was really a gift to the “most urgent needs” fund.

Predictions for 2021

Health equity is top of mind. Increasingly, donors want to make an impact on health equity and to help those who are marginalized or living in food, housing, or health insecurity. There is an opportunity to lead in this work through partnership with other organizations tackling these issues, funded through charitable donations.

Board engagement is critical. Keeping boards engaged can be a challenge. Some organizations reported good results refocusing boards with an inclination toward the administrative to donor engagement, stewardship and introductions for the foundation team to potential new donors.

Budgeting will be challenging. Budgeting in the midst of the pandemic is a very difficult thing to do. The uncertainty of the environment, the delivery of events, donor response, and many other factors make it more of a “guesstimation” process for 2021, which may even be more complicated than 2020 was.

Don’t miss our next “Conversations in Canada” with executives in Alberta and Saskatchewan, on March 18, 2021 at 2pm EST. 

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Meet The Author

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Samantha Hunter

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