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Defining A Physician’s Role in Philanthropy

Published:  08/16/2017

Adapted from a recent installment of the AHP Webinar Series by Gail Rudolph and Ben Golding

“Cover your pockets, the foundation person is coming!”

You’ve probably heard some variation of that comment multiple times while walking through the halls of your hospital. Professionals outside of the development office usually do not have a clear understanding of how fundraising works in their facility, why it matters and why they should be involved.

Gail Rudolph, President, Sequoia Hospital Foundation and Ben Golding, Chief Operating Officer, Advancement Resources recently discussed how to build positive, collaborative relationships with medical professionals and addressed how to overcome the obstacles to those relationships.

Medical professionals are wary of becoming involved in philanthropy, worried that they will be expected to ask their patients for money. Development professionals know how important it is to protect the sanctity of physician-patient relationships and allow them to focus on care. It’s communicating that understanding to physicians and clinicians that can be difficult.

Rudolph suggests starting your conversation with, “I believe it’s unethical to start a conversation about money at the bedside.”

Then they might really start to listen.

Gift officers should explain that the process involves a professional referral, similar to any other professional referral to a colleague in the hospital. Rudolph reassures physicians by saying, “You wouldn’t want me starting an IV or doing heart surgery. I will be the one asking for the gift.” Your priority is establishing yourself as a colleague.

Clearly explain to the physician what his or her role will be, while also being able to articulate what exactly will happen to patient on your end. Clinicians and physicians need to trust in the process, not just the person.

Rudolph and Golding outline physicians’ roles in development as:

  • Creating an environment where gratitude is appreciated and can thrive
  • Listening for and encouraging expressions of meaningful experiences beyond medical outcomes
  • Making referrals to development professionals
  • Expressing appreciation to people who invest in the organization’s work

Where should you start with a physician engagement initiative?

Begin slowly and with a good balance: only engage the number of physicians that you are able to maintain an ongoing relationship with. Target your outreach to those who value participation and are willing to provide referrals. Golding and Rudolph have found that anywhere from 10-20 physicians can work with a major gift officer in a successful, ongoing relationship.

If that’s still too vague, define what an ongoing relationship should look like. Gift officers should tell medical professionals that they’ll keep them in the loop—and follow up. Letting them know, “I don’t want you to be embarrassed by not knowing what conversations we are having with your patient,” can go a long way in establishing trust, as well as keeping your role separate from the physician’s.

What happens when, inevitably, a physician asks why they should be involved in philanthropy at all?

Tell them, “Because it helps your patient”—in more ways than one. Philanthropy is not just about the good outcomes, it’s also about the bad ones. Besides provide more resources and research for future patients, giving back can be part of the healing process for current and recent visitors. For example, Rudolph and Golding shared a video of a donor describing how giving back to the hospital where she’d lost her baby provided closure during a painful period. “I needed to seal that chapter,” the donor said, and philanthropy gave her that outlet.

To learn more about developing a process for physician involvement, tactics on speaking with medical professionals and more, click here.

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Cultivating gratitude among patients is critical to the success of many health care philanthropy campaigns, but gratefulness has not always been the focus of campaigns in the past.
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Here are four ways to approach physicians from a place of compassion as you seek to involve them in philanthropy.

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