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Grateful patient to grateful donor

Published:  08/08/2013

Originally published in the August 8, 2013 AHP Connect

Editor’s note: As we prepare for the 2013 AHP International Conference this October in Toronto, Ontario, we thought we’d provide information from a popular education session at last year’s conference. The following article is based on the session “Grateful Patient to Grateful Donor: How to Guide Your Patients from Experience to Investment,” presented by William S. Littlejohn, Chief Executive Officer and Senior Vice President of Sharp HealthCare Foundation in San Diego, Calif.

Donations made as expressions of gratitude by patients and their families are a much appreciated source of revenue for nonprofit hospitals and health care systems. These gifts may acknowledge a caring nurse, an outstanding physician, a helpful staff person or a facility’s features that contributed to comfort and healing. They range from modest contributions responding to a direct mail appeal to major or planned gifts structured with the assistance of foundation professionals.

Grateful patients are among the thousands of individual donors who contribute to health care institutions, and data from AHP’s annual Report on Giving shows that individual donors consistently give the largest number of donations and, collectively, the largest dollar amounts.1 Although a significant portion of individual donors are indeed patients, most are not.2 So, what can prompt a grateful patient to become a grateful donor?

William Littlejohn addressed this question at the 2012 AHP International Conference, drawing on the experiences of Sharp HealthCare Foundation in San Diego, Calif., where he serves as CEO and Senior Vice President. His approach to the cultivation of grateful patients consists of three elements:

  • Promoting philanthropy as investment
  • Encouraging a culture of philanthropy by building strong relationships with patients and those who work in the health care environment
  • Managing a multifaceted plan to assess, approach and follow up with potential donors

Littlejohn says that foundations must constantly and convincingly make the case that their institution is a vital community resource worthy of philanthropic support and investment. This is an important message to get across to potential donors, as well as doctors, nurses, technicians, executives, board members, administrators and marketing staff—so they fully buy into the foundation’s mission and appreciate its financial impact. Fundraisers who earn acceptance as fellow members of the health care team gain important allies in the quest for grateful patient support.

The patient-to-donor progression

A key to success in the patient-to-donor progression lies in relationship building that encourages a sense of affinity among patients toward the hospital and its personnel —a connection that goes beyond the immediate experience of being a patient.

In this regard, Sharp HealthCare Foundation’s heavily promoted and popular “Guardian Angel” program has been particularly effective. It enables patients and their families to make a thank you donation in honor of a physician or other hospital staff member. For many recently discharged patients or their family members, this program becomes a first step on the philanthropic ladder of giving.

“Rounding” is another opportunity to enhance relationships. Just as physicians conduct rounds to check on their patients’ wellbeing, development professionals should carefully plan, schedule and carry out rounds to look in on selected patients who are well enough to have a short chat. Such visits reinforce the affinity ingredient so vital to philanthropy. They afford an opportunity to thank patients who have donated in the past, reestablish contact with lapsed donors or assess whether a patient may be able and willing to be approached to become a future donor.

Scheduled rounds also should be made to meet and interact with hospital staff who work with patients. This is an opportunity to learn more about their roles in patient care, earn their trust and enlist them as allies. “You’ve got to become a student of health care within your institution as much as you are a student of fundraising,” says Littlejohn.

Plan and prioritize

To carry out an efficient grateful patient plan, fundraisers also must be cognizant of the demographic and economic traits of their everchanging patient population, as well as the challenge to relationship building posed by the short average length of a hospital stay.

Foundation staff cannot (nor should they) cover most patients on rounds, so planning and prioritizing whom to visit and how best to follow up requires coordinated research and screening. At Sharp HealthCare Foundation, this task is accomplished using a daily roster of patients minus HIPAA-excluded data. Top prospects can be scheduled for a rounding visit and for follow up contact if they indicate an interest in becoming a donor—or dropped from the prospect list if they desire.

Patients who are not personally contacted during their hospital stay also should be scheduled for follow up by other means, including direct mail, a solicitation call to discuss the hospital’s philanthropic programs or an invitation to a special event.

“Our foundations have to inspire feelings of affinity in patients,” says Littlejohn. “It’s not that people should give just because they’re wealthy or because they’ve been a patient. It’s the opportunity to move from the patient experience to the grateful experience. Being given the opportunity to express that gratitude becomes crucial.”

NEWS  /01/28/19
Official guidelines regarding the ethics of grateful patient fundraising
NEWS  /12/20/17
Turning patients into donors can be tricky. You have to be sensitive when speaking about health-related topics...
NEWS  /06/12/15
The following article is based on an AHP webinar presented on April 15, 2015, by Thom Harmon, director of leadership gifts at Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia, Pa.

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