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.”