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Sharp Healthcare’s Grateful Patient Giving Program

William S. Littlejohn
Published:  08/16/2017

Originally published in the August 2017 AHP Connect. Adapted from an AHP Huddle post and a recent installment of the AHP Webinar Series.

At Sharp Healthcare, we’ve had a patient-focused philanthropy program for more than a decade. We’re proud to be an AHP High Performer. We’ve learned a lot and are always striving to create and follow best practices.

Sharp HealthCare is a community-hospital based system in San Diego, with four acute care and three specialty hospitals. It is comprised of both large medical groups and a clinic network, although there is no children's hospital or academic program. We also have three foundations: the Coronado Hospital Foundation, the Grossmont Hospital Foundation and the Sharp HealthCare Foundation.

We coordinate the patient-focused program across the system in terms of physician engagement, research, e-philanthropy and direct response.

Our strategy for physician engagement focuses on three elements, each with separate goals:

  •  Giving: We have a strategic goal of having 50% of the "core," or most active MDs at Sharp, engage in philanthropy. To put that in perspective, we have 3,000 affiliated MDs, with about 1,700 in the core, making the goal about 800-900 engaged MDs. So far, we have reached about 500 MDs, giving ~$1 million a year in annual giving.
  • Referring: Our target is to have one-third of our foundations’ boards comprised of physicians, which we have successfully reached.
  • Championing clinical initiatives: MDs are involved in all of our clinical philanthropy initiatives.

Methods of communication:

We have a large direct-response and e-philanthropy program focused on using patient stories to communicate our message.

E-philanthropy is moving to the center stage of the grateful patient program. Since we started collecting email addresses in the patient record, we have the increased our connectivity with patients significantly. Targeted emails are sent to support various initiatives and direct mail pieces are also complemented by an email component. Email topics include direct response, invitations, crowdfunding, stewardship and impact reporting.

We mail to our recent inpatients and outpatients about every 8 weeks, with more frequent emails. This year we will send about 400,000 pieces of direct mail and more than one million emails to our patients and donors, producing over $1 million in revenue.

Tracking e-philanthropy is much easier than in the past, and we take advantage of the ability to measure open rates, click-throughs and gifts. We use electronic impact reporting with monthly “Philanthropy Notes,” which are emailed to 25,000 recipients, and we provide a digital annual report at www.sharp.com/reportongiving. We currently process between $300,000 and $400,000 a year in online gifts, and we expect that total to increase in the future.

Types of communications include:

  • Acquisition mail to patients is primarily focused on those with recent experience, those aged 50 or over and those who are insured (no Medical, no pays, etc.), and is focused by certain zip codes. Acquisition rates range from .5% to 2%. This effort produces around 3,000 new donors a year, with gift averages between $50 and $100.
  • Renewal mailings are sent to donors at the same time as acquisition mailings. We see renewal rates between 5% and 20% for each mailing. The annual retention rate for various donor segments is between 45% and 60%.
  • The Guardian Angel (caregiver recognition) program is key to the grateful patient program and is mentioned in almost every communication piece. It produces between 4,000 and 5,000 recognitions of caregivers a year—and drives up the average gift of our direct response mailings. It is also a great way to engage MDs and other clinical colleagues. So far, we have recognized over 50,000 Guardian Angels. From a community relations perspective, it has transformed how the public views and relates to Sharp.
  • The Doctors' Day direct response program is the largest of the year, as it is an excellent opportunity to focus on philanthropy. It emphasizes physician recognition with a goal of making more than 2,000 Guardian Angel recognitions over a two-month period. Direct mail, email, crowdfunding and other outreach methods are used. On Doctors’ Day, we attend the various hospital celebrations as active participants, presenting the Guardian Angel recognitions.
  • Board meetings are attended by foundation employees. We communicate important messages to the board members. For instance, we may kick off a meeting by recognizing a Guardian Angel and his/her patient. It turns the meeting into a celebration of philanthropy, completing changing the tone of both the meeting and the institution.

How to shape your program:

Sharp starts by identifying and maintaining contact with potential donors. This is accomplished by conducting daily wealth screening of inpatients and outpatient surgery patients; coding our Friends of the Foundation in the medical record (powered by Cerner); and making daily visits and following up accordingly. Sharp has also completed extensive in-service with our hospital-based allies who assist with visits, communication, and referrals.

Understand your hospital. Your organization may not be as large as Sharp, or it may be larger, but grateful patient programs can always be scaled. Build you program around the way your hospital does its work, around its dynamics, and focus on storytelling. At our foundation, we’re not separate from the hospitals; we’re fully aligned with our institution.

Understand your donors. Your wealth screenings through a product like Raiser’s Edge may occur daily. Make sure you effectively manage and follow up on that firehose of potential donors. You have to be diligent and selective, only taking on what your team can handle. Before you contact them, you need to understand where the potential donor is in his/her giving cycle (with hospitals, they are usually later in their cycle). And once you have selected donors, reach out early and often.

We are always happy to share our experiences with others, as we have learned so much from our AHP colleagues. Contact us at bill.littlejohn@sharp.com or foundation@sharp.com. For more information on this subject, view the webinar “Patient-Focused Philanthropy at Sharp HealthCare.” 

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Meet The Author

william s littlejohn
William S. Littlejohn
2017 AHP Si Seymour Award Recipient

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