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Engage Physicians as Partners in Gratitude-Inspired Philanthropy

Bruce Bartoo
Published:  05/03/2023

Doctor holding stethoscope
Photo by Online Marketing on Unsplash

This article was drafted with input from participants in AHP's Gratitude-Inspired Philanthropy Mini Course, available on demand.


Gratitude-inspired philanthropy has evolved over the past decade, and like other philanthropy efforts, it has begun to take a more digital approach that includes analytics and artificial intelligence  

But particularly when it comes to grateful patients and families, the best prospective philanthropic partners are still often identified when they express gratitude to direct caregivers. Because of this, it’s important for philanthropy professionals to know how to coach physicians and other healthcare professionals to identify and engage with potential grateful patients and families.  

It's up to philanthropy professionals to invite the healthcare professionals, and in particular, physicians to partner in the process of recognizing, accepting, and triaging gratitude. To do this, it's important to understand the hesitation that healthcare providers feel about partnering with philanthropy, give them ways to comfortably recognize and respond to gratitude, and motivate them to introduce grateful patients and families to a philanthropy professional to facilitate a deeper conversation about gratitude. 


Start by Understanding the Roadblocks 

It’s up to the philanthropy team to understand and reduce the discomfort that healthcare professionals feel about identifying and engaging with potential grateful patients or families. The most common reasons physicians and caregivers are hesitant to get involved are: 

  • They don’t want to ask for money
  • They don’t feel confident about identifying good prospects
  • They don’t know how to start the conversation 

A new and different focus is required to address each of these concerns and thereby create partners in the gratitude-inspired philanthropy process. 


Define What Their Role Is—And Isn’t 

As I’m sure you know, inviting a philanthropic investment isn't part of the role that physicians should play. Believing they are expected to “raise money” is the number-one reason healthcare professionals avoid getting involved in grateful patient philanthropy efforts. That’s why it’s important to outline upfront what their role is, and what it isn’t.  

The role of the healthcare professional is to identify gratitude, accept it, and then connect the grateful patient or family to the philanthropy team. It is the philanthropy professional’s role to triage that gratitude and ensure that the patient and/or family has had an appropriate opportunity to express their gratitude in a way that is meaningful.   

Most of the time, when a physician hears that they are only expected to identify, accept, and connect grateful patients with the philanthropy team, and not to discuss anything related to a philanthropic investment, it relieves the tension and hesitancy immediately. 


Encourage Them Not to Dismiss Expressions of Gratitude 

A patient or family who shows gratitude is not necessarily a prospective philanthropic partner. In moments of gratitude, it is important never to be transactional. Instead, healthcare professionals should be taught to focus on ensuring that the gratitude has been triaged appropriately. This process allows possible philanthropic investment discussions to happen most organically.  
Most often, patients and families will express gratitude through simple words to a care team member, such as, “Thank you so much for all you did for me/my family member.” 

The appropriate response for the caregiver is, “It is an honor to be part of your care team. Thank you for entrusting us with your care. May I introduce you to my colleague in philanthropy who works with patients and families to ensure that you have had an opportunity to express your gratitude in a meaningful way?” 


Remind Them That Patients Want to Express Gratitude 

Encourage caregivers to specifically state that the introduction to a philanthropy professional is not about a charitable gift; rather, it is at that moment about ensuring that the patient and/or family has had an opportunity to express their gratitude in a way that is meaningful to them.  

This is where the concept of “triaging gratitude” is important. Because care team members are busy and often feel overworked, they are naturally anxious to move on to the next patient who needs assistance. But it’s important to remind caregivers that grateful patients and families often want to express gratitude, and they deserve the opportunity to do so. Introducing (never “referring”) a philanthropy colleague will result in a professional taking responsibility for ensuring that the patient/family’s wishes are fully respected, and that their gratitude has been appropriately triaged.  
A final, but important, reminder for physicians is that, for many patients and families, making a philanthropic investment to advance the work of the care team for whom they are grateful is an important part of the healing process beyond verbally expressing gratitude to them. Particularly in healthcare, people are often highly motivated to invest through philanthropy to advance the work of care teams—as opposed to simply giving to a hospital or healthcare organization. Always focus on inviting philanthropic investments in the work of care teams instead of asking for philanthropic gifts to benefit the hospital.  


NEWS  /09/19/19
In collaboration with the major gifts team, Philanthropy Champions can redefine how grateful patients give and enrich donors' connections to the foundations they support. 
NEWS  /07/31/20
Machine learning is upending the way philanthropy professionals find grateful patients—for the better.
NEWS  /10/07/20
MedStar Health's philanthropy program excels by educating everyone from physicians to staff on the power of gratitude.

Meet The Author

Bruce Headshot
Bruce Bartoo
Gratitude Health Group

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