The prevalent impact of grateful patients and their families on healthcare philanthropy is widely accepted and well documented. Amidst rapid changes to the healthcare industry and the economy at large, grateful patients and families remain important because individual donors are flexible and more resilient to uncertain conditions.

There are key reasons why a grateful patient program is important to your organization:

  • Grateful giving has an added sense of meaning and fulfillment to the patient, creating a situation where the patient and/or the patient’s family feels connected to your institution’s goals and aspirations
  • This kind of program also allows your development team to build a pipeline and a base of loyal supporters
  • The process of creating and implementing a strategy of this nature ultimately gives fundraisers an opportunity to build processes around engagement of defined prospective donors

As fundraisers, we see the impact of philanthropy through the contributions that are gifted to our sectors each year. In 2018, charitable giving in the United States reached $427.71 billion, and 77% of all giving came from individuals through personal contributions and bequests. Healthcare alone received over $40 billion, and it is individuals, grateful patients, and families who are driving this philanthropy. Giving USA and The Association for Healthcare Philanthropy (AHP) confirm that grateful patient fundraising continues to be important in the healthcare subsector as government funding continues to decline.

Because of these factors, the need to develop a more comprehensive system to execute a robust grateful patient program is often top of mind for leaders in this industry. In this article, we lay out the five critical steps to initiating, planning, and sustaining your successful grateful patient program.

Step 1: Create and Assess Your Culture of Philanthropy

This whole process begins with creating and reinforcing a culture of philanthropy within your institution. Enlisting, educating, engaging, and inspiring your community to champion your cause greatly strengthens your organization’s mission and creates a foundation for your program. Every constituent plays an important role in the process, from the president to physicians to volunteers to greeters. They all serve as ambassadors for the organization and must understand their value within one integrated team. Once the organization as a whole firmly supports and embodies a culture of philanthropy, the process of raising funds will work more effectively, and ultimately, the community can have a collective and transformative impact.

Whether your grateful patient program is just getting off the ground, or simply in need of some fine tuning, there is always an opportunity to assess your fundraising landscape with specific objectives. The assessment includes in-person conversations with as many administrators, associates, physicians, nurses, and all other staff as possible centered around their current knowledge of fundraising. Electronic surveys can also be utilized to increase feedback.

The assessment will provide results to help you develop a systematic and sustainable approach to fundraising. It will also help you tailor comprehensive education and training programs to the needs of your constituents, identify and recruit caregiver networks, and establish goals for measuring the success of your grateful giving program.

Following the assessment, critical organizational steps should be taken to ensure that follow-up activity is timely, diligent, and effective. In addition to an overall action plan to reach systematic goals, a grateful patient appeal plan should be created in conjunction with annual giving efforts. As a component of this plan, consider implementing grateful patient mailings on a consistent basis (i.e. every 90 days) so that you can establish expectations for your output.

Finally, once your new or improved grateful patient program is ready to launch, consider revitalizing with new branding which includes look, feel, and materials.

Step 2: Provide Comprehensive Education and Training

The creation of an education and training program for all staff is essential to your grateful patient program. Training centered around solidifying an understanding of the value and process of the program will ultimately give staff a sense of ownership around grateful patient giving. As you begin planning your assessment, it is important to determine core audiences for clinical trainings based on established relationships with clinical staff, patient demographics as they relate to donor potential, and hospital knowledge and expertise. More specific training with gift officers and the development team can be conducted separately as they relate to their individual roles.

One effective way to introduce training opportunities with clinical staff is to schedule “goodwill tours.” These informal conversations don’t need to be more than ten minutes long, but give development staff an opportunity to meet clinical staff at all levels. They can help to establish early momentum and lay the foundation for the more in-depth training that will follow.

Step 3: Establish Goals for Measuring Progress

As you continue to train staff and grow your program, it is important to develop measurable, quantitative goals to track the progress year after year, and to highlight areas for growth or challenges that need to be overcome. Key measurements should be determined for the first two years which should focus on establishing benchmarks and refining strategies. The data collected in each following year should be measured against benchmarks established in years one and two. Specific goals and measurements for gift officers, annual fund, and the stewardship team should also be created in the short term. For example, key measurements could include:

  • Change in number of donors
  • Increase or decrease in dollars raised
  • Potential donors identified by caregivers

It is important to consider how goals will be tracked and measured. Generally, creating systems and reports in a donor database is best practice, but each organization should consider what works for their individual situation.

Step 4: Identify and Recruit Caregiver Networks

Caregiver networks are groups of clinical partners who advocate for the organization and help to identify potential donors from their patient base. Creating a caregiver network or leadership council comprised of a small group of clinical leaders can allow your institution to test ideas and remain focused on the mission. These individuals should be:

  • Leaders among peers
  • Respected within the organization
  • Open to partnering with the foundation
  • Represented by specific service lines identified by foundation leadership for involvement

The leadership council can also serve as a stewardship group who can be asked to initiate strategic planning conversations with their connections about hospital fundraising efforts and future campaigns. Including the strategic planning conversations as a part of the initial recruitment process of these leaders allows them to see the direct benefit their partnerships with the foundation will have on future fundraising.

Step 5: Organize the System

It is important for any institution to be organized and meet the needs and expectations of staff working on your program. Holding consistent leadership meetings and communicating weekly through staff emails can help provide insight on program developments and timelines. In-person staff meetings provide the opportunity to revisit the work plan and continue building momentum toward your goals.

Communication is an important component throughout the entire process to ensure a smooth and transparent plan. Having a clear and actionable strategy also helps set expectations for all involved.

What Does Success Look Like?

Any organization looking to focus on this type of effort should understand that creating a comprehensive program takes time, and not every success can be shown by dollars raised. If you are diligent in your approach to developing a grateful giving program, however, the following are key signs of a program that is working at its highest capacity:

  • There is a heightened awareness among administration, caregivers, and associates of the importance of philanthropy
  • All constituents show an understanding of fundraising as a core value and shared responsibility
  • You have developed a committed donor base and major gift pipeline
  • There is an organized and seamless way for grateful patients and families with opportunities to give back
  • Patients and families are supporting the people and programs that are making a difference in their lives
  • There is increased revenue to advance the mission of the organization

CCS Fundraising is a strategic fundraising consulting firm that partners with nonprofits for transformational change. Members of the CCS team are highly experienced and knowledgeable across sectors, disciplines, and regions. With offices throughout the United States and the world, our unique, customized approach provides each client with an embedded team member for the duration of the engagement. To access our full suite of perspectives, publications, and reports, visit our insights page. To learn more about CCS Fundraising’s suite of services, click here.

About the Author

Hannah Yaritz partners with nonprofits across all sectors to plan, strategize and launch transformative fundraising initiatives. An Assistant Vice President with CCS, her expertise includes major gift fundraising, strategic campaigns, gift planning and an emphasis on building sustainable cultures of philanthropy. Hannah resides in Denver, Colorado.