The Fundraising Physicians Toolkit


Building a Culture of Grateful Patients and Grateful Physicians

The Grateful Patient model centers on patients who have experienced the expert care and treatment of your organization. But the entire process can be boiled down to one question: “How can I give back?”

The following toolkit is a checklist to put in place once a patient asks how they can help or otherwise express interest in funding the programs and projects of the institution. To determine our best prospective donors, we do prospect research and wealth screening.

Top-Down Approach

This is institutional commitment from the CEO, Board, and other executive leadership. Top leadership must be actively involved and support the development and growth of a grateful patient program. This will help build the trust and understanding of physicians who may perceive that too much of the fundraising burden falls upon them. Knowing that a program is in place, resources are available and roles are defined will help right-size the responsibility placed on physicians.

Everyone Has a Part to Play

Knowing the whole story can be helpful in understanding the strategy from where the tactics come, but forcing physicians to learn the best practices of fundraising and donor recognition are both pointless and disrespectful to their time.  Major gift officers spend hours of time learning about new research and planning ways to integrate the needs of the hospital with the needs of donors, but we don’t learn every surgical procedure. Physicians spend countless hours reading to stay up-to-date on the latest research, techniques and tools; not on fundraising.

The education of roles and responsibilities is the single most important part of the plan. This starts by clearly defining three roles: The Physician, the Gift Officer, and the Physicians’ Liaison.

The Physician – Physicians need to know how to respond to the question and where to direct the patient. When a physician is tasked with only those two pieces (and not prospecting) they are likely to be more at ease with the process and more ready to respond to patients about fundraising. Once the patient reaches out and asks, physicians should be ready to briefly explain that there is a program/foundation/process in place and that there is a person with whom they would like to involve in this important conversation. This keeps the focus of the patient-physician relationship on care, not funding, but also makes certain that the gift officer is present and able to control the message to the patient—one of enthusiasm, gratitude and respectful education about the funding of the institution.

The Gift Officer – While gift officers are well aware of their roles and responsibilities, it’s important to remember that this position represents the financial needs of the hospital. To the patient, the gift officer serves as the source/contact for information when there is an interest in supporting the institution, where their funds will be allocated and how it will support their physician.

The Liaison – This is our ‘inside man’ on the development team. In many high performing institutions this is a retired or former physician. The important part is that they represent a trusted source of information for other physicians. When beginning to implement the process, the physicians who become the most involved or enthusiastic about the fundraising process will self-identify themselves for this role. The liaison becomes a foundation or development department advisor, volunteer or staff member. Physicians will relate better to another physician and if the most esteemed physician is identified as the liaison, there will be a much higher participation rate among their colleagues.

Physician Focused

Every fundraiser has their prospects, both established donors and new potential donors. In large organizations with several gift officers, donors are rounded into levels of giving and are further divided into a portfolio for each gift officer.  In the most sophisticated grateful patient programs, gift officers have not only donor portfolios, but physician portfolios.

Gift officers are experts at relationship building, and they must use these relational skills to build strong bonds with physicians. Defining which gift officer will directly support which physician helps to narrow the focus of the gift officer. From the physician’s perspective, this will also create a feeling of dedicated support and help build rapport with their supporting gift officer.

Identifying a physician liaison to represent clinical staff at fundraising meetings or foundation board meetings will also create a feeling of inclusion and support with physicians. The liaison, a physician with more fundraising experience, can also help support new physicians or those who are less comfortable speaking with patients about the needs of their research, projects or practice.

These Relationships Require Personal Interaction 

Direct Mail is a great tool for fundraisers, but it does not serve the needs of a grateful patient fundraising program.  The face-to-face relationship between the patient and physician as well as the patient and gift officer is what fuels the grateful patient process.

Another way to make it personal for the patient is to allow for their support to directly fund the projects or program of their preferred physician. This creates another opportunity to recognize the work of the physician and to further involve them in the fundraising process.

Paddling in the Same Direction

The mission for every healthcare institution is to provide the highest level of care to their patients. But each organization has their own list of needs, improvements or other wish list items.  Gift officers and clinical liaisons should spend time knowing what those goals are and how the grateful patient program can help to achieve them. However, the values and goals of physicians and patients alike should be included in the overall mission of the grateful patient program.

This goes without saying that there will be a higher participation rate from physicians if there is an understanding that part of what they are helping to fund includes their own projects and research initiatives. This should also apply to a patient in helping them define where their gift goes. The most savvy gift officers know that this dialogue, the dreams and goals of the patient-donor to the institution, will help create the strongest grateful patient relationships.

Educating to Empower

There are hundreds of high performing grateful patient programs active nationwide. Whether you work in one of the high-performers or are just starting out on building your institution’s program, know the roles needed, who plays what part and then spend the time educating without overwhelming. Remember, the heart of every grateful patient program is to best answer the question “How Can I Give Back?”

Matthew K. Gardner is a Campaign Director at Custom Development Solutions (CDS) with several years experience as a fundraising and development professional.

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