Grateful Patient Programs: Time Can Be on Your Side

A quick glance at AHP’s Industry News page reveals constantly evolving approaches to fundraising, particularly among healthcare organizations. I’ve had the privilege to speak to and work with a number of accomplished healthcare fundraising professionals to learn more about their Grateful Patient Programs and their recipes for success. One high level takeaway from those interactions has been that different people find different ways to get results. In fact, there are a wide variety of approaches even among the large number of organizations using The Raiser’s Edge! But even given that, there are common threads throughout these different approaches, so I will share my observations on some that have proven to be effective.

Two of the fundraising professionals I mentioned have made their mark on healthcare fundraising specifically. I like to think of myself as a good listener and that pays off when the people you are speaking with are experts in the field. That is certainly the case with people like Bill Littlejohn, CEO and Senior VP at Sharp HealthCare Foundation, and Bill McGinly, President/CEO of the Association for Healthcare Philanthropy (AHP).

Bill Littlejohn has led fundraising efforts that have achieved great success and established a model for hospitals and healthcare systems to aspire to when it comes to fundraising. At his presentation during last year’s AHP International Conference, he shared the core approaches that have worked at his organization. Among them is the “Culture of Philanthropy” that has been instilled across their entire organization, which has established a broad commitment to creating grateful patients across the board and guiding some of those patients to becoming dedicated donors and supporters. These are people who invest in the mission being supported by Sharp HealthCare Foundation and the impact that they have on the community.

There is a lot to learn from this model but let’s concentrate on a couple of key takeaways for this article…

The first aspect I wanted to explore is the importance of engaging potential supporters as early as possible. And, yes, that can often mean when a patient is in the care of a healthcare facility. While that could mean a visit from someone with the Foundation, it could also be a simple note or gesture of caring. Many development offices are stretched thin and feel they may not have the resources to begin the cultivation process as early as they would like, but this model is paying off for many successful organizations and should not be ignored. Sharp HealthCare has implemented a strategic plan with very specific steps for early prospect cultivation that includes visits following a screening process. This process calls for efficient data management throughout their process due to the time sensitivities. Even for direct mail appeals to past patients, a study by The Advisory Board pointed to a 30% drop in response rate to Grateful Patient Mailings when the timing of the mailing was significantly delayed after discharge (120+ days). It is therefore imperative to have an efficient process in place that allows for timely data and cultivation management.

The next aspect is that attracting supporters to invest in a healthcare organization obviously extends well beyond the development office. Bill Littlejohn really focuses on this point through the “Culture of Philanthropy” that is encouraged throughout their system. He references the Advisory Board as well to show that 75% of top donors indicated the person that had the greatest influence on their decision to give was from outside the development office. From my perspective, this in no way minimizes the importance of development in this process but, instead, speaks to the important role within development to establish organizational involvement in donor cultivation and implementing processes to ensure that people are engaged at the right time.

Another Bill, William McGinly, spoke at the most recent Blackbaud Conference on a similar topic. As president and CEO of the AHP, Bill brought his vast expertise to outline some best practices for healthcare fundraising and Grateful Patient Programs in particular. He pointed out an important industry trend that over 55% of individuals now giving to healthcare organizations are Grateful Patients. He spoke about this in his Nonprofit Radio interview with Tony Martignetti. 55% is a large chunk of the individual supporters investing in healthcare. Based on their investment, it is more than likely they had a positive care experience. But even so, it is estimated that only 20% of the 35 million patient admissions annually in the US are giving to their preferred healthcare organization. There is certainly a lot of room to grow and a key step is to implement an efficient data management process that ensures you get the right message to the right prospects at the right time without burdening the development staff.

Successful Grateful Patient Programs come in different shapes and sizes, but many best practices can be shared across organizations. For those healthcare organizations using The Raiser’s Edge in their process, I would welcome you to learn more about how many peer organizations are working with Omatic Software to automate their processes including managing their health/wealth data, data cleansing, segmentation, engagement, gift acknowledgements, and reporting. Spending less time managing data means spending more time making meaningful connections with Grateful Patients.