By Jen Herrmann, Vice President of Graham-Pelton

Development is an integral part of the long-term success of any nonprofit organization. Identifying top prospects who feel a connection to your work, deepening your relationships with those individuals, and asking them to have an outsized impact on your mission is what can take your operations to the next level and help you maximize the positive effects of your work in the community.

For healthcare institutions, the importance of development and relationship-building can’t be understated, and it’s often accomplished through grateful patient fundraising.

Grateful patient programs bridge the life-changing services of healthcare institutions and the donors who have experienced that care firsthand and want to support it. They allow institutions to continue delivering high-quality care, increase their fundraising capacity, and fund innovation and improvements.

However, as with any major fundraising program or initiative, these programs need a significant investment of time and resources to sustainably yield results. If you work in healthcare fundraising and are exploring ways to launch or improve a grateful patient program, we’ll cover all the fundamentals.

What is grateful patient fundraising?

Grateful patient fundraising programs create opportunities for healthcare institutions, usually hospitals, to identify patients that have had a positive experience and engage them in philanthropy. These programs rely on strong relationships between physicians and fundraisers to determine the best prospects based on affinity and the capacity to give major gifts or bequests.

Developing a robust grateful patient fundraising program brings along a few significant benefits:

  • Increased fundraising capacity
  • Deepened relationships with donors, prospects, and their families
  • The breaking down of internal silos for ongoing and future development initiatives
  • The development of a prospect pipeline and community of major donors who can provide input during future feasibility studies for major campaigns

Grateful patient programs have the potential to yield incredible results—when well strategized and resourced. After all, healthcare institutions can reach out to prospects who have very directly experienced their services. The felt impact of these services on the prospects’ and their loved ones’ lives can drive powerful emotional connections and long-term philanthropic relationships to fuel the institution’s growth.

How do you implement a grateful patient program?

Grateful patient fundraising programs are naturally complex. However, the process of developing and implementing one can be broken down into a few discrete stages and steps:

1. Engage key internal stakeholders.

Your program will ultimately involve many stakeholders across the institution, from fundraisers to clinicians, administrators to tech professionals. Take time early in the process to determine who will play a role at which points, what those roles will be, and what training they’ll require.

Then, communicate your plans to develop a grateful patient program to all involved clinical and administrative partners. Begin securing their buy-in, answering questions, and defining responsibilities.

2. Identify your staffing and budgetary needs.

After considering who’ll be involved in the program, you’ll next need to specifically define any new investments necessary to support it, including hiring new staff. These investments might include:

  • Hiring and compensating major gifts officers or other development staff
  • New technology, such as systems integrations or data analytics tools
  • Fundraising or technology consulting services

Put together an initial budget using these new investments plus any other costs associated with promoting, implementing, and running the program over time. You’ll need a clear picture of the program’s costs in order to get buy-in from institutional leadership later.

3. Audit your technology and review privacy regulations.

Before moving forward, take the time to audit the current state of your institution’s relevant systems and compliance protocols. Understanding what will need to be done in order to smoothly integrate new tools into the program ahead of time will allow you to better prepare for a seamless rollout.

If you’ll be investing in new technology, consider how you’ll select and configure it in accordance with federal, state, and internal data privacy rules. HIPAA regulations will be particularly salient to the implementation and long-term success of your program. If you’ll be using or upgrading existing software, take this opportunity to fully double-check the compliance of your workflows and protocols.

4. Present your plans to institutional leadership.

Compile your plans and findings, and prepare to make your case to the institution’s leaders about the need for a grateful patient program. Explain its purpose, scope, budget, and compliance aspects.

Ideally, you will also provide projections of the program’s outcomes in order to illustrate the ultimate impact its success will have on the organization. Once you’ve secured buy-in from leadership, you’ll be ready to begin moving forward with concrete rollout plans.

5. Develop and begin executing program implementation plans.

Now is the time to make your previously identified technology and staffing investments. Create a detailed plan that incorporates everything you’ll need to implement your program, including:

  • Roles and responsibilities across departments
  • Training processes and resources for each department
  • Prospect qualification criteria and stewardship cadences
  • Technology and privacy compliance documentation
  • Rollout timelines and other supporting guidelines

By taking an organized approach and backing it up with clear reporting chains and responsibilities, you’ll set up your grateful patient program for as smooth a rollout as possible.

6. Begin the donor prospecting process.

With all the essential elements of your program in place, your development team is ready to get started! Begin conducting prospect research by screening your institution’s records for potential donors. As your prospect pipeline warms up, take time to regularly check in with everyone who plays a role to provide additional training or resources as needed.

Critical Reminders to Keep in Mind

Just like development programs at other fundraising organizations, grateful patient programs are complex. As you develop and implement your program, it’s important to keep a few critically important points in mind so that they’re not lost in the day-to-day shuffle of pushing your organization forward.

  • Starting small: Don’t expect universal buy-in on day one. Instead, start small by engaging a handful of enthusiastic practitioners willing to provide referrals. As you build traction and success with your early adopters, they serve as models for their peers and can help champion your program to any skeptics or holdouts.
  • Compliance: HIPAA and data security compliance are fundamental for successful, ethical, and safe fundraising. They should remain top of mind throughout every stage of the program’s development and execution.
  • Cross-departmental training and communication: Provide all non-fundraisers who’ll be involved in your program (like physicians, nurses, researchers, and faculty) with thorough training on the scope of their roles. While they won’t need to fundraise themselves, they will need to understand the fundraising process and how to identify prospects in order to help source leads for your development team. Actively work to establish relationships and create open lines of communication between departments and the development office.
  • Tracking progress and defining success: Be prepared to track your program’s progress and understand how to define its success. Identify a number of KPIs that you’ll consistently collect and track, like:
    • New prospects sourced
    • Total prospects
    • Metrics related to specific stewardship touchpoints, like emails sent or calls made
    • Solicitations made
    • Gifts secured and their total and/or average value
    • Other forms of gifts secured, like bequests or DAF donations

By keeping these important considerations in mind throughout all stages of your program, you’ll lay a strong foundation for its success. But don’t go it alone—make sure that other development professionals in your institutions understand and prioritize them, as well.

Grateful patient programs can be extraordinarily impactful for healthcare institutions and can deepen donors’ relationships with your life-saving clinical teams. However, they require careful strategy, investment, communication, and long-term prospect portfolio management best practices.

The core stages and steps outlined here will give you a solid starting point from which to launch your new program. Keep in mind that professional advisors and healthcare fundraising strategists can provide invaluable support. Their guidance and recommendations can help safeguard the investments that your new or improved program represents.

About the Author

Jen Herrmann is a Vice President at Graham-Pelton. Throughout her fundraising service to a number of preeminent institutions, Jen ignites “the spark that comes from mission-driven work” to strategize, ask for, and steward significant gifts. With a track record of eight-figure solicitations, Jen has held a variety of frontline positions with managerial focus on program administration, process improvement, and analytics.