by Ann Franzenburg
Senior Writer, Advancement Resources

One of the challenges for clinicians and academic medical researchers is overcoming the hurdle of broaching the subject of philanthropy with potential donors and grateful patients. The best way to reduce this hurdle to rubble is through simple preparation. Be ready to talk about what it is that you are doing and your vision for how you will make it happen.

“If someone came into your clinic tomorrow and asked, ‘What do you need?’ you must have an answer. What is lacking in your service? You can’t look blank. You must have something ready at hand. You may not have the numbers, but you need to have an idea of what you want to make your service better.”

—Pediatric and Fetal Cardiologist and Academic Medical Researcher

What can you do to ensure you are ready to answer this question? Spend some time thinking about the following three steps and you will be well on your way to having a ready answer at hand.

1. Identify the problem

What is it you are trying to solve? What’s the pain point? How is this problem standing in the way of a better, brighter future for your patients and their families? In articulating the problem, be sure to put a face on it. Rather than using percentages or data to define the entire problem, use your numbers to humanize the situation by illustrating the problem on a more personal level. Imagine if percentages were used in the following example.

“One in every 100 babies will be born with an underlying heart condition. Of those, about half—or one in every 200 babies—will have a problem that needs a surgical procedure to fix it.”

—Pediatric and Fetal Cardiologist and Academic Medical Researcher

2. Paint a promising picture of success

You’ve just informed the potential donor of a gloomy outlook if the problem is not addressed. Now, give them hope by describing what success will look like. What are you trying to accomplish with your work? Using metaphors or comparisons that lay people can easily understand will supercharge your description. Let your enthusiasm for your work shine through—it will be contagious in a good way.

“Advances in the procedures we can offer are now so life-transforming that children who have had them can now lead a normal life and have, essentially, a normal life expectancy.”

—Pediatric and Fetal Cardiologist and Academic Medical Researcher

3. Present the opportunity

Describe the process for getting to that promising future. How are you going to achieve success? What will you need to make it happen? Describe how you will bridge the gap between the problem and the promise, leaving room for potential donors to see themselves stepping in to fill any holes in the bridge.

“The surgeon needs to understand exactly what’s wrong with the heart. We have loads of tools to make the diagnosis, but the surgeon needs to build up an expertise in these tools to choose the right treatment for the right patient. We can do this by creating the patient’s heart in a virtual reality environment…to effectively try out the procedure before the patient goes in for the actual procedure.”

—Pediatric and Fetal Cardiologist and Academic Medical Researcher

The good news? Your development partner can help you craft a response to be ready when someone asks, “What do you need?” or “What’s new at the clinic, laboratory, or university?” As a relationship expert, they have a firm understanding of what’s appealing to potential donors. Enlist their help in preparing to share how your work will make a difference in the world.

“What is money for? Money is not an end. It’s about having the currency to make things, to do something. Sometimes, it’s to make more money. Sometimes, what’s done won’t make more money. It will simply make a change in how the world is, essentially.”

—Pediatric and Fetal Cardiologist and Academic Medical Researcher


Gain more knowledge about what inspires people to give and delve more deeply into preparing a compelling Opportunity Story to share with potential donors in Professional Fundraising for Deans and Academic Leaders or contact us to learn more about how to bring us to your organization to provide training.