Over the past 20 months, the University of Michigan Health System has held 23 Advancement Resources workshops: 14 for healthcare professionals, 3 for medical science researchers, and 6 for development professionals. These sessions routinely fill to capacity, with 100% of registered participants attending.

We interviewed UMHS Assistant Vice President and Acting Associate Vice President, Robert Anderson, and Senior Director of the Major Gifts Program, Debra Griffith, about the best-practice steps that their team takes in order to secure optimal physician and health professional engagement.

Q: What do you consider to be the first steps in building physician engagement?

A: First, get your development professionals ready. Our first step was to provide training for our entire development staff. We worked with Advancement Resources to create a curriculum that would bring our front-line gift officers and our entire development team to a common understanding and language of donor-centric fundraising.

We expect everyone to know, understand, and relate their work to the Donor Development Chart, for example. These concepts are essential to our work together, and to our work with faculty. We believe these approaches are not just more elegant; we believe they raise more money.

We didn’t plan to engage faculty until our entire development team had participated in three comprehensive Advancement Resources workshops. Once that learning was in place, we believed we were ready to engage faculty.

Q: What are the keys to successful faculty engagement?

A: First, we must understand that success is primarily based on the level of trust physicians have in development professionals. We recognize that the relationship a faculty member has with a patient is very important; in fact, that is often seen as a sacred relationship. That’s how physicians view and understand professional relationships. Knowing that led us to see that we, as development professionals, need to earn the professional respect of faculty so that they will be willing to refer their patients to us. We also knew that follow-up with the physicians we trained was key. So, we first spent time practicing with our staff to invite faculty, to be their partner during physician training workshops, and to follow up regularly after the workshops.

Q: How did you begin once you believed you were ready to conduct workshops for physician faculty?

A: We didn’t (and still don’t) issue blanket invitations. We began by approaching department chairs and key influential leaders and asking them to participate in the first workshop. That was a lot of work, but fortunately, several had attended Advancement Resources workshops in the past either here or at other institutions, and they were very receptive and supportive. That first workshop was key to establishing the credibility of the development shop and how we could be their partner in great philanthropy.

Those leaders were then very supportive when we identified additional faculty that we would like to engage. Having leadership buy-in was the most efficient way of introducing a culture of philanthropy and getting people involved in their roles.

Q: After your leadership session, how do you approach other physician faculty to begin engagement?

A: We contact them four to six months in advance by sending an email from the development vice president telling them that they have been nominated by their gift officer partner to attend a workshop as a first step toward engagement with development. We have learned to always copy their administrative assistant on the email message, because the assistants control their calendar. When we keep the administrative partners informed, they keep us in the loop if the faculty member’s schedule changes and they need to give up their spot in the workshop, for example. So it’s absolutely critical for our gift officers to build relationships with the administrative assistants.

Q: How do you follow up after you send the invitation?

A: As soon as we get a “yes,” we send a confirmation, always copying the administrative assistant. And we stay in constant contact. About a month out we send a message saying we’re looking forward to seeing them, and again a week before the workshop we send a message confirming the date, time, and location, and that we look forward to seeing them soon.

Q: What have you learned about setting the right date and time of day?

A: We’ve discovered that for us mornings are better. And we’ve discovered that there isn’t necessarily one particular day of the week. But what we try to do is make sure that we offer these sessions on different days during the week throughout the year, because faculty all have clinical days or administrative days at different times. We had one faculty member tell us a couple of weeks ago that it was lucky the workshop was on a Monday, because that was the only day he could have attended. We made a note of that, because we want to ensure that he can return for the second and third workshops in the series.

Q: How about the best time of year?

A: We check calendars and determine when there are national societies or annual conferences that faculty attend, and we mark those dates on our calendar to avoid. We also totally avoid December, July, and August.

Q: Have the faculty continued to engage after the workshops?

A: Definitely. More clinical faculty are more willing to engage with the development office. We’ve had many referrals; we have received several $50,000 gifts and a gift that was several million dollars—and lots in between—that were a result of faculty attending workshops. Faculty regularly ask, “When is the next round of classes?”

We don’t just think of one workshop for faculty, such as Medical Philanthropy 20/20. That’s just the first workshop in the series. We’ve now had over 140 faculty members participate in two workshops in the series, and 50 faculty members go through three workshops. Many are already wondering when Advancement Resources will create the next workshop, saying they will be eager to attend.

We’ve had greater success than we would have imagined.

We at Advancement Resources are grateful for the opportunity to serve the entire team at the University of Michigan Health System as they continue to achieve excellence.


Contact us for more information on best practices in clinician and healthcare professional engagement.