There’s a common myth among physicians that philanthropy is all about prying money from the reluctant. Is it any wonder that some physicians want to avoid it at all costs?

When philanthropy is done right, of course, the truth is entirely the opposite. Patients and family members who have meaningful healthcare experiences sometimes have a deep desire to contribute in some way. Advancement Resources research interviews reveal this deep desire can come from various motivations.

The most obvious motivation is gratitude for a positive medical outcome: We go to the hospital with a serious condition, the health professionals cure us, we are so grateful that we make a contribution. A less obvious—but equally powerful—motivator is the negative medical experience. Donors we interview often describe a scenario in which the trajectory of their lives has been completely changed by a traumatic event, a debilitating disease, or the death of a loved one. They are overcome by feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. Philanthropy becomes a tool with which they gain some control in an uncontrollable situation, a weapon they wield to fight back, or a balm that helps them heal.

The following research excerpts reveal donor perspectives on philanthropic motivations arising from negative medical experiences.

Gratitude for tremendous caring during a horrible experience

My husband was in a car accident. He died here in the emergency room. I was young and my family was young. I’d never faced anything so horrible. They took care of him, and they were very kind to me. This was the last place he was, and I wanted to make sure it would always be the best last place. I’m very grateful I could help in a small way. It brings great joy to me. I still feel a great sense of warmth when I come here.

A way to take back control

It’s the most difficult feeling to see your child in excruciating pain, and you can’t do anything about it. Right from the beginning, these were issues that he was going to have to endure. So I embraced it, because I knew that Sickle Cell wasn’t going to take control of our family; we were going to have control of Sickle Cell. I said, ‘I am going to make a difference for this disease. I am going to raise awareness. I am going to raise the funds.’ I always say, who wouldn’t want to be a part of a cure of a disease like Sickle Cell, that is so devastating to so many children; who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?

Memorializing a loved one

My wife was a nurse, and she loved being a nurse; it was her calling. And then she was diagnosed with … a very rare form of brain cancer. And as it became clear that she wasn’t going to survive, the nurses and staff wanted to find a way to honor her life. They came up with the idea of forming a scholarship fund in her honor. We’ll do whatever we can to make sure that her life—her legacy—continues on.

The healing power of philanthropy

After we had lost our baby, I just could not get over that event. I was searching for closure. Then I had an a-ha moment, and I said to my husband, ‘I know what we have to do!’ So, we went to the hospital and told them we need to give back, because I feel I need to seal that chapter. We had lost our baby at the hospital. So, by giving back to them, it provided that closure for me. I didn’t know how healing it was going to be until I did it. Afterward, I just had a calming, peaceful feeling inside. I knew I had some closure. I needed that in order to move on.

When we see the world from these perspectives, it’s apparent that philanthropy is not at all about prying money from the reluctant. It’s about providing patients and family members the opportunity to experience joy, and perhaps healing, that they could experience in no other way.

Ask & Act

  • How do your physician partners view philanthropy?
  • How is your physicians’ perspective impacting their willingness to engage with development?
  • What actions might you take to help your physicians recognize the perspectives of patients and family members?


Are you interested in learning more about how to engage your physician partners in development? Attend one of our public offerings such as The Art and Science of Healthcare Philanthropy or Dynamics of Clinician Engagement.


The Art and Science of Healthcare Philanthropy


Dynamics of Clinician Engagement