“Grateful Patient” programs can be a misnomer; there are many reasons why a patient or family member may want to become more engaged with their healthcare institution. Truly understanding what motivates patients and families to meaningful philanthropy—and making sure that healthcare professionals understand that perspective and the crucial roles they play—can enable your organization to optimize this amazing opportunity. Further, a thriving referral-based medical philanthropy system also enables patients and families to respond to their deeply held yearnings to make a difference and be involved with respected people who do important work.

In this post, we feature 10 donors who describe in their own words their experiences of being connected through a referral-based medical philanthropy process. They express what it has meant to them personally to have the opportunity to become involved and to give back.

1. A way to show gratitude to care providers

For us, it was specifically about saying thank you to our son’s heart surgeon. He’s a real-life hero. And this hospital, it took him, it took all the other doctors and nurses, they were all remarkable. And everyone was so good to us. We’ve spent a lot of dark days here, but now we have an amazing son at home.

2. A way for patients to continue fighting

When they smile and they wave you out the doors and say you’re all done, that’s an awesome feeling, but it’s also a terrifying feeling—because now, they’re done. And you’ve got to go back and live life as, now, a survivor. Whenever you have an ache and pain, your immediate thought is, “Oh no, what if…” By having that focus, by having people to support, you can move on.

3. 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 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?

4. A response to meaningful connections during care

I think the care that is given by a nurse can be more conducive to making a gift than a request from someone in the foundation. When my father was in the hospital, there was a nursing assistant who came in, and my father hadn’t been shaved for three or four days, and she said, “We’re just gonna clean your pop up.” She got down and lathered him up and shaved him. When we go to make a gift, we think about her.

5. A way to improve care right away

We were having a procedure, and they didn’t have what we needed. We had to go in the adult area. And I said, “How much do these cost? Can’t we get one for the kids or something?” And that’s when [the healthcare professional] and I had our first talk, and it was her, I think, who made that connection to [the development professional].

6. A way of overcoming frustrations with healthcare

The emergency room is not large enough. When the auto accident took place for my wife’s father, you had our family in the emergency lobby, and then you had the other party and all of their family. It’s probably the worst thing that you could have—everyone’s mad at each other, and everyone’s in a state of shock. We decided that we wanted to sponsor a room in the new addition, which was a major donation. That’s how we feel comfortable, and we’re proud of what took place.

7. A way to engage meaningfully with healthcare institutions

I went to the doctor and I said, “I can’t possibly give you back what you’ve handed me, which is the keys to my life. But in some small way I want to get involved.” … So I started by joining the community council and within a couple of years, I was the chair of that council. We talk about our initiatives and it’s kind of a think tank about how to best bring dollars and visibility to our institution.

8. A way for families to memorialize loved ones

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.

9. A way to help others in similar situations

My daughter had a 30% chance of living with this leukemia. I am an accountant, and 30% is not a good number. My daughter was the lucky one of the three. I happen to know the other two that didn’t make it. So I knew statistically what it means, and it was tough. Looking back now, even though my daughter’s life was saved by a miracle, there were two others that weren’t. So that’s how I got involved.

10. A way to fulfill a deeply held need

It’s so satisfying, I think. I don’t know exactly how to explain it, but I just feel like it’s something I should do. But I also feel it’s part of me now. It’s something in my psyche that I need to do. And I think that, because of that, I always drive away thinking, “Oh my goodness, I’m glad I was there today.” I never seem to lose that, but like I said, I think it’s part of me.


Every member of your organization has a role in helping connect patients and family members with opportunities to give back when they express a desire to do so.


More about Grateful Patient Programs