What would you do if I gave you a million dollars? If you’re like most people, you probably have many ideas for how you would spend such a sum—paying off outstanding debts, making important purchases like houses and cars, or enjoying a lavish vacation with family and friends. Many of us might also wish to give philanthropically, supporting causes that are meaningful to us.

From an organizational perspective, our answers to that question would be very different. With a contribution of a million dollars, your organization could accomplish many important things as it strives toward the achievement of its important mission. As we work to grow a culture of philanthropy at our organizations, it is essential to prepare all team members for the possibility that they might be asked what they would do with a contribution. Are they prepared to share an answer that builds credibility and projects meaningful impact?

Nobody likes being caught off-guard, but the stakes are particularly high when a philanthropic opportunity is in question. Help your colleagues in healthcare and academia be prepared by taking these three critical steps.

1. Prepare colleagues for donor interest

We often focus on helping researchers, clinicians, and faculty share what they do in a manner that translates well to potential donors. While this skill is important, it only gets us halfway there. If a potential donor finds your colleague’s work inspiring, they well may ask how they can contribute. Coach the researcher, clinician, or subject-matter expert to answer this question by sharing a range of opportunities and the projected impact of each. This can launch a meaningful conversation—with the development professional’s guidance—that can lead to philanthropy.

2. Discuss what is inspiring—and what is not

A clinician-researcher once laughed as she told us about the time a patient from a philanthropic family asked if there was anything she could do to help drive the research forward. The clinician-researcher had recently been thinking about the need for a new freezer, which would cost about a thousand dollars. While her instinct was to share this need immediately, she decided it might be better to bring her development colleagues into the conversation. Together, they discussed what might be more inspiring—and more impactful—and were eventually able to secure a multi-million-dollar contribution for the research. Encourage your colleagues to draw upon your expertise when a potential donor asks about supporting their work.

3. Build trust-based relationships with your colleagues

When facing something unknown like involvement in philanthropy, your colleagues are more likely to embrace their role if they know and trust their development partners. Make yourself available to them; make an effort to understand their work, coach them, and strive to speak their language. As you become more visible as a critical partner in achieving the vision, a foundation of trust will naturally grow. Build upon that foundation by fulfilling your promises, following up on referrals, and taking an active interest in their work, as well.

Inspiring donors alone is not enough—we must be able to follow through by providing a meaningful opportunity to give. What will you do to help your team seize the philanthropic opportunity and be ready to share when the moment arises? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.


Learn more about how you can partner with Advancement Resources to create a robust culture of philanthropy at your organization.