Just as many hospitals and health systems across North America and globally were beginning to recover from the first wave of COVID-19 response efforts, a second surge of cases and subsequent hospitalizations thwarted efforts for both service and economic recovery. With such uncertainty and an unclear path to the future, some are finding it difficult to pursue their vision and most are adjusting to new priorities spotlighted by factors that are more apparent now than they were a year ago. Amidst such widespread change and uncertainty, it becomes more challenging than ever for executive teams at every level to identify funding priorities for philanthropic focus. Chief Philanthropy Officers may be left with a list of priorities now outdated and may not yet have been invited to help craft the next menu for giving.
In its research conducted over the past two decades, Advancement Resources has identified one of the most important factors for success in healthcare philanthropy is clear and compelling hospital or health system leadership vision. Now more than ever, it is essential for executive teams to focus beyond the urgent needs of the moment, lifting their eyes from the dashboard and casting a vision substantially further down the road. Where do we want to go to meet new needs we’ve recently discovered? How do we want to go outside the walls of the hospital and address the disparities uncovered in our community needs assessment? What can we do to train our teams and equip our facilities to be better prepared to respond to future crises? These questions are being asked around board rooms and executive conference tables in those agile organizations that are keenly aware that the future is not found in a reactive mode. And when it is time for those plans to be made, our research demonstrates the importance of having the voice for philanthropy at those strategy meetings.
We must be prepared as a leadership team to let our philanthropy leader help us shape our priorities as compelling philanthropic opportunities that inspire donor support. Our focus must be the impact on people’s lives rather than the needs of the hospital. Our message must shift from having the latest equipment in the shiniest room to making our community stronger, a better place to live and work and grow. There is a marked shift in communicating with donors, from an “ask” to give TO the institution, to a collaborative conversation about achieving what is important to the donor THROUGH the institution.
Another important aspect of this compelling vision calls for creating a wide range of philanthropic opportunities, a menu from $5,000 to $5 million or more, with plenty of levels in between at which people can achieve fulfillment through philanthropy. Typically, the menu starts by listing entry-level gift opportunities, transactional by nature and requiring less investment from donors, and then quickly escalates to the extreme opposite end of the continuum, listing leadership giving and transformational giving.
The donor who routinely contributes modest amounts may feel intimidated by the large gap in the current gift menu, but may be energized and inspired by an array of more attainable gifts in a revamped menu that includes more mid-range opportunities. Similarly, the donor who contributes $1 million needs additional stretch opportunities. One donor may find a major gift is challenging at $5,000 while another may select a $10 million philanthropic investment because that is a comfortable level for them. Creating a list of priorities and including various gift levels opens the door to partner with many more potential donors who are seeking ownership in their commitment.
When we emerge from one of the most unusual periods in healthcare economics, there is no doubt that fewer hospitals will stand alone and many more will be part of creative partnerships, mergers, acquisitions and joint ventures. In this new environment it will be more important to align funding priorities from local communities, through regions, across boundaries and be inclusive of overarching system initiatives. It is often true that philanthropy is local and donors want their gifts to impact the healthcare they can see. However, as our recent experience exposed, broader needs are becoming a necessary part of the conversation. Donors now desire playing a larger part in the impact a health system initiative creates locally, regionally and even nationally.
For chief philanthropy partners on the executive team, now is the time to sit down with your leaders and have a conversation about helping to craft the vision and direction for moving forward with a philanthropic perspective. Ensure that you are on your leader’s calendar to open this topic for discussion with the larger executive team. Your expertise is needed—you are the “Secretary of Defense for Philanthropy” on the cabinet. Your organization’s success is directly impacted by whether or not the vision and direction from your health system leadership will include you in this conversation.
Our strategic partnership team is poised to walk alongside your advancement team to assist in your important work of strengthening the culture of philanthropy at your organization. By listening carefully to your needs, we can tailor an approach designed and customized specifically for you.