A referral-based medical philanthropy system represents the greatest opportunity for significant, meaningful philanthropy in the healthcare setting. Yet clinicians can sometimes be reluctant to engage in fundraising.

Development professionals can’t order clinicians to get on board—so what can be done? One solution is to manage up, using your knowledge and expertise to influence how clinicians see the world of philanthropy.

This process begins with understanding the situation from the clinician’s perspective. We know from our research that physicians see the world much differently than do development professionals. Who clinicians are—their training, their experiences—influence their mindset. Understanding them will go a long way toward creating activities to effectively engage clinicians.

Here are four approaches to managing up to get your clinicians to embrace fundraising:

1. Dispel Myths About Clinician Roles

When most clinicians imagine themselves being involved with philanthropy, they picture themselves in the awkward and potentially embarrassing position of asking their patients for money. Is it any wonder that they’re reluctant to engage? The truth, of course, is that clinicians play critical roles in healthcare fundraising, but asking for money is not one of them.

      • How might you help your clinicians recognize that it’s not their role to ask patients or family members for money?

2. Share the Real Reasons Why Patients Give

Clinicians tend to perceive philanthropy as prying money from the reluctant—but the truth is quite the opposite. Patients and family members become donors in response to meaningful healthcare experiences. Some see philanthropy as a way to express their gratitude for a positive outcome or great care and caring. Others see it as a way to fight back or take back control in negative situations. And for others, philanthropy provides a great sense of healing.

      • How can you help your clinicians recognize that some patients and family members have a desire to be philanthropic?
      • How can you help your clinicians recognize that philanthropy can be a positive, rewarding—even healing—experience for their patients?

3. Remove the Mystery of Development

Clinicians have a sacred relationship with their patients. They’re not going to do anything that would be detrimental to the patient—or to the relationship they have with the patient. Therefore, a top question they ask is, “What is Development going to do to my patient?”

      • Do you have a clearly defined process for handling philanthropic referrals from clinicians?
      • How will you articulate that process in a way that resonates with clinicians?
      • How will you help clinicians recognize that you will treat their patients with great caring?

4. Demonstrate Your Own Professionalism

Consider the path most physicians have taken to get where they are: years of disciplined study, more years of residency, certification, licensure, and ongoing education. What might such a physician’s perception be of development professionals, who tend to be younger and less educated?

      • What steps should you take to demonstrate professionalism and competence?
      • How should you describe your roles in a way that resonates with your clinicians?
      • How can you establish yourself as respected subject-matter expert in philanthropy in the eyes of your clinicians?


Finally, it’s important to approach managing up with clinicians realistically. The fact is, some clinicians are never going to embrace fundraising—and that’s okay. Focus your efforts on those clinicians who are open to your influence. Strategize with your team to identify clinicians in priority areas for philanthropy who have expressed willingness to meet with you. Build professional relationships and help them truly understand healthcare philanthropy and how meaningful it can be—for your institution, for patients and donors, and for the clinicians themselves.


Interested in learning more about working with clinicians and donors productively? Consider attending one of our public offerings, such as Dynamics of Clinician Engagement.


Dynamics of Clinician Engagement