A grateful patient’s desire to give back philanthropically often transcends expressing thanks. Indeed, gratitude is only one component of that desire. Often, the care that they receive—whether routine or not—has a greater impact on their life and the lives of their family members that goes beyond the outcome. For example, a patient with chronic pain in their hip has a hip replacement. The positive outcome is that the patient no longer lives in pain and has regained mobility. But the outcome is greater than the sum of the actions taken to heal a patient. Dancing at your child’s wedding, the daily stroll to the mailbox, wading into a lake and feeling the sand squish between your toes—these, and hundreds of other actions, add up to the heartfelt meaning enfolded into a contribution. It’s not about the money. It’s about the meaning.
“You can say thank you again and again, but you feel such a surge of emotion for this doctor. He’s not your brother; he’s not your family member. And you can’t really send his kid to college. You can’t go to his house and do something wonderful for his family. So, how do you keep thanking someone? …I don’t know if doctors realize how much patients struggle with that. You are one of thousands that they treat, and you know that.”
Even when the outcome is negative, patients and family members can be so touched by care and caring that they feel compelled to philanthropic action. To the caregiver, these actions may seem ordinary or routine—calling after hours to share encouraging test results, making small talk with a patient as they are wheeled into the OR, or giving a long-term patient a clean, close shave. But to patients and family members, they can be meaningful moments of personal engagement.
“I truly believe that had I not been at this hospital, I wouldn’t have made it. I believe that the care here was so exceptional and that everyone—Everyone!—did so many things for me that went above and beyond. You didn’t have to do the things you did, but you did. It could have been a really horrific experience, but you made everything as positive for me as you could under really rough circumstances. You smiled at me, you never snapped at me, you were just so kind to me. How could I not be anything but grateful?”
“I think about how long I was in the hospital and couldn’t wash my hair. My nurse said to me, ‘I don’t know how we’re going to wash your hair, but we’re washing it today.’ I don’t know how she did it—she slid me off the top of the bed and washed my hair after, I don’t know, three months or something like that. I felt like a princess.”
The desire to give back, to act philanthropically, is really a way for the donor to acknowledge the clinician’s humanity, to say, “I see you as a person and want to support the important work you do.”
“…you want to shake them and say, ‘Do you realize what you did? You gave me my life. I know you’re in there cutting away, and that’s what you do for a living—and that’s what you enjoy—but you saved my life. What can I do?’ And they say, ‘Oh, I do this all day, every day.’ You want to scream at them, ‘You saved my life! What can I do?’”
Acting philanthropically helps donors to grow as people. Philanthropy allows them to explore what is truly important to them and to drive their passion toward something bigger than themselves.
“I did charitable things in a very haphazard way, very disorganized. Having this medical crisis in my life and being introduced to the foundation gave me the ability to meet some wonderful goals for myself—not to focus on myself, but to rebuild and start focusing my attention on others through philanthropy. It’s a wonderful experience, and the foundation gave me that. They pointed me in the right direction of where I wanted to go. I would not have had that direction without being involved with the foundation.”
Donors have a rich constellation of passions, but they also have a rich constellation of motivations to being philanthropic. Whether the contribution is large, small, or somewhere in-between, donors experience great joy from their philanthropy—and the meaning it gives to their lives through the impact it makes on others.