When we began our blog series on the key factors for success in healthcare philanthropy, we didn’t know how timely this would be. As our world confronted the attack of a new virus, healthcare philanthropy was challenged to respond. We observed two polar opposites: When healthcare revenue hemorrhaged and cost-cutting measures were triggered, some shops were deemed non-essential and sent home, laid off, furloughed, while others were immersed in connecting with donors to receive unprecedented and much needed support. Why did this happen? What is the difference between the teams that were perceived to be a cost-center, part of the problem, and those that were perceived as a revenue stream, part of the solution?
The answer lies in the key factors that determine success in healthcare philanthropy, specifically, ongoing engagement by the C-suite. Years of research with healthcare professionals identifies that the degree to which philanthropy is included as a strategic objective of the healthcare organization correlates with whether philanthropy is perceived as a revenue stream or a cost center. Engagement by the C-suite is more than administration making a contribution to the employee campaign or attending the gala. True engagement creates a deep integration of philanthropy into the culture of the organization.
Part of My Job
When the C-suite—healthcare administration, executives, leadership group—are engaged with philanthropy, each person considers it part of their job. Leaders help to identify potential donors from their networks, implementing a referral-based philanthropy model, rather than giving directives to the “development director” to “go out and find people with money.” Engaged leaders make themselves available to the philanthropy team, partnering with them to connect with individuals who may benefit from involvement with a strategic leader.
Two philanthropy team leaders from different organizations shared with me conversations they had with healthcare executives early in this recent crisis response, inviting their leader to make contacts with health system board members to explain the situation and open the door to invite support. One organization leader replied, “No, I don’t want to do that.” The other organizational leader took up the task immediately, extending a compelling case for philanthropy in times of extraordinary need. You can guess which organization received more philanthropic revenue.
Strong Working Relationships
Engagement by the C-suite means there is a direct connection, a “seat at the table” where the philanthropy leader is communicating with other leaders in the organization. We have enthusiastically supported an organizational architecture where the philanthropy leader must be a direct report of the CEO. As systems grow and structures become more complex, that direct link may look different, with philanthropy reporting to another executive with market-facing duties. Whatever the chart looks like, the key is to have the philanthropy leader directly engaged in conversations with the CEO, CFO, CMO, CNO, COO—and on through the leadership team. Each executive must consider the philanthropy leader as a partner and understand the role philanthropy plays in the broader culture of the healthcare system. Philanthropy is not the emergency generator to be flipped on when there’s a crisis. Rather, it is the organization’s direct connection to the people who are passionate about its value and purpose in meeting community needs.
Efficiency and Bottlenecks
The philanthropy team needs access to information systems, financial reports, procedural updates, and decisions to be successful in work with potential donors. Engaged C-suite leaders are positioned to open doors and provide smooth communication channels between philanthropy team members and the healthcare system. Overcoming sticking points and speeding up timelines enable the philanthropy team to get what is needed to communicate with donors who desire to provide support. Breaking through barriers and bottlenecks is a leadership role. Successful healthcare philanthropy includes a partnership with strategic leaders that gets the philanthropy team what they need to tell the story, report how funds are used, demonstrate impact, create meaningful return on philanthropic investments, and provide donors with a sense that they are valued and respected by the leadership of the organization they support.
You know where philanthropy fits with your strategic leaders. Now it’s time to invest in that engagement. Your leaders have seen the impact of philanthropy that is “nice to have” compared with philanthropy that is “must have” now that we are navigating a major crisis. Get face-to-face with your leaders, share what engagement means, show them how that can happen, and commit to partnering with them. If you’re already strongly engaged, reinforce that connection and encourage the ongoing partnership. If you need to improve engagement, invite your leaders into a healthier relationship by listening to their concerns and questions, clarifying roles and responsibilities, and being the first to extend a hand. Success in healthcare philanthropy requires a commitment to philanthropy as a strategic objective—and that includes being viewed as an essential partner in revenue opportunity rather than a non-essential cost center.
Advancement Resources can help your healthcare organization embrace philanthropy at every level—including the C-suite—through our innovative strategic partnership. Or check out the benefits of attending one of our public workshops designed specifically for development professionals in healthcare.