Like many development professionals at hospitals throughout North America, Pat has been charged with helping his organization transition from events-based fundraising to focus on a major-gifts “grateful patient” program.

Getting physicians to engage in the program is a whole new world for Pat, but he’s confident. How hard can it be? He loves people and has an arsenal full of approaches that worked so well at galas and golf outings.

During his first meeting with a group of physicians, Pat jumped right into building rapport, talking about the weather, the latest sports, and more. He told them all about the foundation and its needs. When one asked how he got into development, he said, “Oh, I just sort of fell into it.” He asked few questions, thinking it more important to get the physicians to like him. He did remember to ask each physician, “What exactly is it that you do?” Before he knew it, 40 minutes had passed, so he thought he should get down to business: “Let’s talk about the prospects you can refer to us.”

Pat felt good after the meeting. “I think I made a good impression,” he thought. “Now, I’ll wait and see what happens.”

What happened was nothing—except the physicians avoiding Pat when he tried to follow up with them individually.

Pat, of course, isn’t a real person. He’s a composite of many healthcare development professionals whose behaviors—while well-intentioned—are, in reality, self-sabotaging. Let’s call those behaviors Physician Engagement Faux Pas.

What constitutes bad behavior by development professionals? The answer is: Whatever physicians say it is.

How do physicians define bad behavior? A particular physician might be irritated by any number of practices. However, research that serves as the foundation for The Art and Science of Healthcare Philanthropy workshop points to a number of common themes, all centered around professionalism. A few examples:

  • Respect for the physician’s time—Taking time to build rapport might seem appropriate to a development professional, but how might a physician perceive it? “Your average day can be terrifying,” says one physician we interviewed. “We all go home with things we’ve seen that would change a person. So, respect for what physicians do, what they have to handle on a regular basis, is a great way to start.”
  • Appropriate language—While the word “prospect” may have felt natural to Pat, how might a physician react to that term being used to describe his or her patient? The patient has entrusted his or her wellbeing to the physician, they have a sacred relationship. And now the development professional wants to put a target on the patient’s back.
  • Intellectual curiosity—One medical researcher sums it up nicely: “If somebody comes into my office from development and hasn’t even bothered to look at my web page to see what I’m interested in, that communicates a lack of interest and sophistication that is damning.”

Understanding physician perspectives is key to turning bad behaviors into behaviors that build trust and foster engagement.

“There’s no question that some development folks simply don’t know how to approach physicians,” says one physician we interviewed. He went on to say development professionals who are successful “have a culture of respect, value for what’s going on, and know how to handle physicians.”

Looking for more tips for effectively engaging with physicians? Combining the public workshops Dynamics of Clinician Engagement and The Art and Science of Donor Development creates a powerful a three-day experience that explores strategies for optimizing these important relationships.

Dynamics of Clinician Engagement

The Art and Science of Donor Development