Why would a physician ever object to engaging with his or her development partners?

Physicians might provide any number of reasons: They don’t have time, they have ethical concerns, they don’t know how, and so forth. Yet the underlying reason, in many cases, is their perception of healthcare development.

The objections of many of the physicians we have interviewed are framed by their own personal experiences with fundraising, which often lead to a belief that development is all about getting the money from wealthy donors. Even more troublesome is the perception that physicians will identify their wealthy patients and then exploit their status as a physician to hit up the patients or their family members for money.

Myth-busting can be a challenge. Following are suggestions for handling physician objections to engaging in development at your institution.

It’s not about asking for money

First, make it absolutely clear that at your institution, it is not the role of physicians or other health professionals to ask their patients or family members for money. In fact, to do so would be unethical in almost all situations.

Physicians are critical to the success of philanthropy at the institution, and they play important roles in development. However, none of these roles involve asking patients or family members for money.

In our experience, physicians may have to hear this more than once to truly believe it. A useful tool for these discussions is the Advancement Resources ethics statement.

Download Sample Ethics Statement

Also, consider bringing respected physician “philanthropy champions” into these discussions to help debunk the myth.

It’s not about prying money from the reluctant

If one views healthcare philanthropy entirely from the organization’s perspective, as does this New York Times article, it can come across as “prying money from the reluctant.” Instead, we find through our research with patients and family members that frequently there is a deep desire to contribute and that philanthropy is often part of the healing process. From that perspective, we see that by providing philanthropic opportunities, we are actually serving patients and families members, enabling them to make contributions that are meaningful to them.

Consider ways in which you can share with physicians some examples of meaningful philanthropy at your organization. Also, be aware of the language you use that can reinforce the myth (for example, don’t use the term “donor” or “prospect” when referring to a physician’s patient.)

It’s not about the money

It is not the role of physicians or other healthcare professionals to identify wealthy patients/family members. Development is a team sport. Each participant plays a different role. The role of determining financial capacity is that of the development professional.

Consider ways in which you can help healthcare professionals understand their roles (see below), what the development operation does, and the process you’ll go through with the patients and family members they refer.

It is about the meaning

Done right, healthcare philanthropy is deeply meaningful for the donor, highly rewarding for the healthcare professional, and transformational for the institution.

Advancement Resources’ professional education for healthcare professionals focuses on teaching the following:

  • The importance of philanthropy in the healing process
  • How to listen differently to patients and their family members
  • How to accept gratitude and express appreciation for that gratitude
  • How to provide professional referrals to development

When physicians raise objections to the idea of being engaged in development, are you prepared to articulate their appropriate and ethical roles? Consider attending our public offering of The Art and Science of Healthcare Philanthropy to learn more about working effectively with clinicians.

The Art and Science of Healthcare Philanthropy