Imagine a patient who has been diagnosed with a terminal illness. She has been in and out of the hospital for several years for numerous treatments and procedures, but to no avail. The patient and her family ask the healthcare providers to make her as comfortable as possible. Throughout this journey in search of healing, the patient and her family have formed a relationship with the physician and their healthcare team.

Often it is precisely because of these relationships that patients and family members reach out to those healthcare providers to engage in a different way—as donors. In a recent interview, we encountered a daughter who did just that. A year after losing her mother to heart disease, she approached her mother’s physician about making a contribution to honor both the memory of her mother and the physician who cared for her.

My mother had been followed by this physician for years, and he, in my mind, just did extraordinary care for her. His care to both my mom and myself made the whole passage of my mom so much easier, and I didn’t want to forget that.

Meaningful philanthropy requires a team effort, starting with the caregiver and encompassing the collaboration between the hospital’s foundation, the donor, and the caregiver. If a patient or a patient’s family wants to make a contribution, they generally reach out to the clinician because this is with whom they have formed a connection.

How this physician responded to the daughter is a textbook example in accepting gratitude and, ultimately, in enabling a meaningful contribution that was an expression of that gratitude.

Here are three key elements every healthcare professional should know about engaging patients and family members who express gratitude and a desire to give back.

1. Be prepared to properly respond to gratitude.

In our donor’s story, the daughter wrote a letter to the physician after her mother passed away, expressing her gratitude for the tremendous care he and his team provided for her mother and a desire to do something to honor both her mother and the physician. Soon after receiving the letter, the physician telephoned the donor, warmly thanking her for her expression of gratitude.

When I asked him where he would like the donation to go, because it was meant to honor both him and my mother, he didn’t say, “This is where it should go.” He told me he had a colleague at the foundation that he would like to introduce me to and that she would be the best person to help us move it forward. He was very humble about the whole thing, stepping back to let me take control.

Ask and Act:

Do your physicians know how to respond when someone expresses thanks for the care they’ve provided? Is there a process in place for them to make a philanthropic referral? What can you do that will help the physician feel comfortable in making a referral?

2. Craft a compelling Opportunity Story.

In our donor’s story, the development professional contacted her and helped her make some tentative big-picture decisions. The development professional then brought the physician back into the relationship to help the woman discover and decide the way in which her contribution would make a difference. He did so in a compelling way.

He [the physician] and I sat down for a couple of hours, and he went through everything with me, telling me about a lot of their vision. He went through a whole PowerPoint presentation explaining the whole thing, so that’s how I learned more about it.

Ask and Act:

When asked what they would do with a contribution, are your physicians prepared to respond with a compelling vision that inspires support? What can you do to ensure your physicians are prepared to share that vision?

3. Work as a team: clinician and development professional.

In our donor’s story, the physician and the development professional partnered to plan an effective meeting. They worked together to get the woman’s story on the table and then connect that story with hospital initiatives in a meaningful way. The physician presented the woman with several scenarios and a range of options. Our donor shared with us her appreciation for freedom the physician accorded her.

He didn’t say, this is where it has to go. He said, this is an option. I asked, “If you had more money, what would you love to do?” And he gave me a lot more ideas of the things that he would love to see happen.

As a result of the physician and development professional working together strategically, our donor increased the amount she originally planned to give.

Ask and Act:

Do your physicians have strong professional relationships with you? What can you do to strengthen this relationship?

The story this donor shared of her journey to express gratitude aptly illustrates the team effort on the part of both the physician and the development professional. As with any team, practice and preparation on the part of the team members will go a long way to ensuring a successful outcome.

Are you and your medical colleagues working as a team? Discover how to successfully partner with physicians, nurses, and other medical professionals by attending one of our public workshops such as Dynamics of Clinician Engagement or The Art and Science of Donor Development.


Dynamics of Clinician Engagement

The Art and Science of Donor Development