During our sessions for healthcare professionals, we often explore with them the top reasons clinicians provide for avoiding engagement in fundraising. At the top of the list is ethics. When they picture themselves involved in fundraising, many clinicians see themselves in the clinical setting having to look a patient or a family member in the eye and ask for money.
The role of clinicians in the philanthropic process is not to ask for money. What the clinician can do is listen for and accept their patients’ expressions of gratitude. When it seems appropriate, the clinician can offer to connect the patient to their foundation colleagues.
Even when they understand that they won’t be expected to directly ask for money, clinicians may still perceive philanthropy as taking from people or prying money from the reluctant. Of course, we know that’s not true. Donors tell us philanthropy provides tremendous joy. It enables them to give back to an institution they love, to demonstrate their gratitude in a way that is meaningful to them, to help others, to memorialize a loved one—and, above all, to heal.
“Knowing what I know now, if I went to my doctor and said, ‘I want to give back, I want to get involved with you. How can I do that?’ and they said, ‘You’ve been through enough, don’t worry about it,’ my first response would be that this is as important a part of my treatment as the chemo I went through or the pill I’m taking. This is an emotional treatment. This is getting me back on my feet.”
“Losing anybody is hard; losing a child is probably the hardest thing you’ll ever have to go through. To know that something positive has come out of it and that families are having a different experience, a better experience—and it’s in the memory of our son and it’s making his life mean something—it’s very healing.”
“My wife told me that she wanted to fundraise for special beds for the chemotherapy unit where she was receiving treatment when she got better. Two weeks later, we lost her. We looked at this as a healing opportunity—to go on and carry out her mission. I want my daughter, who was 13 at the time, to be able to say ten, twenty, thirty years from now, ‘My mom passed away, but we did amazing work for her in her memory.’”
Clinicians—rightfully so—are often laser-focused on treating their patients. Their relationship with the patient revolves around caring for the patient’s health with the goal of a positive outcome. When the clinician’s and patient’s focus is treatment, it’s not appropriate—indeed, it might be considered unethical—to talk about philanthropy. However, in addition to treating patients, clinicians have a broader obligation to their patients to help heal them. We most often think of healing as “curing” the medical problem, but healing is broader than that. It involves helping patients do the emotional work of coming to terms with their new reality—whether the outcome is positive or negative. Wielded correctly, philanthropy is a powerful tool in the physician’s arsenal of healing.
“We have very little power to control what happens to us, but once you get control back, giving—through service, through financial donations, through any different way you can help—is certainly part of the closure for patients to return to normal, to feel like they’re empowered again.”
Viewed through this lens, it could be considered unethical for clinicians to not make connections to a philanthropy professional.
“As physicians and healthcare providers, we need to help as many people as we can. There are only so many hours in a day and only so many patients we can see, but if someone is able to donate, we can reach more people. We can help more people. You have to look at it that way, rather than being humble and saying, ‘Oh, no, we don’t need that, thank you. We’ve got this. This is just what I do.’ We should say, ‘Thank you, I appreciate that, and here’s a way we can help more. We can work together.’ Philanthropy has helped us reach patients who perhaps couldn’t have the healthcare they deserve.”
The Hippocratic Oath demands that no clinician should ever leave a wound to fester or a limb to wither; likewise, they should never let a patient’s desire to be philanthropic do the same. Philanthropy professionals are skilled in working with patients and family members to help them realize their dreams to make a difference. By not acting when they hear that desire, clinicians also deny their patients the opportunity to work with those skilled professionals to accomplish something meaningful—and potentially healing—for them.
“After you see the foundation in action and see how they function, and you see the class and sensitivity that they use to contact patients and families and walk them through the process—once you see that in action, you won’t have to worry about feeling concerned or worried ever again.”
Enabling patients and family members to be philanthropic requires nothing of the clinician beyond putting their finely honed listening skills to work in a slightly different way.
“Just listen to your patient—we’re good at listening because that’s what we do as physicians is listen. Listen to your patients, and they’ll tell you what they want to do.”
Explore the many options that Advancement Resources provides for deepening clinician engagement in philanthropy. We offer robust training for clinicians in many areas, including participating in grateful patient programs and sharing their funding priorities with donors and potential donors. Contact us to learn how we can customize our services for the unique needs of your organization.