Philanthropy may be considered the healthcare industry’s best kept secret. While many elements of delivering care make headlines, philanthropy works quietly in the background to provide what other avenues of funding cannot consistently deliver. Because of philanthropy, healthcare organizations can:
- Provide care to those who cannot pay their medical bills.
- Develop better, more effective treatments.
- Purchase and maintain state-of-the-art equipment and facilities.
- Improve medical outcomes.
- Increase capacity for patient care.
- Train providers in the most up-to-date methods.
- Mitigate the effects of reduced government funding.
- Stave off stagnation and continue to embrace progress in treatment and research.
Recent news reports have inquired into the ethical ramifications of grateful patient philanthropy. The fact that philanthropy’s role in healthcare is surprising to many is evidence of its unobtrusiveness. Foundations and fundraising offices are often sensitive and subtle in their approach, enabling those patients, families, and community members who wish to give to do so without compromising the ethical standards of treatment or access they receive.
Of course, not all patients wish to contribute philanthropically. By training clinicians and other patient-facing staff members to recognize signs of gratitude and refer interested parties to the appropriate fundraising personnel, healthcare organizations can optimally reach those for whom philanthropy would be meaningful and desired. Clinician referrals are widely accepted as the most reliable and effective point of contact with potential donors, but wealth screening can also assist fundraisers in helping advance their organization’s important mission.
When trained properly, clinicians know that their ethical role in philanthropy never involves asking a patient or family member for money. Further, their standards of care are never compromised by helping connect interested parties to their philanthropy colleagues. Instead, they give patients and families the gift of engagement—whether through philanthropy, a volunteer role, or simply the opportunity to share their story. Contributions made to healthcare organizations tend to be highly meaningful for donors—often, driven by significant life experiences. Philanthropy can assist in the healing process, empower in the midst of tragedy, and incorporate donors meaningfully into a body of respected people doing important work.
Referral-based medical philanthropy—a term for “grateful patient” fundraising that focuses not on the patient as a recipient of care but on the referral as a key moment of connection—is ethical, democratic, and important. Increased awareness of these programs should be leveraged as opportunities to dispel myths and provide accurate information about philanthropy: That, through these important programs, care is improved, communities are strengthened, and healthcare is enriched.
Explore ways to partner with physicians, nurses, and other healthcare professionals in strengthening philanthropy at your institution by attending Dynamics of Clinician Engagement or The Art and Science of Donor Development.