One of the major trends in philanthropy affecting healthcare is a shift in how donors think of their contributions. Understanding this shift opens up huge opportunities for healthcare organizations.

Donor motivation to make a philanthropic contribution may be seen along a continuum, with the left end representing transactional philanthropy that many donors see as an obligation. We refer to a contribution on the left end of the continuum as “Ought to” philanthropy. All of us can relate to feeling obligated to make a contribution, saying to ourselves, “I really ought to give something.”

While there is nothing wrong with this type of contribution, one soon recognizes that when donors make contributions that are “significant” to them (“significant” meaning in relation to their overall financial capacity), those contributions are approached from an entirely different perspective than simply feeling obligated. Those contributions are on the right end of the continuum and are deeply meaningful, passion-based contributions.

From a donor’s perspective, deeply meaningful, passion-based contributions are based on some life-changing experience. The more life changing the experience, the greater the motivation to contribute, the larger the contribution in relation to financial capacity, and the greater the satisfaction a donor receives.

The trend impacting philanthropy today and in the future is the movement of donors to the right on this continuum—increasingly focused on philanthropic investments that address something important to them based on a life experience. This trend’s impact on healthcare philanthropy is huge because, for most of us, our greatest life-changing experiences will occur in a healthcare setting.

Donors approach contributions on the left end of the continuum as “gifts” with no real strings attached—something one ought to do without great expectation of meaningful stewardship. On the other hand, donors approach contributions on the right end of the continuum as an “investment” and utilize a decision-making process that is similar to the decision-making process the donor uses for other significant, non-philanthropic financial investments.

To capitalize on this trend, healthcare organizations must understand donor motivation, encourage potential donors to tell their personal stories of life-changing experiences in the clinical setting, and focus on connecting potential philanthropic opportunities to those personal stories.

Unfortunately, too many organizations today still see philanthropy and development from the aging “ought to” perspective, which robs organizations—and donors—of opportunities for philanthropy that are more significant in both size and meaning.

What steps can you take to help your donors get more meaning from their philanthropy, thereby helping them move to the right?


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