Despite the knowledge that philanthropy is important to supporting and continuing their important work, many clinicians still feel uncomfortable approaching the subject. After all, there’s no class in medical school dealing with the ins and outs of referral-based medical philanthropy. When clinicians hear expressions of sincere gratitude, how can they know those patients or family members are interested in deeper conversations about how they might become involved with the work of the healthcare organization?

Direct offer of support

Potential donors can be roughly divided into two groups: those who are experienced in providing financial support and those who are new to being philanthropic. The former group understands the importance of supporting programs and causes they feel passionate about and are comfortable with the philanthropic process. The latter might experience the passion to give back as a desire that is not yet fully formed.

“There are a lot of people out there who perhaps don’t give philanthropically. They don’t donate to their schools or to the theater or the arts. So, it’s a new prospect for them. Sometimes they just recognize through their interactions with clinicians and other team members that we really can’t do everything we do without philanthropic funds—and that’s how you get them involved.”


The easiest cue clinicians can listen for is when a patient or family member openly expresses a desire to make a contribution. When that happens, it is clear that the clinician should make a referral to a development colleague. If appropriate, clinicians can continue the conversation with the patient or family member with the aid of the foundation. Clinicians should avoid making judgments about the amount that patients or family members might be able to give—a small amount now has the potential to be a greater amount later.

“If a patient or family member says to you, ‘I think you have a wonderful organization. We don’t have a lot of money, but we would like to give in some way’—that right there is an entrée to working with them on the development side. There are lots of ways to give small amounts of money now, and then larger amounts, perhaps later in life or through one’s estate.”


Genuine interest in your area

Other cues are more subtle. One such cue that clinicians can listen for is when a patient or family member expresses interest in their area of work. Perhaps the individual will ask about new programs, research, or technology. The question, “What’s going on in your area of healthcare?” is an invitation to a deeper conversation.

“When a patient asks if there’s anything new that you are working on—that’s a great way to start a discussion. You may not know whether they have an interest in giving—and to be perfectly honest, not everyone does—but, at the same time, if they show an interest in what you’re doing clinically, in research, in advocacy or education, maybe they have an interest in helping to support that.”


Sincere gratitude

Another subtle cue is the expression of gratitude. Sometimes the expression of thanks is just that—appreciation for a job well-done. Other times, that thank-you expresses a sincere desire to recognize the efforts of the healthcare team. If clinicians sense that desire, it is wholly appropriate for them to offer to connect that patient or family member with their development colleague.

“If someone says, ‘Thank you. You’ve been wonderful. Your whole team has been wonderful!’—use that as an opportunity to respond, ‘You’re welcome. We love what we do. And we’d love to talk with you a little bit more about some of those things if you’re interested.’”


The offer to connect a patient or family member to a development colleague will flow naturally out of listening for these cues. Making this offer in an authentic spirit of caring can enable individuals to realize their desire to give back, express genuine gratitude, or gain closure on a painful experience through a positive act.

“The role of the clinician is not to ask for money, but to recognize the desire to help. So, when someone asks how they can help, you always want to take that next step and inquire a little bit more about what they mean, being careful not to step over that boundary. You never want a patient or family member to feel that if they don’t give—or give enough—that they won’t get that same level of excellent care. Refer them to your philanthropy department. That’s the best thing you can do.”



Are you interested in learning more about how referral-based philanthropy can strengthen the culture of philanthropy at your healthcare organization? Start the conversation to bring Advancement Resources to your organization to deliver Advancing Healthcare through Philanthropy, a three-part training series specifically designed for healthcare professionals that provides an avenue for meaningful interaction with donors.

Development professionals can attend our public offering, Dynamics of Clinician Engagement, to optimize engagement with their clinician partners. The Language of Medicine Demystified, our latest public offering, aids development professionals in heightening their language skills to build more robust partnerships with clinicians and their grateful patients.