As Americans dug deep into their pockets to fund relief efforts for last month's terrorist attacks, concerns rose that other causes would suffer. Yet, a curious thing has happened in many hospital fund-raising departments: Donations are up.
Contributions for critical-care services have rolled in at St. Joseph Health System of Greater Sonoma County in Santa Rosa, Calif., which is part of the Orange, Calif.-based St. Joseph Health System. Including the more than $1 million that was raised during September alone, the three-hospital system is two-thirds of the way toward a $7 million goal, which it expects to reach by next spring.
Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago raised about $200,000 to enhance its art collection at an Oct. 4 gala that served as the kickoff of an art show attended by visitors from around the world. That was up almost 25% from the amount raised last year.
"People are certainly wanting to find ways to express their core values," says Bitsy Henderson, president of the foundation that supports St. Paul Medical Center in Dallas, which raised $30,000 for transplant patients at an annual golf tournament on Sept. 25. That's up from $23,000 raised at the event last year.
Although some of the nation's charities have reported a downturn in support, hospitals don't appear to be hurting. In fact, the national tragedy of Sept. 11 may have offered a boost. Americans appear to be feeling more generous when it comes to organizations that provide essential services. Immediately after the attacks, television images showed hospitals at their best, treating victims and rescue workers. Nationally, hospitals have responded to the crisis by offering counseling services and posting information about bioterrorism on their Web sites.
Some donors said watching news coverage "re-emphasized to them how important it is to have really good healthcare close to home," says Gene Attal, president of the Seton Fund, which supports the Austin, Texas-based Seton Healthcare Network, part of St. Louis-based Ascension Health.
A study commissioned by the American Association of Fundraising Counsel after last month's attacks bolsters the view that philanthropy grows after national crises such as acts of war and terrorism. Though it didn't examine healthcare specifically, the study found a continuous upswing in giving in all but one of the past 40 years. The exception was 1987, when there was a financial panic.
Such indications are good news for hospital fund-raisers, who were nervous even before Sept. 11 about how the lagging economy would affect contributions. As operating margins have narrowed in recent years, many hospitals have increased their philanthropic activities. Nationally, funds raised by healthcare organizations totaled $6.96 billion in 2000, according to a member survey by the Association for Healthcare Philanthropy, up 22% compared with 1998, when a similar survey was conducted.
For some, the economy remains worrisome. Philanthropic foundations, which are earning less on their investments, could curtail new commitments. Gary Leo, senior vice president of development at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, one of the few institutions contacted by Modern Healthcare that reported a slight downturn in support, believes it may take a couple of years for major donors to regain confidence in the economy.
"Even if the stock market comes back, and it will, I think people will be more reluctant to part with funds because they will wait and see if the markets will be sustained," Leo says.
Meanwhile, hospitals are divided on whether they should alter their fund-raising strategies in the wake of Sept. 11. Milton Smith, board chairman of the Association for Healthcare Philanthropy and president of John Muir Medical Center Foundation, Walnut Creek, Calif., says campaigns focused on a particular service line or piece of equipment might be expanded. "We're going to talk more about making sure we get back to the basics of why hospitals are here," he says.
On the other hand, hospitals have to be careful to avoid the perception that they are attempting to capitalize on a national crisis.
Children's National Medical Center in Washington is in the midst of a $250 million fund-raising campaign for pediatric research, which it expects to wrap up by the end of next year. The hospital decided against altering its message to potential donors, says John Thomas, the hospital's vice president of development.
"Our goal is to raise money for something that is extremely important," Thomas says. Although donations have met or exceeded expectations since the attacks, he says, "We recognize that the attention of major donors has been diverted. We now focus on regaining their attention."