As not-for-profit medical centers and health systems continue to deal with the realities of healthcare reform and its impact on increased healthcare costs, more effective fundraising models must be explored and developed, especially those focused on high return-on-investment activities.
Growing more important
Building a philanthropy campaign requires leadership buy-in, right staff
The onset of the 2008 recession caused many hospitals and healthcare organizations to re-examine their fundraising programs. As is evident from the increased attention from rating agencies on philanthropy, this important third source of revenue must also become a high-performing contributor to the budget. I wanted to share some insights that have allowed Swedish Medical Center in Seattle to be successful in its fundraising efforts and continue to break records every year since the beginning of its $100 million Campaign for Swedish in 2007, despite a sagging economy.
There is much discussion of creating a culture of philanthropy at medical centers and health systems, and for good reason. Hospital fundraising is already more difficult than for arts or higher education institutions. Without this culture, hospital fundraising is even more difficult with its privacy considerations and the absence of affinity-based and long-term constituencies such as those in the arts or higher education. Hospitals lack those advantages and also are further saddled with privacy considerations.
Our base is obviously our grateful patients, but healthcare organizations and the foundations that serve them must have the right elements in place to capitalize on their “alumni.” Here are the six key factors that have led to the success of our program and similar ones throughout the country:
- A compelling vision for the organization. If philanthropists are going to invest significant amounts of money, our organization must be able to articulate how it will address critical healthcare needs in the community, now and in the future. Upon his arrival in 2007, Swedish's CEO, Dr. Rod Hochman, articulated a vision of significant growth over the next five years to more effectively deliver a broad continuum of care to communities in our region. Philanthropy was a core tactic within this strategy.
- Successfully developing this culture of philanthropy starts at the very top. All senior executives must be involved in and supportive of organizational fundraising efforts, and must be able to articulate why philanthropic support is important. A key indication of such a culture of giving must come from the organization's executive team. When we started the Campaign for Swedish, Hochman and the rest of the senior leadership team all made significant personal campaign gifts. This got everyone's attention: physicians, donors and staff.
- Ensure that physicians buy into the campaign. They, too, wanted to lead by example. Physicians have given $7.5 million to the campaign, or more than 10% of the $71 million raised since the beginning of the campaign in 2007. These are both employed and private-practice physicians. We cannot overstate the importance of having a large number of physicians supporting the organization's fundraising efforts. They are the critical link to your grateful patients, and they are better able to talk with their patients about the campaign, even if it is only to connect them to foundation staff, when they have personally donated.
- Find the right balance between high ROI activities—major and planned gifts—and special events and annual giving. Swedish was willing to make the hard decisions to decrease the amount of staff and volunteer time spent on events (changing and even eliminating events), while ensuring we retained enough activities to engage more people in our organization. Events feed that all-important gift pipeline and provide visibility in the community for your organization. At the end of the day, all people in our position will avow that the organization's fundraising totals at year-end hinge on our ability to raise to leadership gifts; yet it is critical to still engage the larger community and build for the future.
- Create an effective volunteer leadership group that is willing to be part of the fundraising process. Whether they are members of the system board, foundation board or one of the myriad committees and councils associated with key service lines and projects—organizations need the right people. We all know the ones we would like to truly engage—those individuals who are willing to make their own campaign gift and help connect us with other community leaders to get them engaged with the organization and who will ultimately become donors. Foster relationships with these community leaders and get them committed to your program efforts.
- Hire the “right” foundation staff. Fund-raisers must be able to ask for the gift and have the credibility not only with your donor base, but with administrative and physician leaders. These staff members need to be seen as partners with hospital leaders to accomplish the mission. In an industry with historically short average tenure in the position, organizations need to hire smart people and continually re-recruit them to ensure that there is cont-inuity in these positions. Fundraisers who have been in their jobs for five-plus years have a significant on their organizations. The trusting relationships they have with the donors and the physician and administrative leaders are vital to successfully funding key projects on your campuses.
Don Theophilus is executive director of the Swedish Medical Center Foundation and vice president of development at Swedish Medical Center, Seattle.
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