What are the top 3 attributes a healthcare CEO brings to philanthropic success for his/her hospital?

Our experience with a large number of healthcare clients suggests these CEO attributes can make the most significant difference in how donors and prospects perceive hospitals and their philanthropic requests.

1. The successful CEO is courageous—bringing an unwavering sense of mission to the work at hand, especially when speaking with board members or major donors. She/he is visionary, expressing devotion to a clear mission and messaging it often. For example, when the CEO says “your gift to our hospital can truly change the world for patients with heart disease…” donors see this as potentially the highest and best use of their contributions. They know the hospital is thinking big and striving for far-reaching impact, from senior leadership throughout the enterprise.

2. The caring CEO is empathetic—unafraid to bring deep compassion to his/her relationships with donors and volunteer leaders. This entails keen listening skills and the ability to give feedback that acknowledges donors’ perspective, values, aspirations, and needs. In the best case, the CEO will seek advice from high-level benefactors in authentic ways; which can be the highest form of engagement for a smart, accomplished, high-net-worth individual accustomed to being a thought leader him/herself. Another example of empathy in action is when the CEO personally offers to help with medical advice. For an MD/CEO this can be an intimate conversation about the donor’s health, answering questions in confidence. For other CEOs it can be a referral to the top specialist at your institution, handled with genuine care and concern.

3. The influential CEO is omnipresent—in the room when it matters, with top donors and volunteer leaders who often expect and certainly value this face-time at their level of support and engagement. Foundation staff should of course ensure these encounters are saved for top donors and prospects. Essential to the success of these visits are: careful scripting, briefings, and even rehearsals for the most pivotal moments. In addition to being present and attentive in meetings with benefactors, the CEO can be a force for action by leading internal planning sessions with caregivers and scientists to inspire compelling case statements and gift opportunities—sometimes the most challenging part of the development process (especially in large, complex medical centers). The CEO can inspire multi-disciplinary collaborations between otherwise independent departments or service lines that can lead to transformative gifts so key to philanthropic success in the 21st Century.

Giving Influencers

Spouses or partners are strong influences in determining gifts. Organization representatives have overtaken other family members as the second most important influencer.

According to BWF’s annual survey, “What the Affluent Think about Giving to Healthcare,” the most important influencer of why high-net-worth individuals give to a hospital is organization representatives (followed by family members). As CEOs are certainly among the most influential representatives of their institutions, what they say and do around donors/prospects merits vigilant consideration and monitoring.

From observing top-performers, we recommend as much as 25 percent of the healthcare CEO’s time should be spent working in philanthropy-related ways—from donor visits, to volunteer leader interactions, to thought-leadership tours—all preceded by strategic deliberation and planning. The most effective hospital foundations invest considerable time and energy guiding and engaging their institution’s CEO in the philanthropic process. And highly successful CEOs find the bandwidth to participate enthusiastically and even passionately in this vital work.