Donor Relations
BWF Services: Strategic Healthcare Fundraising Consultants

Whether you are building a new grateful patient program or simply evolving one, the best prescription is a healthy dose of trust.  

Compliance. Workflows. Division assignments. Database management. Patient lists. Training. These are all important components of a strong grateful patient program at any hospital or academic medical center. Ultimately though, trust is the central, and arguably most important, aspect of any grateful patient program.

To truly understand trust, we must first define it. Trust, according to Merriam Webster, is “the assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something; one in which confidence is placed.” We can safely assume that patients put an incredible amount of trust in their physicians. In turn, physicians must trust the development professionals when working with their patients—their reputation depends on trust and so does yours.

It may be a given that trust is a substantial part of any professional relationship. However, in the case of grateful patient fundraising, we know that physicians and nurses play a vital role in the fundraising journey of patients and families; therefore, forging a strong and trusting relationship with these key stakeholders is imperative. It is easy to understand why the relationship between a development professional and a physician is critical for the identification and engagement of grateful patients and families. What may not be so easy to understand is how to build trust so that physicians feel comfortable entrusting fundraisers with the precious relationships they hold so dear when caring for a patient.

Understanding the obstacles and then overcoming them is how you too can build trust efficiently and effectively.

Understanding the Obstacles

Facing common obstacles head-on can enable you to instantly build trust with your care-team partners. Transparency and leaning into perceived notions of fundraising tactics can quickly eliminate misconceptions and allow you to address important issues at the very beginning of any new physician or care-team relationship.

Often hurdles are simple misunderstandings, but actual barriers may also be at play that need to be addressed. A few examples of both real and perceived obstacles are:

  • Physician demands: Physicians work long clinic hours, and in the case of academic medical centers, they may also have research or leadership duties beyond their patient care responsibilities. Adding fundraising to their to-do list can be a daunting task.
  • Patient pool restraints: Some physicians may be providers of a specialty area of medicine that enables them to see patients of great wealth capacity; they may even have patients who fly in from all over the world to receive care. Other physicians may mainly see patients of minimal capacity or even those who are solely reliant on Medicaid or Medicare. Not all physicians have the right patient pool for fundraising—and that is okay!
  • Lack of funding priorities: If a physician does not have specific funding priorities (i.e., research projects, programmatic support, equipment needs, staffing, endowed positions, etc.), they may not feel as though they are in a strong position to fundraise.
  • Historical letdowns: If a physician worked with a development professional in the past and things didn’t go well—no follow-through, inaction, or frequent development staff turnover—it may be more difficult to build trust quickly.
  • Preconceived notions: Sometimes physicians have a hesitancy to partner with development because they may think a non-medical professional won’t have their patient’s best interest in mind, may not be HIPAA compliant, or won’t be able to have a strong understanding of their specialty.
  • Fears: Yes, physicians (even surgeons!) have fears. This can include fear that a patient relationship may be compromised, fear that they will be forced to solicit a gift during a clinic visit, or fear that HIPAA compliance will not be adhered to by development professionals.
Overcoming the Obstacles

Building trust takes time. Be patient with yourselves and with your faculty and staff. Fundraising is often uncomfortable for those who haven’t done it before. By following a few key steps, you can put physicians at ease and create a relationship built on trust, respect, and results.

  • Physician training: A formal training program can address many of the obstacles listed above.
    • Create a thorough training course that outlines the process and steps your hospital’s development team will take to identify grateful patient families in a HIPAA compliant way. By mapping out the techniques and steps you will take throughout the process, you can eliminate fear or confusion.
    • During the training course, be certain to emphasize your knowledge of HIPAA rules and regulations and explain the training requirements that you and your team must take part in. Highlight that HIPAA is as important to you as it is to them and that you will not jeopardize the hospital’s reputation or physician relationship in any way.
    • Part of the curriculum should propose and prepare your physicians for recurring meetings with development staff, including the frequency and purpose of the meetings so they understand the expectations and goals.
    • Through the training courses and subsequent meetings, work with your physician partners to understand their own cases for support. Whether a physician has personal projects or funding needs, they are ambassadors of their institution and can help cultivate and engage grateful patients to give to the overall mission. Education of strategic funding priorities will be key to helping doctors inspire patients.
    • Create trust by giving physicians the proper tools and cues to listen for when speaking with patients. We have found that physicians don’t particularly like to role-play, but they do appreciate being given general statements that they can use to introduce patients to the development team. By giving them a script to follow for introductions and pivoting the relationship, you are creating trust by not pushing them to solicit gifts in a clinical setting.
    • Your hospital’s culture may dictate the cadence of training: Quarterly cohorts, bi-annual virtual meetings, yearly in-person training sessions, or even 1:1 models are all viable options. You should launch and adapt your training sessions to be in line with your history, the culture of fundraising, and your goals.
  • Choose the right doctors to participate in formal fundraising: Not all physicians may be right for philanthropy. Invite physicians to partner with development who have high patient satisfaction scores, have high-capacity patient pools, are known as destination medicine providers, or have strong cases for support with impactful funding opportunities. Leverage existing relationships with physician partners who have had fundraising successes and can be advocates on behalf of development. By partnering with the physicians you are most likely to have fundraising success with, you have a higher likelihood of quickly creating a proof of concept that can be replicated in the future. This can help immediately create trust with new physician partners who are able to see the process working through their peers. And not all physicians should be assigned a gift officer. If they do not have the right patient pools or programs, you can raise hopes and expectations, only to fall short, which can create distrust amongst the physician groups.
  • Communication and follow-through: To build trust you must communicate with your care-team physicians in an open and timely manner. Physicians may trust you with only one or two patient leads to start; showcasing your ability to manage these relationships and report back is essential. Small wins often lead to bigger wins (and more patient introductions and referrals!), so be sure to notify them of communication points or action steps with their patients. It is imperative that you also report grateful patient gifts to your physician partners. This can be through formal notification methods or via ongoing communication touchpoints, but never allow your doctor to be caught off guard by a patient who informs the physician of their gift before you have.
  • Use data appropriately: We know that physicians have limited time to devote to fundraising. But we also know that doctors are scientists who rely on data to make informed decisions. This applies to fundraising too. Leverage your data in consumable, quick bites to maximize your effectiveness. Examples can include sharing patient lists with wealth or affinity ratings or utilizing industry best practices and standards data to back up your own work plan to show proof of concept.
  • Do your homework: Grateful patient fundraisers need to be well-versed in the service lines they support. No one expects you to know as much about the disease areas you fundraise for as the physicians or patients, but you must know about the general priorities and basic understanding of the areas you support. Physicians do not mind explaining medical terminology and appreciate that you want to be educated, but you must retain the information and stay current. You should also establish yourself as the subject matter expert on philanthropy; they will respect and trust your guidance if they feel you are well-prepared and knowledgeable.
  • Be transparent—even if something goes wrong: Fundraising doesn’t have a linear path. And while it is unfortunate, mistakes do happen. It is important that you recognize and communicate when something doesn’t go as planned. Owning a mistake doesn’t destroy trust but hiding a mistake and getting caught certainly can.
  • Make the process easy: Physicians are brilliant caregivers charged with saving lives. Development professionals must make fundraising achievable and easy in order to be sustainable.

Whether you’re looking to launch a new grateful patient fundraising program or trying to reinvigorate or evolve a program, trust is the key component. With trust at the core of your grateful patient partnerships, many other tools and tactics can be applied to raise sights and make an impact.

BWF is here to help guide you through the process as an extension of your team. We stand ready to customize a plan that can fit your unique organization’s needs and objectives. Please contact Associate Vice President Kara Wagner if you wish to learn more about grateful patient fundraising.