I am guessing there is not a hospital in the United States that doesn’t currently have, or hasn’t at least discussed establishing, a grateful patient fundraising program. As the reimbursement model changes, hospitals are increasingly looking for new revenue streams and hospital fundraising programs and foundations are under increased pressure to generate more in philanthropic revenue. Different grateful patient program strategies are on the minds more and more of our clients and on the agendas of industry conferences.
The approaches to a grateful patient program can vary. Some may be as simple as having a card sitting around that discusses possible options, while other sophisticated programs screen large amounts of patient information to identify potential key prospects, ensure timely follow up, and engage nurses and physicians in the process at a deep level. While those examples show the extremes of the spectrum, there is room for countless other ideas and strategies in between.
A recent article in the Fall 2014 issue of Healthcare Philanthropy Journal, “Making the Most of Grateful Patient Programs” by Melana Boscio Hydrick, looks at two very different grateful patient programs and provides some keys to success along with some of the challenges.
The article features a hospital in the United States, Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia, and one in Canada, St. Peter’s Hospital in Hamilton, Ontario. It explores the differences between the two programs and also looks at the different privacy laws that must be followed in both countries.
The two examples in the article provide a very good example of the various degrees of sophistication to which hospitals can structure their grateful patient programs to fit their needs. For example, Fox Chase’s program is more proactive in identifying and following up with potential donors and is built on a high level of personal contact. They run their patient list through an electronic wealth screening and then have a conversation with the patient’s physician before moving forward. The partnership with the physician is critical to the success of the program. Fox Chase started their program about a year ago as a pilot program in one of their three service lines but the program has been successful enough that additional staff is being hired to expand it to the other two service lines. At St. Peter’s Hospital the program relies more on direct mail and fundraising materials in the hospital. Personal contact is usually initiated by the patient, rather than pushed by staff or physicians.
Though there are various approaches grateful patient programs can take, the article emphasizes the need to have physicians engaged in the process. Physicians need to understand the impact that giving can have on the hospital and on their ability to deliver better patient care in the future. Also, physicians need to have a deep level of trust that their patients will be treated fairly. Building this trust and partnership can take time, making it a good idea to start small and show how the process will work before expanding it, similar to the pilot approach taken at Fox Chase.
The other piece of the puzzle that the article talks about is the privacy issue. In the United States HIPPA updated their regulations in 2013 and went into greater detail on the type of patient information that can be shared with the fundraising staff. This has helped to clarify how information can be used. It is vital that your program works within the HIPPA regulations and it is important to engage your legal counsel and compliance office when the program is being developed to ensure compliance with the regulations. This can take time, but just like with the physician engagement – it is time well spent.
Having a strong grateful patient program is a very important component in elevating hospital fundraising. This audience can serve as a key piece of your donor base. The program should be customized to match the culture of your organization and engender buy-in from hospital leadership and physicians so that you have the internal support necessary to execute the program.