Resuscitating Your Campaign
Healthcare institutions certainly have come under fire in the past few years. As new reports emerge about failing emergency rooms, overworked staff at understaffed hospitals, insurance issues, and skyrocketing medical expenses, the challenge to raise funds for nonprofit healthcare groups has never been greater.
Couple this with a lack of public education about the difference between for-profit and nonprofit medical facilities, and this challenge becomes even bigger.
The public, on average, might not know that nonprofit healthcare services actually are operating more efficiently than the for-profit health sector. In Why Nonprofits Matter in American Medicine: A Policy Brief, Mark Schlesinger of Yale University and Bradford Gray of the Urban Institute discovered some interesting comparisons between nonprofit and for-profit healthcare organizations. Their brief found that:
- For-profit organizations have larger markups of prices over costs;
- Nonprofit organizations adopt more trustworthy practices;
- Nonprofits serve as incubators for new health services; and
- Nonprofits play a vital role in influencing the practices of their local for-profit competitors but too often have inadequate levels of community involvement and incomplete public accountability.
Fundraising efforts that reach out to healthcare professionals who understand these challenges can be an effective strategy for nonprofit healthcare groups. Bill McGinley is the CEO of the Association for Healthcare Philanthropy of Falls Church, Va., which represents 4,500 fundraising executives in healthcare. He finds today’s busy healthcare workers hard to reach, but not impossible.
“We mostly approach hospital employees, and doctors usually get more attention since they have more capacity,” he says. “It can be difficult to get them to respond for a variety of reasons. Physicians already feel they’re giving their time and effort; sometimes they’re giving free care. For many of them, because of third-party payers, they are not earning what they used to earn but have to provide the same level of service. They’re not happy about that.”
To appeal to these healthcare professionals, McGinley recommends talking to them about the types of giving that will provide direct benefits, such as new equipment for their departments. AHP’s clients find unitrust giving — where the donor transfers cash, securities or other property to a trust and takes the value as a charitable donation — to be particularly effective with this group.
“This appeals to physicians since they can take the full tax deduction and still be earning interest on the unitrust entity,” McGinley says.
He also points out that physicians are in a unique position to influence the giving behaviors of their patients.
“The patients trust them,” he says. “They have close relationships. The physicians can be very good ambassadors for the healthcare facility.”
Like most fundraising campaigns, the one-on-one appeal is always the most successful. McGinley recommends that foundation personnel actually put a plan together for their donors. Identify those healthcare professionals who have expressed interest in your cause, then give them information they can use. Host workshops for healthcare professionals on planning their retirement or career, and show them how they can benefit from planned giving.
Negative publicity has a huge influence on philanthropy, so another important piece, McGinley says, is to take the news of your good works out to the public through newsletters and media contact. If faced with negative press about a program or department shutting down, get out into the community and educate the public about why that decision was made. Let them know what you have planned to protect their philanthropy. Plan your messages carefully.
Donors are out there
Households do give to health charities. The 2003 report, Charitable Giving to Education, Health and Arts: An Analysis of Data Collected in the Center on Philanthropy Panel Study, funded by full-service fundraising consultancy Campbell & Co., identifies the strongest determinant for giving to health charities, after household income, is philanthropic activity in other subsectors. Health giving is lower in households headed by men. Those households identifying themselves as Jewish (either in faith or culture) were more likely to give to health organizations.
Iris Caralla of direct-marketing firm The List Experts identifies several key factors in reaching out specifically to healthcare professionals:
- Healthcare professionals respond well to health, children’s welfare and humanitarian appeals.
- Healthcare professionals are educated and compassionate, and they all have the need to help others.
- Keep your appeal clear and point out the humanitarian aspects. Let the potential donor know exactly where/how the money will be used.
- Keep in mind this demographic group gets many fundraising appeals, and getting them to actually take the time to read your mail piece is one of the biggest challenges. For that reason, it’s best to reach these professionals at home.
- In addition to mailing campaigns to the home address of healthcare professionals, testing lists that are “out of the box” as well as testing different segments of lists already used can help boost response.
Christine Weiser is a Philadelphia-based freelance writer and publisher of Philadelphia Stories, a nonprofit literary-arts publication.