Why Engaging Physicians in Grateful Patient Fundraising Matters

grateful patient

In partnering with their development colleagues in fundraising initiatives involving patients, physicians want assurance there will be no compromises to their medical practice standards and ethical obligations.

Based on information published by the Association of Healthcare Philanthropy and the Association of American Medical Colleges, annual donations received by healthcare centers in the US from grateful patients and their families are estimated in the hundreds of millions of dollars and possibly exceed $1 billion, with the total increasing yearly.

Most development officers working in academic medicine and other healthcare organizations understand the value to the fundraising process of involving their institutions’ physicians and clinical staff in identifying donor prospects from current or former patients.

Indeed, grateful patient fundraising programs likely will not achieve optimal success without the involvement of doctors and other healthcare professionals  in the fundraising process.

Yet development officers also know well the hesitation many physicians express in identifying potential donors, and especially in soliciting gifts from current or former patients. Physicians are strictly bound to maintain the privacy of their patients’ medical conditions, and they are careful and cautious in what they say about their patients and to whom.  It is not uncommon for physicians to express their disdain for “asking for money,” never wanting patients to think that their access to medical care–and the quality of that care–is in any way a quid pro quo, tied to whether a gift is made to support the doctor’s research or benefit the hospital.

This past September, a recent study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology (and also reported in The New York Times) focused on the roles of physicians and their attitudes about participating in fundraising, along with ethical considerations.

The study’s findings are not surprising: Physicians want assurance there will be no compromises to their medical practice standards and ethical obligations when they partner with their development colleagues in fundraising initiatives involving patients.

Through our many years of working with clients in academic medicine and other healthcare institutions on designing programs and physician training in grateful patient fundraising, we have learned that the most successful efforts all follow a basic set of guiding principles:

+ First and foremost, grateful patient fundraising efforts must strictly adhere to regulations protecting patient confidentiality and privacy under HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.

+ The initiative or program is an integral part of the institution’s overall development program.

+ The efforts are data-driven and supported by timely and analytically sound information.

+ Patients’ hospital experiences support sustaining contact and a continuing relationship.

+ The institution’s leadership fully endorses a robust grateful patient fundraising strategy.

+ The effort engages physicians who are willing partners in the institution’s fundraising.

This last point is key. To make the case for fundraising from grateful patients, development officers must address their physician colleagues’ questions and concerns. Typically, those are:

+ How is the physician’s participation relevant to the institution’s funding needs?

+What are the benefits received by the institution and the physicians?

+ What measures are in place to ensure that grateful patient fundraising initiatives are framed by respect for the patient?

+ Does the institution’s leadership recognize and appreciate the physician’s role in successful outcomes?

+ Are appropriate education, information, and support provided to participating physicians?

It is encouraging to see the scientific method employed as it was in this study to investigate and consider key issues about physicians’ involvement in fundraising with their patients. Handled thoughtfully, respectfully, and strategically, the partnerships between development officers and physicians in these endeavors will enable many grateful patients to “give back,” realize their philanthropic objectives, and play a meaningful role in helping to advance the work of medical science and education–and change people’s lives for the better.


The study referred to in this post, “Oncologists’ Experiences and Attitudes About Their Role in Philanthropy and Soliciting Donations from Grateful Patients,” by Jennifer K. Walter, University of Pennsylvania and Kent A. Griffith and Reshma Jagsi, University of Michigan, was published on September 28, 2015 in the Journal of Clinical Oncology (JCO).

Click here to view the full study on the JCO website.

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