Gift officer and physician engagement: How we can support and steward our health care teams

As our academic medical centers, health care systems, and community hospitals take on the unprecedented challenge of COVID-19, fundraising in medicine is becoming more essential than ever.

Gift officers are already transitioning their relationships with donors and prospects to our “new normal”—setting up video chats, reaching out by phone and email, and adjusting cultivation strategies to respect their donors’ individual situations. But we also need to think creatively about the relationships between gift officer and physician or health care team.

How can we best support and steward our physician and health care leaders right now? What are some tangible ways that gift officers can demonstrate support?

Here are several ideas for engaging your donors to support the vital work of medical centers, hospitals and health care teams during the coronavirus crisis and its aftermath.

Reach out

Send an email or text to the physicians you work with regularly – and those with whom you are still building a relationship – thanking them for all they are doing during this most critical time. Make it clear that they don’t need to respond – you simply want to let them know they are on your mind.

Give everyone a chance to participate

Familiarize yourself with your institution’s urgent giving opportunities related to the pandemic. Make sure that this menu includes giving amounts that allow the full range of your prospects and donors to participate. From $10 to $10 million, everyone wants the chance to make a difference.

Articulate your needs

Let your donors and prospects know about these giving opportunities as appropriate. As you initiate stewardship calls to check in on your prospects, make sure they know your institution has philanthropic needs related to frontline support of your medical team and patients. You can follow up with an email to update them on what your institution is doing to keep your community safe, and include the giving menu as an attachment. Many donors and prospects are asking how they can help. Give them the chance to partner with your institution’s heroes.

Get creative

Create a short video filming yourself—and maybe your family, whomever you are sheltering-in-place with—thanking nurses, physicians, and other medical staff for their work. Include thanks to health care workers charged with tasks that often go unseen, like —cleaning and disinfecting, meal preparation, laundry services, appointment schedulers, and more. Show positivity. Enlist the help of your communications and marketing team to send the video out in a polished format. Let medical staff know that their gift officers are thinking of them.

Connect donors with those on the front lines

Reach out to prospects and donors in your portfolio and ask if they want to send an email of appreciation to their primary physician or to front-line health care workers battling COVID-19 (or both). Collect these emails, and come up with a creative way to send them to physicians. Demonstrating that you remain engaged with your donors and that your donors, in turn, remain engaged with the institution, is key here. The goal is to build trust and keep the lines of support open.

A few do’s and don’ts:
  • Don’t be shy about reaching out.
  • Do avoid asking your physicians for information or any other responses that entail any time expenditure on their part.
  • Don’t be afraid to talk candidly with your prospects and donors about physician and health care team needs during this time.
  • Do be careful to attend to the individual relationship when you engage. The appropriateness of this conversation will depend entirely on the situation. Focus on listening rather than talking.
Let physicians know what you’re doing for them

It might seem like you should leave your physicians completely alone to concentrate on their work right now. But the reality is that your institutions have significant clinical and research needs because of COVID-19: this means physicians need to know you’re remaining laser-focused on helping provide support. Finding “value-add” ways to demonstrate that you care makes all the difference and will help build relationships that last well beyond the current crisis.


If your gift officers need help transitioning their relationships with donors and prospects to our “new normal,” please contact Jeff Nearhoff at jnearhoff@grenzglier.com or Stacia Pelletier at spelletier@grenzglier.com.

Stacia Pelletier, Consulting Vice President, contributed to this article. Stacia brings 20 years of experience in higher education, academic executive administration, and academic medicine fundraising to GG+A. Currently the chief writer to the president of Emory University, Stacia offers a unique perspective at the intersection of strategic communications, executive positioning, and academic medicine.

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About the author

Jeff Nearhoof

Senior Vice President

 Jeff Nearhoof, Vice President, brings over 30 years of experience leading advancement and development programs in both public and private universities. Jeff has extensive experience in prospect and donor cultivation and management, data analysis, strategic thinking, and employee management and mentoring. He brings a depth of experience spanning multiple…