Academic medicine and healthcare institutions have unique opportunities to leverage volunteers. But that requires them to recognize and understand their unique ties to those volunteers. People support their local hospital because they use it, because it is a part of their community, because they have connections with it that are very different from those of an arts and culture or higher education institution.
It’s because of the uniqueness of those connections, they need to have strategies in place to triage the large number of people who volunteer in some way for the institution—particularly those who are volunteering while relatively early in their careers. Otherwise it can become overwhelming to attempt to steward everyone who ran a marathon on behalf of the hospital, everyone who attended a fundraiser, and everyone involved in some other large-scale event.
Navigating that process requires an investment in staff, along with a long-term perspective. After all, some of today’s small dollar donors will—if kept close and stewarded well—be the major and principal gift donors of the future.
Maintain the pipeline
Maintaining a healthy donor pipeline is important to the long-term fundraising success of any institution.
While there are many ways to do so, I’ve seen several hospitals lay the groundwork for major and principal gifts by successfully cultivating their junior board. That starts with developing processes that ensure the donor feels like there is always a place for him or her and ways for him or her to be involved with the hospital.
For example, a hospital may identify who on its junior board wants more responsibility, such as chairing an event, as well as who is particularly engaged. It then makes sure to gradually increase that member’s role. After a number of years of contributing to the junior board in increasingly levels of responsibility, a senior/governing board member will then approach that junior board member and say something like, “We can see that you’re incredibly invested in the institution, and we would love to help you grow as you continue to support the work being done here.”
The senior/governing board member then invites the junior board member onto a more senior board, such as the woman’s board or governing board. Throughout that process, that individual has likely significantly increased his or her giving. He or she may have started out giving $500 a year, but as his or her role increased, he or she may be giving $10,000 by the time he or she is invited to the more senior board as he or she feels increasingly important and indispensable to the institution. This is especially true when a give/get strategy is applied for the younger donor that enables that donor to leverage his or her social network to increase his or her capacity to give.
Understand the long game
On the other hand, all too often, I’ve seen hospitals give a large amount of attention and accommodations to their junior board. But, when the board members age out of the group, the hospital stops paying any attention to them. While every institution has limited resources, that’s a missed opportunity to engage potential donors.
Moreover, many of those institutions often don’t have processes or strategies to reach out either. For example, some may not be adding their junior board members to their database. I recognize that a large number probably won’t support the hospital in any way other than attending events, however, the approach virtually ensures that the institution will lose track of some people who would likely want to continue to be engaged in some form. I suggest institutions alter that approach by adding those who hold positions of responsibility on their junior board to their database.
Failing to do so is a clear sign that those institutions are simply failing to play the long game. After all, while junior board members who are in their 20s and want to throw parties aren’t major donors, they are already engaged with the hospital. If the hospital works to keep them involved, it may reap the benefits when they’re in later stages of their career and have capacity. By continuing to cultivate the relationship, the institution can make it much easier to start a major gifts conversation.
Engagement doesn’t have to be complicated. For example, look at years of giving. A hospital’s annual giving strategy should reward those who have given a lot, who give often, and who have given for an extended period of time. That may mean reaching out to a 32-year-old who has given relatively modest amounts for 10 years and acknowledge that anniversary. Celebrating anniversaries make donors feel like they’re being seen. That can be a standardized note, email, a handwritten note—or any number of other forms of outreach.
That type of engagement requires institutions to pay attention to the ways that people get involved. For example, if someone went to 15 events in the past 10 years but hasn’t given much, that person should be invited to events, but the institution doesn’t need to devote resources to soliciting him or her.
In other words, solicitations should match donors’ behavior with the goal of driving donors to give more. For example, when the institution aims to engage people running a 5k, it should look at the highest fundraising teams, figure out who the leaders of those teams are and get them involved more. Those have the potential to be big fish and they have already indicated their affinity for your organization. This may seem intuitive and simple, but it is very frequently missed and all that’s required to do this well is ensure those donors are really taken care of by following up afterward.
Set the institution up for success
Playing the long game requires a significant investment in time and energy. But it also enables the institution to grow its internal teams. If an institution staffs its junior board with someone roughly the same age as the junior board, that employee can grow with those volunteers.
As the junior fundraiser grows, so do the donors they have been cultivating. In a well-run situation, the person who runs the junior board can become a junior major gift officer and eventually a major gift officer as he or she will have built the confidence to solicit. That approach can drive strong results because it can help foster an authentic, long-standing relationship between the major gift officers and his or her donors. By setting up internal and external pipelines, institutions can ensure they’re well positioned for the long term.
Change doesn’t come easily. But by recognizing some clear opportunities, academic medicine and healthcare institutions can put themselves in a strong position for the long term.
If you need assistance developing a strategy to rethink how you’re engaging with junior board members and other volunteers, you can contact Annie at firstname.lastname@example.org.