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Always Be Campaigning: The New ABCs of Health Care Philanthropy

The old ABCs of fundraising were to “Always Be Closing” a gift no matter the size or area of impact. However, emphasis on the dollar instead of the donor or the mission is not philanthropy, and this old way of thinking obstructs our shared opportunity to transform health care philanthropy. Now is the time to view opportunities beyond transactional fundraising. Now is the time to embrace being a health care executive and align funding priorities with hospital strategic plans that are focused, flexible and shorter in length—to pivot toward a donor-centered model that leads to accelerated gift closures. Finally, a linchpin of driving high performance is to look beyond the old ways of campaigning and to consider the new ABCs of health care philanthropy: “Always Be Campaigning.”

Always Be Campaigning is not about completing a huge capital campaign and then celebrating before you start a new one. Philanthropy today relies on multiple strategic priorities advancing concurrently—each with its own specific case, prospect pool and timeline. To stay current, campaigns must move beyond one large capital initiative to multiple comprehensive, concurrent and strategic priorities that are attractive for donor investment. The foundation office needs to keep the same pace as executive administration to complement, support and become integral to the success of the entire health system. This may include mini campaigns, sprint campaigns, strategic initiatives, constant campaigning or everyday campaigning. Whatever you call it, a different and new way of leading philanthropy is here, and the new operational model includes flexibility with a wave campaign or constant campaigning that aligns and integrates with health system goals.

You may already recognize many elements of the new ABCs of philanthropy in your existing programs. However, there is always room to dig even deeper into the critical needs and vibrant opportunities that elevate giving:


A is for Agility. Besides only looking for talent and integrity, hire or train for flexibility and agility within your foundation team. Working in health care requires an inspiring and often frightening tolerance for change from not only physicians and nurses but also from hospital executives and philanthropy leaders to navigate these changes, lead health systems and save lives. We must keep pace and perspective to best serve valuable providers and leaders, as well as the patients we serve. As strategic priorities are advanced or dismissed, the foundation needs real-time access to information that can elevate donor engagement and best support strategic change.


B is for Board Engagement and Enhancement. Foundation board and development council members are essential allies in advancing philanthropy. Yet, many leadership volunteers say they don’t have the information and tools needed to engage proactively and confidently. Internal campaigns should support these important allies with continuous tools and resources to elevate their engagement and right-fit their roles to help in external campaigns.


C is for Case. Impact-driven donors demand a strong rationale for giving. Strategic and specific case development is essential. The case for health care is evolving beyond historic expansion and capital plans to emphasize population health, provider education, staff investment and service line-specific initiatives. The evolving case for health care along with the impact-minded donor demands compelling, purposeful, strategic and specific cases for support.


D is for Donors. Donor-centered fundraising is more than matching organizational priorities with donor experience. It is placing the donors and their interests, desires and needs at the center of the philanthropy experience. Make sure you engage venture donors in a meaningful way and understand what success means to them. Philanthropy officers can no longer assume loyalty giving and grateful patient support as the primary motivator to engage prospects.


E is for Engagement. Engagement is the new stewardship. Many perceive these two terms to be interchangeable. For some individuals, stewardship is clearly the next stage or action after soliciting and closing a gift. Consider donor engagement as constant and ongoing in varying levels of intensity that match donor interest with the current strategic priority, and not solely their financial capacity. For flexibility and alignment with the current strategic plan, consider engagement as critical, current and constant and not simply a step to the next level in the traditional gift cycle.


F is for Funding of Health Equity Initiatives. As hospitals strive to improve the health of their communities and address health equalities, moving upstream to address the drivers and determinants of health are becoming more commonplace. Funding is, by far, the limiting factor to advance community health and equity initiatives. There is a substantial need for philanthropy in this space. Health organizations can lead the charge in this area by creating cases for support and raising necessary funds to implement them.


G is for Gratitude. When a provider connects with a patient, it brings an initial gift of compassion, healing, touch and care. Gratitude is felt and expressed in different ways along the donor-centered path to a new philanthropy model. There are resources available on the healing power of gratitude and creative ways to capture, leverage, develop and celebrate the gift of gratitude. Determine what works for your organization and your donors, and don’t underestimate the power of that first gift of care.


H is for Health Provider Partners. You must leverage the engagement of physicians and clinicians. There are countless resources to support partnerships including large training seminars, one-on-one coaching and online information. Apply your specific and strategic pipeline skills to partner with physicians and nurses. As a first step, share your foundation’s mission and vision with providers. Then provide them with the resources and support to ACT: Acknowledge when they are thanked by a patient, Connect the patient’s name to the foundation office and Thank the patient directly for their kind appreciation. ACT offers a new way to be successful in advancing your organization without complex physician engagement letter programs. You also don’t need every physician to be 100% invested to achieve success.


I is for Integration. Philanthropy needs to be seen and prioritized as an integral resource by the health system administration. Share ROI and impact in business terms that executive colleagues understand and appreciate. Opportunities to connect donors to philanthropy must be philanthropy-worthy and the initiatives must align within the strategic plan and the yearly operational budget. The future of health care philanthropy depends on supporting more than niceties or vanity projects for influential members of your community.


J is for Joint Venture. Don’t attempt your initiatives alone. In addition to your foundation team, board, executives and other administration partners, you have other key stakeholders as allies. When philanthropy integrates with the hospital, it is easier for the providers and patients to see the benefit, understand the impact and participate in meaningful ways. Ambassador groups, employee campaigns and affinity groups all help support the wave or constant campaign structure of working together.

Now is the time to view opportunities beyond transactional fundraising.


K is for Key Performance Indicators (KPI). Smart goals need to be accepted and aligned with the rest of the health system. As you start the journey to constant campaigning, you need to benchmark along the way, reevaluate and adjust strategies as part of the core operations. Goals must align with any financial accounting and be easily explainable to your team, executive colleagues, foundation board members and CEOs.


L is for Leverage. View each opportunity beyond a singular circumstance and through a lens of how to best leverage or connect that opportunity to something more—either in dollars, donor impact or strategic development. When philanthropy is part of the strategic plan, it unlocks other operational dollars to support more traditional or less attractive funding options.


M is for Multichannel. Embrace various communication tools like letters, websites, social media, emails or meetings to convey messages to your donors in their preferred formats. Use and reuse those quality communication channels with adjustments to reach prospects and donors in different ways. Leverage your efforts for maximum impact and appropriateness for your community while using multichannel communications.


N is for Not Just the CEO. Work with partners beyond the CEO to make philanthropy integral. Hospital CEOs hold complicated leadership roles. No matter how beloved they are in the community, they may not have the time to meet and support your top prospects. When addressing the number in your active prospect pools for frequent meaningful interactions, think of the other partners in the C-Suite to assist.


O is for Opportunity in Operational Change. A new philanthropy model requires a different way to operationalize your structure. A move to constant campaigning places the donor at the center of the equation, and most energy goes to connecting donors to personal meaningful opportunities. As a leader, confirm the opportunities that are philanthropy worthy, part of the strategic plan, in the yearly budget and demonstrate impact. Refocus historic and transactional programs that raise core funding through special events and annual giving to provide a respectable ROI, yet still engage donors in meaningful ways to advance the concurrent campaigns.


P is for Progressive Pipeline Management. Move beyond carrying 100 to 200 prospect assignments and practice progressive pipeline management. Work to streamline portfolios to 50 assigned active prospects that align with your strategic priorities. Constant campaigning focuses on meeting the health system strategic priorities in a budget year and cycle, and the reduced prospect list is critical for this. Prevent philanthropy officer exhaustion (and donor exhaustion) by focusing the assignments and outreach. This provides the time needed for high touch engagement and accelerated gift discussions.


Q is for Quality. Acceleration does not replace commitment to quality. Constant wave campaigning is a new best practice for philanthropy operations integrated with the strategic plan and fiscal year budget. It uses short strategic moves and smaller prospect pools to remain agile. This accelerated path works when you remain committed to high quality donor-centered and specific engagement.


R is for ROI. Health systems save dollars through transformed operations, lean management approaches, cost reductions and continually being on a quest for growth opportunities. Philanthropy is low risk, low overhead and pure growth. It is high ROI. Reporting on growth with simple financials that support the strategic priorities is key to integrating high ROI philanthropy.


S is for Systemization. Systemization is an emerging standard that heightens efficiency and effectiveness of development programs. Explore opportunities to leverage the organization’s regional or national footprint to share knowledge, centralize non-donor-facing work, provide access to specialized expertise, grow talent and more. Systems are also campaigning for boundary-spanning projects that can deliver transformation. With the trend of hospital mergers and acquisitions continuing to grow, determining how to harness the power of systemization is a new key to unlock potential and performance.


T is for Transformation. Always Be Campaigning moves beyond transactional fundraising to Transformative Philanthropyᵀᴹ. It is a commitment to serve your organization, match the pace of ever-changing health care and celebrate the magic that happens when you put the donor at the center of the relationship and integrate the foundation within hospital administration.


U is for Utilizing Technology. Technology provides reliable reporting for benchmarking, identifying prospects, supporting donors, collaborating with colleagues and charting growth. Whether utilizing a sophisticated system or a simple software program, evaluate the current use and future need of your program and invest in donor data management tools prior to campaigning. Data infrastructure needs to be stable, understood and used by the team before any growth projections or goal reporting.


V is for Volunteers. Right-size and right-fit your volunteer roles. Release old models of selection based on occupation or the 15 wealthiest individuals in the community. Connect with individuals who hold your organization as their top philanthropic priority and apply your pipeline management skills to advance the relationships. Align roles for advancing philanthropy with each leader’s skills and preferences. Cultivate the group through their gifts of time, talent or treasure. Involve and respect diverse voices in those conversations.


W is for Weaving Stories. Meaningful engagement with donors belongs at the center of your communications and programs. Humans have shared stories to connect for as long as we can remember. For-profits share stories to sell products or brands. Storytelling is an effective and authentic strategy for nonprofits. Build your case for strategic priorities and emphasize the softer testimonials along with the impact, cost and function of the investment through meaningful stories.


X is for X-factor. Prepare and allow time to manage and lead through any unknown and changing circumstances. Agility and flexibility are key tools for your success. Today in health care you may not be able to expect the unexpected, but you can expect change. No matter how agile you are, your X-factor comes with the time to reflect and pivot. This is done through a rigorous commitment to high-dollar and/or high-value philanthropy, eliminating programs with unacceptable return on investment or return on relationship and including calibration time in your foundation’s yearly and multi-year plans.


Y is for Your Personal Growth. As a philanthropy leader, you are knowledgeable, experienced, able and professional. The new ABCs of philanthropy rely on additional skill sets that may be a personal stretch. Take time to evaluate your skills. Be honest with yourself- without judgement. Evaluate how best to invest in your personal growth to enhance the tools needed to lead through uncertain times.


Z is for Zero Risk, Zero Reward. Driving constant campaigning will require not only embracing change but also positioning the foundation to be an agent of change. This change encompasses different metrics, evaluations and approaches to prospects, as well as ongoing conversations with leadership. This change may feel uncomfortable and risky. If you don’t embrace reasonable risk, you will not receive the reward. Internally, the reward includes meeting and exceeding the financial needs of your hospital, being a reliable revenue stream, advancing research and supporting your health providers. Externally, the reward includes improving patient care and services in your community and connecting with donors in meaningful and transformational ways. Professionally, it includes advancing philanthropy for maximum impact for your organization through your leadership.

The times continue to change and philanthropy officers are left with the need to chart new courses and develop new tools. The same transactional approach with familiar measurements, donor gift pyramids and silo staffing models will lead to the same result with much unrealized potential. Because of this situational inability to match the pace of the hospital, philanthropy would remain as an aside and not reach its full potential to serve the hospital and the community. Now is the time to reflect on your existing philanthropy practices and move beyond these strategies into constant campaigning. Now is the time to demonstrate timely monetary support with a clear ROI and advocate for the foundation to be integrated into health care operations and strategic plans. Now is the time to embrace the speed of change in health care, align with your executive leadership and use the new ABCs of health care philanthropy to move beyond fundraising to a new path that best serves your organization and donors.

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About the Author: Heather Wiley Starankovic, CFRE, CAP, is a Principal Consultant with Accordant. She remains inspired by all things within health care philanthropy, with a special dedication to supporting and recognizing staff members along with the desire to create programs that keep talented and dedicated servant leaders within the field. You can reach her at or by connecting through LinkedIn.


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The Accordant Team has published a number of books to advance the efforts of health care philanthropy and help development leaders everywhere. 

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Accordant is honored to collaborate with American Hospital Association Trustee Services to provide issue papers, templates and webinars to support the involvement of healthcare trustees and foundation board members in advancing philanthropy. These resources can also be found on the AHA Trustee website.

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