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The Benefits of Wave Campaigns


Our organization has only done traditional, periodic campaigns but we are interested in learning more about wave campaigning. What are the benefits that make this method worth considering?


Accordant’s Wave Campaignsᵀᴹ model was developed by our team of experts to address the historical deficiencies of traditional campaigns. It is adaptable and especially suitable for health care organizations experiencing today’s uncertainties and challenges. Wave campaigning is a case-driven, organizational-aligned, clinician-partnered approach that aims to meet and exceed donor needs—ensuring sustained philanthropy regardless of economic outlook.

There are specific difficulties faced by health care organizations during financially challenging times. Health care organizations face several challenges such as:

  • A slowdown in organizational capital investment, affecting many capital campaigns

  • Financial shortfalls limiting programmatic growth and innovation

  • Delayed decision-making leading to diminished donor engagement

  • Reduced investment in preventive health and community-based programs

Foundations can counteract the impact of financial constraints and uncertainty by:

  • Creating momentum through waves of smaller campaigns leading up to a larger comprehensive campaign

  • Embracing innovation to maintain philanthropic sustainability and donor engagement

  • Adapting engagement efforts to build and maintain a donor pipeline and incorporating new strategies, such as digital platforms, virtual events and peer-to-peer engagement

Momentum plays a crucial role in philanthropy during times of uncertainty. Momentum is essential in fund development, especially during periods of inertia. Starting with modest goals and specific priorities, wave campaigning gradually builds momentum through successful smaller initiatives. As these efforts demonstrate impact, more donors are drawn to support the cause, creating opportunities for larger objectives. These smaller efforts build trust and ensure organization and foundation alignment, as well as engagement of the executive team, volunteers and community.

Foundations must embrace innovation as part of their strategic planning. Innovation is necessary when organizational decisions are on hold or delayed. Philanthropy can be the funding source for capital investments or program expansions, aligning with patient access and health equity priorities. Philanthropy is often the only source of flexibility in funding that can invest in pilot programs that positively impact community needs. A willingness to take calculated, innovative risks in sustaining philanthropic support and donor engagement is crucial.

Affinity Councils are crucial to support donor engagement and Wave Campaignsᵀᴹ. Affinity Councils are donor-focused and accelerate engagement to gift commitments. They are case-driven and often clinician-led, enabling organizations to build a pipeline of donors more efficiently. These councils encourage a personal and tailored approach to engage donors effectively. They build credibility for each specific project due to the clinician involvement and help build bridges with our busy clinical partners. When organizations advance their clinical specialties with input from clinicians, volunteers and more, it creates two-way streets for comfort, inspiration and involvement among key stakeholders including donors and prospects.

Foundations can adapt their engagement strategies to counteract diminishing donor numbers. Foundations should leverage digital platforms, host virtual storytelling events and explore peer-to-peer engagement to connect with donors in new and impactful ways. Identifying and adapting to emerging trends can help offset challenges in retaining existing donors and acquiring new ones. Foundations must take time to confirm what donors’ top philanthropic priorities are and connect them to those passions. Campaigns focused on donor priorities allows foundations to expand pipeline through donors who can refer others who have similar passions and priorities.

Navigating philanthropy during times of uncertainty can be compared to surfing waves. Navigating fund development during uncertain times is akin to a surfer riding waves. Organizations must adapt to current conditions, innovate when faced with challenges and use momentum from successful campaigns to propel future initiatives. By skillfully balancing through turbulence and riding these waves of change, organizations can sustain their missions and make a lasting impact on the communities they serve.

Foundations can emerge stronger from today’s constraints. By implementing adaptable strategies like the Wave Campaignsᵀᴹ model, embracing innovation and staying agile in engaging donors, foundations can endure tough times, continue their missions and ultimately emerge stronger from the challenges posed by uncertainty and financial constraints.

About the Authors:

John F. Donovan, CFRE, is a Principal Consultant with Accordant. He specializes in campaign strategies and implementation. John can be reached by email at or through LinkedIn.

Heather Wiley Starankovic, CFRE, CAP, is a Principal Consultant with Accordant, with a dedication to supporting staff members and creating programs that keep talented and dedicated servant leaders within the field. She can be reached at or 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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