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How Technology Can Improve Your Referral-Based Philanthropy Program

In our work with hospitals, the topic of “grateful patient and family programs” comes up often. They have the potential to be a meaningful source of philanthropic revenue and should be standard practice for hospital foundations. However, many institutions struggle to move from aspiration (aka: good intentions) to achieving results in a referral-based philanthropy program. There are multiple reasons for this: the complexity of managing relationships with clinicians, staff turnover, and the data, systems, and technology needed to manage it all.

Depending on the experience the hospital has with a program like this, the questions related to technology can vary, but generally include the following:

How do we get the data from the hospital system?

Should we screen it? How does that work?

Should we put the data in The Raiser’s Edge®? If so, how? If not, where does it go?

How should we identify and/or segment the prospects?

How should we solicit them?

And how do we report on all of it?

Recently, we attended a public workshop presented by Advancement Resources called The Art and Science of Healthcare Philanthropy. In the workshop, we learned what it takes to realize a successful “grateful patient and family program”—although, a more accurate description would be “referral-based philanthropy program,” because the greatest philanthropic opportunity lies in those patients and family members who are referred to development by medical professionals.

The workshop didn’t focus on systems or data segmentation or imports/exports. Of course, those things are important, but they are a means to realize a larger objective. We learned how important it is to truly understand medical professionals so that development staff can build trust-based, professional relationships with them that result in free-flowing philanthropic referrals. We heard patients and families share compelling stories, both positive and negative. It was fascinating to realize that it is not just gratitude that motivates meaningful giving. Donors are also motivated by negative experiences or the desire to help improve healthcare experiences for others. It was a moving and edifying learning experience.

The workshop highlighted how critical execution and follow-through are to make the program work and to honor the special relationships that develop in a hospital setting. That is where the technology component comes in. Effective systems, data, processes, and reporting are the foundation on which a hospital builds successful referral-based philanthropy. This is what led Benefactor Group and Advancement Resources to partner on a whitepaper that shares guidelines and best practices to make a referral-based philanthropy program work in your organization.

In short, while it doesn’t have to be complicated, that doesn’t mean it will be easy. Here are three key takeaways to consider when you’re building or improving your program. See the whitepaper for these details and more.

1. It takes a team. From hospital IT to the physicians and the fundraisers, everyone needs to be engaged and in communication.

2. You need a conductor, a single person accountable for the program.

3. You need to measure and monitor. You can’t manage a program unless you have a quantifiable view of what is happening.

With the right components—a fully prepared development operation, engaged medical professionals, and a system to support it all—the opportunity for significant and meaningful healthcare philanthropy can be enormous.

Download Capturing Physician Referrals in The Raiser’s Edge® whitepaper

Interested in discovering best practices for capturing and tracking physician referrals?  Join Benefactor Group and Advancement Resources for an exclusive webinar on Wednesday, May 31.

Explore why you should capture and track physician referrals to development, how to successfully utilize The Raiser’s Edge®, and best practices from two experts in the development field.


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Steve’s expertise lies in system selections, project leadership, strategic business intelligence, and ensuring that stakeholders are served by technology. He is also a certified Project Management Professional (PMP) and a frequent presenter at conferences. Steve enjoys helping nonprofits bridge the gap between technology and people. He approaches his work with two primary drivers: do excellent work and care about the clients.

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