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Grateful patient philanthropy: the way forward for UK hospital charities and trusts?

Hospice patient being cared for - photo: Pixabay
Grateful patient philanthropy: the way forward for UK hospital charities and trusts?

Despite the Chancellor’s decision to boost funding to NHS frontline services in last month’s budget, it’s an exceptionally challenging environment for fundraisers working with hospital charities and trusts. 
 
The deepening pressure of long-term funding cuts and an increasing demand for services makes it all the more important that new funding channels are created. What road then can fundraisers take for the biggest and most sustainable impact on
income? 
 
It’s worth looking to the US, where philanthropy and, in particular, grateful patient fundraising programmes have increasingly become part of the fabric of hospitals and other medical establishments.
 
Many of the larger hospitals have had successful programmes in place now for a number of years to bridge financial gaps. And smaller ones are following suit.
 

What is it?

So what is grateful patient fundraising? As the name suggests, it’s where fundraisers and hospital staff actively engage with patients or family members, enabling them to show their gratitude for the care they have received by giving a donation. It’s a
whole-organisation approach, which sees doctors and nurses through to staff at the front desk, prepared to pick up on conversations around the opportunity of contributing towards the hospital’s equipment, services, buildings and more.
 
Currently this form of philanthropy is worth an estimated $10 billion in charitable giving annually in the US.
 
It’s an area that also holds huge potential for the UK’s hospital charities if they too can make this shift.
 

Could we? Should we?

Culturally, we’re far removed from the US of course – our reticence to talk money or – for many people – to open up about anything personal. Conversations have a time and a place. Plus we have a very different understanding of how our healthcare system is funded, where many expect our hard earned taxes to fund an NHS that is not over-stretched and under-staffed. (Although it should be recognised that as much as 90% of hospital funding in the US can come through Federal programmes,
Medicare and Medicaid).
 
With this in mind, is it too awkward though to ask patients and their friends and families for this kind of support? Not really. Medical staff, of course generally aren’t used to broaching this subject with patients, and many, quite reasonably, may feel uncomfortable with the idea, and consider responding to any practical expression of gratitude with a positive suggestion of giving time, money or influence for example as unethical.
 
Yet in fact, what’s one of the most common emotions we feel when we – or someone we love – have received the help of dedicated medical staff? We feel thankful and so we want to give back. When someone has received hospital treatment and care, and developed a relationship with its medical staff they – and their families and friends – feel invested in it and often want to help in some way to express their gratitude.
 
There are gains to be had on both sides. As well as presenting people with a positive suggestion for how they can give back, there’s also research to suggest that enabling people to demonstrate their gratitude is good for the healing process. Studies by Dr Robert Emmons at the University of California, Davis, an expert on this subject, confirm these links: that gratitude creates happiness and impacts positively on health.
 

The right approach

So, what’s the best way to approach it? Consider that everyone who comes into contact with a patient or family member has the opportunity to promote giving as a way of expressing gratitude. If the whole organisation is going to play a role, it’s critical that leaders are on board with this. And there’s a whole host of education and awareness training that will need to happen to ensure staff understand why this is so important, that they feel comfortable having such conversations and tips for how to go about it.   
 
For many charities – potentially even for healthcare practitioners across the board – this could be a significant cultural shift from the types of conversations they are having with patients now. But a grateful patient fundraising programme has huge potential and there is an urgent need to access new income streams for healthcare.
 

Time to change?

Grateful patient philanthropy is certainly having a positive impact in the US. Here, many hospitals already fundraise successfully through their charities of course, but is it time to follow the US’s example and reach out further? For conversations about giving back to become commonplace within our hospitals and clinics? 
 
To continue providing excellent care in ever more difficult times, I think it is.
 

 

Andrew Watt is Senior Principal of Accordant Europe. Having worked with the fundraising community since the early 1990s, Andrew’s career spans roles on both sides of the Atlantic, working as Deputy CEO of the Institute of Fundraising, president and CEO of the Association of Fundraising Professionals in the US and interim president and CEO of the Association for Healthcare Philanthropy in the US. A public policy and advocacy expert, Andrew has advised regulators across the globe on many aspects of the regulation and practice of fundraising. He recently returned to the UK, setting up the European arm of Accordant Philanthropy.


On 15-16th January 2019, Andrew will be hosting a two-day conference in London on Advancing Healthcare Philanthropy. This will include a series of invigorating and educational specialist workshops designed for nonprofit leaders and fundraisers working within hospital trusts. He hopes too this will generate peer to peer discussion, debate and focus on how change can be stimulated in UK healthcare fundraising. Seats are limited and interested parties are encouraged to book early to ensure a place. Registration is now open.

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