At the Crossroads of Communication | npENGAGE

Healthcare Foundations: At the Crossroads of Communication

By on Apr 25, 2018


Nothing is as personal as the service of healthcare, and the choices we make for who will provide care for ourselves and our family are often rooted in trust. Trust, or the lack thereof, prior to a hospital experience can begin a chain reaction of how we perceive every step of care.

Hospital marketing’s incessant and important task of promoting trust to the community is laden with uncontrollable dangers. Misunderstandings, misdiagnoses, and missed opportunities to show compassion are only the beginning. Charles Spurgeon once wrote, “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” Marketing deals with constant challenges, including situations that hold little to no truth, as well as addressing those based on fact.

For healthcare foundations, gaining and maintaining a donor’s trust is equally important. The relationships forged by connecting donors with causes they believe in must be managed similarly to patient experiences—there is both a cognitive and emotional factor. Trust can take years to build, yet only moments to destroy. To counter the fragile nature of trust, hospital marketing and the foundation must come together for a shared purpose: to promote, maintain, and communicate trust to their communities.

A recent Nielsen study showed that 92% of us say we trust recommendations from friends and family above all other forms of advertising*. Logic and healthcare trends have revealed that healthcare communications should rely more on patient stories, and use the patient’s voice to communicate more effectively. The need for authentic, consumer-voiced content is a natural and synergistic opportunity for marketing departments and foundation staff to begin building a more collaborative relationship. However, here are a few words of wisdom before jumping right in.

Combined Commitment to Content Strategy

Shawn Gross of White Rhino accurately states, “Many hospital marketing departments are treated like Kinko’s. They are expected to churn out brochures and website copy. They are seen as cost centers instead of revenue drivers, and often don’t have a seat at the table when it comes to planning or supporting real strategic growth.” As a healthcare consultant, I personally see this uncomfortable reality play out on a weekly basis, turning energetic and creative people into disgruntled and disconnected robots. However, content can be a salvation of sorts. Leadership understands and supports content development; they recognize its immeasurable value to the brand for establishing and affirming trust. By joining forces with the foundation (a natural and perpetual pipeline for stories), hospital marketing can retake a strategic position—but it takes guts, and it takes a calculated commitment of resources. Together, marketing and the foundation must budget, hire, and prioritize content if they are to truly execute well.

Collaborative Execution

Establishing and driving a coalition of story hunters with members of marketing and the foundation might lead to a new problem—too many stories. Or, just as frustrating, disagreement on how stories are told. For collaboration to exist, harmony must also exist. Marketing justifiably seeks stories about operationalized success, stories that demonstrate excellence and positive patient outcomes. Their audience is the entire community— mostly strangers. On the other hand, the foundation focuses their energy on communicating to donors—mostly partners. These are stories about gratitude, inspiration, and hope. They are different stories, and they should be. In either case, these stories share a similar starting point: patients and families of patients who have chosen to come forward due to gratitude. The following steps may help keep your story hunting coalition on target, on track, and sustainable:

Step 1: Budget time and resources.

Developing great stories requires what some refer to as “soft” time. Time to brainstorm, research, chase occasional dead ends, discuss, draft, and develop. Avoid focusing on the wrong metrics: It’s about quality, not quantity. Be sure to build in the appropriate levels of time, while also communicating that the demands for excellence will also be higher.

Step 2: Choose a leader.

Not surprisingly, both marketing and the foundation tend to be underresourced. Choosing a leader for this initiative should not be made by determining which organization has the most available time, but rather by who has the best candidate to lead. This person should not only be well organized, but also love storytelling. Whomever is chosen, be sure not to minimize their position by having a member of your own team report to only your organization. Rather enable this leader to report to both marketing and the foundation, as well as senior leadership.

Step 3: Develop a process.

Staying committed to a proactive endeavor requires accountability and a clear path to communication, and rightsizing the process and tools can help. As stories begin to emerge, it is important to have an evaluative scorecard for quickly vetting good stories from those that shouldn’t be further pursued. Once the good stories are sorted, final determination should be made as to how far they’ll go. Powerful stories with a compelling and unique hook, likeable heroes/heroines, and willing participants might justify video, social media, articles, and photography, while lesser stories might be simply archived.


When it comes to communication, collaboration between your hospital marketing team and the foundation team may still be voluntary. However, with systemization affecting how organizations streamline their processes and teams, this seems increasingly less likely to remain permanent. By choosing to proactively invest in collaboration at a high-value crossroad such as storytelling, you can begin to build a powerful partnership from which to grow other strategic initiatives, while immediately impacting the opportunity to build and maintain trust.

To learn more about how to build a powerful partnership between your hospital’s marketing department and foundation, watch Mike’s presentation in which he details actionable steps to building a coalition of story-hunters.


Michael J. Beall is principal consultant and communications practice leaderfor Accordant Philanthropy®. His unique skill set and approach to healthcare philanthropy is shaped by years of building market strategies, delivering internal and external communications, and implementing creative brand and marketing ideas. His 20-year career includes roles as creative director, vice president of marketing, strategic and brand consultant, and speaker.

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