There are many ways to qualify prospects, including looking closely at wealth capacity and determining the extent of the connection between the prospect and the organization. The intersection of these two critical components – wealth and gratitude – is where I’ve seen the most success.
In healthcare fundraising, gratitude most often inspires patients and family members to make a gift to an organization where they’ve had a positive, often life-changing, experience. Alumni are grateful to an institution for the education they received that became the foundation of their success in life. Dog owners are grateful to an animal rescue organization for saving their pet and giving them the opportunity to adopt this special member of their family.
The gratitude that we see between patients and family members who have survived a traumatic event, overcome a scary illness, or even gave birth to a child is often at a completely different level. Healthcare organizations must strategically plan for and respond to individuals and organizations who are looking to “rebalance the equation” and show their incredible gratitude by philanthropically supporting a physician or the institution as a whole.
But, how do you determine which patients are grateful? At Albany Medical Center, we’ve discovered that all it takes is a phone call. When wealth and gratitude come together in a strategic way, we experience the greatest, most meaningful success.
For many health systems, Albany Med included, DISqualification is just as important as qualification. We work with Blackbaud to screen up to 50,000 patients per quarter with a goal of identifying about 100 for gratitude qualification. We identify another 2,500-5,000 patients who are included in direct mail acquisition appeals. We send these appeals quarterly and segment the lists as much as possible. Our screening process includes both wealth and predictive models that indicate those who are most likely to give to our organization, top down.
The remaining patients are disqualified for immediate outreach. It is OK to have a discard pile. There are so many patients coming through the door, you cannot engage with all of them no matter how large or small of a shop you have. You must find comfort in knowing that they will come back around if they should or that they will raise their hand on their own.
This is where we veer away from the traditional process of conducting research before relationship qualification. Prospect research takes staff time and if the patient isn’t grateful, then the research time is squandered. We must think strategically about WHEN we are committing those valuable research resources and trust that those who are performing the qualification outreach know what they are doing.
So, we start with a phone call to the top 100 prospects who have been identified through our wealth-screening as major gift prospects. We also partner with physicians around our medical center who we have relationships with to ask what they know about the patient. Our goal is to qualify for gratitude and confirm capacity. For me, the top priority for these calls is to be authentic and start to build trust. We’ve all learned that without trust, relationships don’t exist, so this must always be the number one goal.
During these phone calls, we don’t hold anything back and we are not hiding that we’re fundraisers. We explain that we work closely with Dr. So and So and his team to support his work/research (whatever the physician wants to raise money for – this is predetermined through collaboration with the physician or department chair).
Next, we ask why the patient chose Albany Med and then ask about their experience, explaining that we are always looking for ways to improve the way we provide care to our community. Here, we listen for positives, but we are also open to addressing any negative feedback that may come up. More negatives than positives? Remember, it’s ok to disqualify someone if it’s not meant to be. Move on to the next person and start fresh. Disqualifying is just as important as qualifying someone, especially when you have hundreds or thousands of patients moving through your medical center each day or week.
On this initial phone call, if it feels right, we aim to ask for a “test gift” or at least lay the groundwork for the next conversation. Be sure to have a back-up plan just in case the prospect says no to the suggested “test gift.” You do not want them to think the phone call is all about money. My suggestion is to fall back on asking them if they’d be willing to share their story – either in print, video or whatever format works best for your organization. It’s really that simple.
As I mentioned earlier, in healthcare organizations, clinicians are a great resource for identifying grateful patients. At Albany Med, we have more than 60 clinicians we partner with throughout the year as part of our CLIP (Clinician Leaders in Philanthropy) program.
The Unique Intersection of Gratitude and Wealth
When you are working at the intersection of gratitude and wealth, you can feel comfortable even though you are not engaging with every single patient who walks through the doors of your medical center. Your team can confidently conduct thorough prospect research in a strategic way that makes the most of your time and resources.
I’ve talked about my experience at an academic medical center, but you can use this same gratitude qualification approach at any organization. My background is primarily in higher education and it was a very similar story. An individual can have an incredible amount of wealth capacity but show little or no affinity to the institution and it’s often impossible to affect that trajectory.
As we all know all too well, there are only so many hours in a day, so we must work smart. Think about the bottom line and what can we do as fundraisers to impact that bottom line while creating and maintaining the pipeline that will affect that bottom line in time.