As improving community health becomes a definitive strategic priority for most hospitals, development must learn a new “beat” – and cultivate a relationship with a new champion.
This individual? Most likely the manager or director of community benefit. On the surface, this champion may seem very different from “rock star” physicians and from fundraisers themselves. It’s true that community benefit leaders tend to have different backgrounds and view the world through a unique lens.
Yet, I choose to focus on the many similarities between development officers and community benefit managers:
- You’re both in the BHAG business. As a fundraiser, you regularly set big, hairy, audacious goals, whether running a billion-dollar campaign or building a new hospital campus. Meanwhile, your colleague is exploring ways to end homelessness in your city or tackle the opioid crisis. It doesn’t get much more purposefully bold.
- You both lead your institution’s work in critical community partnerships. These relationships deepen your knowledge about what your community needs, how your hospital or health system is viewed, and what resources can be brought to bear. Importantly, your knowledge is complementary. In development, you broker relationships with benefactors that enable your hospital to achieve the extraordinary; your community benefit manager partners, often through grantmaking, with other nonprofits, government agencies, and community group leaders to bring extraordinary change to your community.
- In addition to your personal relationships, you both regularly conduct research about your hospital’s role in the community and how it can best meet your community’s needs (speaking of research, I’d love you to take this survey). In the development world, regular campaign studies reveal donors’ up-at-night issues, shape fundraising priorities, and advance relationships with prospects. In community benefit, the triennial Community Health Needs Assessment (CHNA) and yearly implementation plan solicit input from diverse voices about the most pressing pain points and ways to address them. (Incidentally, I think this should be required reading for any development officer.)
- You are both mission- and outcomes-driven. Hospital fundraising attracts a unique individual. Many development officers have a personal experience that connects them with their hospital’s care mission; they derive deep satisfaction not only from the success of a closed gift, but from the knowledge that those dollars may advance the cure for cancer or improve care in the community. Similarly, community benefit staff often arrive with a public health background and a passion for health justice. Their jobs require them to constantly assess both community need and the outcomes of programs to meet that need. Technology can be a huge benefit here. For both you and your colleague, your frame of reference goes beyond the hospital itself.
What’s in a champion?
But what does it mean to turn a community benefit manager into a development champion? Well, let’s quickly consider physician-fundraiser partnerships, which have long been the bedrock of most hospital development efforts.
- First and foremost, physician champions provide the outstanding clinical care and experience that underpins your hospital’s reason for being AND sparks gratitude that begins the donor’s journey.
- Physician champions help with prospect identification and individual relationships. Their presence in meetings adds credibility. Their input is also essential to case development. They help create that “BHAG” for donors to make truly transformational gifts.
- Finally, physician champions are essential for best-in-class stewardship and reporting. Among other elements, they provide you with the evidence that gifts have been put to good use.
Your partnership with a community benefit manager will likely look different. Yet, their work can still profoundly advance your fundraising efforts, particularly around community health. Here are just a few ways to partner with community benefit:
- Case development: Recently, more development leaders ae being asked to create campaign pillars around “community health” or “addressing health disparities.” Without guidance, this can quickly become a catch-all bucket for donor pet projects and lack the power of a more focused case. Community benefit can help you pinpoint the specific issues that your organization will tackle, be it improving access to nutritious food or creating more safe spaces for children to play.
- Stewardship and outcomes reporting: Measuring the impact of community health programs can be more nebulous than writing a report about the new breast center. Your community benefit manager is steeped in evaluation training and can help provide the metrics (and stories) that demonstrate your hospital’s commitment to community health.
- Amplifying community voices. At its core, addressing health disparities requires understanding the experience of different populations. At minimum, every hospital’s triennial CHNA includes discussions with community leaders representing different identities, experiences, and issue sets. Beyond this, community benefit managers have relationships with individuals who development teams may not otherwise meet with. Understanding lived experience is essential to authentically representing need that donors may be able to address.
Making new friends in a time of Covid
It’s difficult to start or further a relationship with a colleague when you’re in siloes—and stuck in Zoom boxes. One great first step is learning more about your community benefit colleague’s key priorities. To this end, I encourage you to share this brand-new survey on community health investment. Every participant is eligible to receive a complete copy of results, and can join me for a complimentary webinar to chat with both development and community benefit teams about the results. Whatever your next step, I hope that you will reach out.
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