Acquiring Patients and Donors: Trust is the Foundation | npENGAGE

Acquiring Patients and Donors: Trust is the Foundation

By on Jul 27, 2018


Trust is an essential component to building a brand that engages patients, consumers, families, volunteers, and donors with your organization. Trust in healthcare institutions, trust in healthcare leadership, and trust in individual physicians have significant impacts on healthcare outcomes: patients who trust their doctors are more likely to take their medications and follow their care plans, are less likely to be readmitted to the hospital after discharge, and are more likely to engage in recommended behavior changes. Patients who trust the institution and its leadership are more likely to be satisfied with their care, more likely to recommend the institution to others, and more likely to become a donor. For healthcare fundraisers, trust is central to philanthropy. Once a patient becomes a donor, trust is maintained and strengthened with thoughtful donor cultivation and stewardship, transparent reporting, and consistent, personalized messaging.

Trust has always been important to establishing relationships within a healthcare setting, but it matters even more today, as the Trust Barometer, now in its 18th year, found that trust in institutions is declining across all segments of the US market. In fact, consumers can review the trustworthiness of charities online to identify which organizations meet the BBB Standards for Charity Accountability. While the overall decline in trust has impacted the healthcare and nonprofit industries, these two segments fared better than most, as they reported a 4.6% increase in charitable giving for healthcare in 2017.

The Oxford Living Dictionary defines trust as “a firm belief in the reliability, truth, or ability of someone or something.” However, trust is a delicate flower that can’t be summoned on command, can be lost in an instant, and is built over time. Even more importantly, trust is built via relationships—with front desk personnel, with nurses, with doctors, with front-line staff, and with foundation gift officers—all aspects of healthcare that are not controlled by marketing.

Under these circumstances, how can marketing programs help build trust in your institution?  We are going to highlight 5 aspects of marketing programs that build trust:

  • Be a trustworthy resource
  • Start a conversation; listen
  • Be a vibrant part of your community
  • Segment and personalize
  • Balance your marketing approach


1. Be a trustworthy resource. You can extend your brand through providing reliable, consistent, and validated content about medical issues and treatments. Offering content to the general public rather than only to those who are already your patients and donors signals that you are open to your community. Writing about timely topics or even controversial ones establishes you as a trusted voice on healthcare issues. Weaving grateful patient stories and fundraising campaigns into the hospital’s messaging can help to build confidence in your organization’s trustworthiness. Consumers already believe that healthcare companies’ content is more reliable than those of media organizations by a 9 percentage point margin; you can build on that and the trust it engenders will have a halo effect on your organization overall.

2. Start a conversation; listen. Many healthcare organizations make the mistake of using new media as a broadcast tool. Increasingly, however, consumers expect dialogue and engagement from social platforms. If you aren’t listening and establishing a dialogue, you are missing an opportunity to engage your community. In a recent survey, found that consumers prefer social channels to address issues with an organization vs telephone or in-person complaint encounters. Doing this effectively means that you must track and measure the sentiment being expressed about your organization and put in place processes and procedures to address issues in a timely fashion. This strategy, done well, can convert complainers to champions.

3. Be a vibrant part of your community. Get creative. Today this means a lot more than offering health fairs and sponsoring youth sports teams. Active involvement with your community in ways that showcase your commitment to the health of the population you serve speaks volumes about who you are and builds trust that you really do care about people’s health. Healthcare organizations are bringing farmer’s markets to their parking lots, organizing community development agencies, offering healthy eating and walking challenges as ways to show their commitment to the health and welfare of their communities. It behooves healthcare foundations to see the ‘friend-raising’ opportunities in collaborating on community events. As stated in the Donor Bill of  Rights, philanthropy is based on voluntary action for the common good.

4. Segment and personalize. The more you know your audience, the better you can tailor the content you provide to their needs. People vary in the ways they want to engage and the channels that work for them, so make sure you have a strategy that is as flexible and multi-channeled as your consumers. Being engaging and personalizing content also means going beyond direct marketing to implementing the use apps and microsites to address specific populations, as well as programs tailored to people with different interests and life experiences.

Personalizing your social media approach also means involving physicians and staff in your social media strategy. People trust an organization’s social presence more than its advertising, and staff involvement can show that your organization’s commitments go beyond a catchy tagline. You can help individuals in your organization find their voices and manage their social presence. You never know where the next social media rock star will turn up.

Personalization in fundraising directly impacts the trustworthiness of your organization. The likelihood of a gift increases when foundations personalize messaging and strategic ask amounts—everything from the salutation to relevance of a message’s content. Notably in healthcare fundraising, the signatory on a letter or the person asking for support can make the difference.

5. Balance your marketing approach. Your marketing strategy needs to reflect the priorities and strategies of your organization, including attracting the payer mix that you need to thrive. With access to deep segmentation tools and knowledge of your audience, you can build programs that appeal both to wealthy, self-paying clients and to underserved groups in your community. Segmentation can ensure that you get the target audience to your events, and can even help you address social determinants of health that can impact costs and outcomes.

Building a trustworthy brand that engages all segments of your community in your mission is a critical piece of attracting new customers, retaining existing customers, and turning patients into donors.

For a deeper dive into patient and donor acquisition, please join our Successful Acquisition webinar here.


Natalie ScarellaManager, Healthcare Analytics, is dedicated to supporting the Blackbaud Healthcare Solutions sales team by connecting clients to consumer and patient marketing analytics solutions. With a background in nonprofit and healthcare solutions, Natalie specializes in data analytics, CRM, and marketing platforms. With her extensive experience in healthcare and philanthropy, Natalie brings her real-world perspective to Blackbaud’s Healthcare Solutions Group, committed to achieving the best possible outcomes for her clients. 


Jan Oldenburg, FHIMSS, is passionate about using digital tools to build a healthcare system where patients and caregivers participate as partners. She advises and mentors startups and consults with organizations who want to understand the evolving digital health landscape as the Principal in Participatory Health Consulting.

Ms. Oldenburg has focused on digital transformation for consumers and providers for 20 years. She brings broad experience across all aspects of the healthcare ecosystem, including payers, providers, and integrated delivery systems. Her experience includes advisory firms ranging from EY to boutique professional services firms as well as roles as the Vice President of Patient and Physician Engagement in Aetna’s Accountable Care Solutions organization and senior leadership in Kaiser Permanente’s Digital Services Group.

She is the principal editor of Participatory Healthcare: A Person-Centered Approach to Transforming Healthcare published by CRC Press in August, 2016 as well as the primary editor of Engage! Transforming Healthcare Through Digital Patient Engagement, winner of “Best Book of 2013” honors at HIMSS 2014, along with multiple articles and book chapters. Ms. Oldenburg tweets @janoldenburg.

Comments (1)

  • Heather says:

    Interesting read! Thank you! Trust is a complicated thing, but if you get it right, life can be awesome.

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