5 Key Factors of a Successful Grateful Patient Program

By: Jay Finney

5 Key Factors of a Successful Grateful Patient Program

The pandemic brought much needed public attention to the challenges that healthcare professionals face every day. As a result, there has also been an increase in giving to hospitals and health related causes

This increase is fantastic and represents an opportunity (or challenge) to lock in these new donors as part of your pipeline.  Going forward, it will be interesting to track these donors over time to see if they can be stewarded and will continue to give.  But (fortunately) we will need to get back to traditional methods of donor acquisition and a big part of that will always be your grateful patient program.

Patients coming into your hospital every day represent your most organic pipeline to acquire new donors. Like all philanthropy, a successful grateful patient program is based around stories. The stories showcasing the amazing care and services you provide, and your staffs’ expertise and compassion are why patients become life-long donors. Your patients are also in a unique position to tell their stories. Your hospital has just touched them and their family in a very meaningful way. Listening and understanding the donor’s story is a key to success right from the time they make their first gift. 

One-to-one communication always works best. That is the reason gift officers manage a small pool, so they can dig in and develop authentic relationships. Being able to understand why someone gives and what resonates with them is the key to effective stewardship and communications.  

So, how do you create a program that gathers information about their positive patient experience while at the same time matching them up with important philanthropic opportunities to give?  How do you accomplish this at scale? 

First, you need to identify your most likely potential donors. In order to do that, you need to focus on the key data points to uncover gratitude. Just because someone has capacity doesn’t mean they are philanthropically inclined. On the front lines, your staff needs to be listening for signs of gratitude from patients and their families. There are people who will tell you they want to give and support your mission either directly or in a more roundabout way. But for others it may take a little more digging. 

Here are five key factors when considering who best to reach out to: 

  1. How far did the patient travel to get to you?   
    • If they traveled a great distance or passed other facilities that is telling you they made a conscious decision to see you. 
  2. How many times have they seen you?   
    • The more encounters they have had with you the more tied they are to your hospital 
  3. What are their demographics? 
    • Their identities matter.  Older patients are more likely to respond and give. Women slightly more than men. 
  4. How much time has passed since their last encounter? 
    • You have heard the term “grateful patient tears dry quickly.”  Waiting too long since the patient was in your facility will drastically reduce your response rate and average gift.  After 30 days a typical grateful patient program pledge rate will start to drop off precipitously.   
  5. How long as the patient lived in the community? 
    • Think if the patient has been in your hospital many times over the years.  Maybe their kids were born there and your hospital is where they took them after they fell out of the tree or crashed their bike.  It is where their parents are treated.  It is where they are being treated now. These donors want to invest to ensure quality care is available in their community. 

Odds are, you are using some type of wealth screening to prioritize outreach. By using your screening along with these five factors you can maximize ROI on your patient population. 

Here are five additional factors that will help lead to a successful grateful patient program: 

  1. Consider further modeling of your patient file other than wealth.  Tools exist to overlay philanthropic and lifestyle trends to better help you understand who is already giving to other causes. 
  2. Where possible, engage with your patients in a two-way communication. Gather as much information as you can.
  3. Make it multi-channel.  Incorporate direct mail, email, social and phone. Don’t ignore the phone. Our data shows it is the most productive channel for patient acquisition, consistently delivering 5X the donors as direct mail. Also consider including video outreach.
  4. Make it about more than an ask for money.  Asking if someone is interested in volunteering, taking a tour, sharing their story or recognizing a healthcare provider will also yield people who may have a very positive feeling about your hospital. 
  5. Where you can, be specific with your outreach about why the patient was in your facility.  Some specialties like cancer and children will move the needle in regards to response rate and average gift.  Other categories will not impact response rate and for those, a general patient appeal will suffice. 

No matter how you handle your grateful patient outreach, you need to remember this is acquisition.  And as such your immediate ROI should focus on an investment in new donors.  Patients represent the highest life-time value of any source of acquisition.  

You should expect payback on your investment in 12 to 18 months, and with a well-executed retention program, these donors will be with you for a lifetime. And speaking of playing the long game, patients represent the best and strongest pipeline to major and planned giving down the road. 

My advice in grateful patient acquisition is to focus on stories.  Wherever possible you need to facilitate two-way conversations.  Direct mail and email play an important role in disseminating information but by finding ways to share stories (your stories about life saving care and critical programs, the grateful patients’ stories about their experience and what is meaningful to them going forward) will lead to a deeper understanding and connection. 

These emotional connections and stories serve as a foundation for a lifetime of engagement.