Grateful Patient Program: How to Inspire More Generosity

By: Jay Finney


Every day, healthcare institutions transform the lives of their patients through compassionate care and innovation. In return, many individuals are drawn toward opportunities to give back. A grateful patient program allows just that.

By establishing a grateful patient program, your healthcare organization can cultivate lasting relationships with its patients and earn more philanthropic funding to power your operations. In this guide, we’ll walk through everything you need to know to make the most of grateful patient fundraising, including:

  • FAQs about Grateful Patient Programs
  • How to Start a Grateful Patient Program in 6 Steps
  • Grateful Patient Program Best Practices
  • Inspiring Long-Term Giving with Grateful Patient Fundraising

With a thoughtful plan to engage grateful patients and their families, you can build a sustainable pipeline of new donors and unlock powerful stories to share about their experiences with your institution.

Click through to learn how StoryCause can help you maximize your grateful patient fundraising results.

FAQs about Grateful Patient Programs

Before we jump into the key steps for starting a grateful patient program, let’s explore several frequently asked questions to inform your strategy:

What is a grateful patient program?

A grateful patient program is a fundraising initiative that involves securing donations from patients or their family members who have had a positive experience with your healthcare organization. This type of program focuses on stewarding gifts from individuals who are both capable of and interested in supporting your institution.

The success of your grateful patient program starts with the relationships your staff members build with patients during care. By providing benevolent and exceptional medical attention, you can start planting the seeds that turn patients into life-long donors.

What are the benefits of grateful patient fundraising?

According to BWF’s healthcare philanthropy survey, 78.2% of high-income donors consider healthcare a top priority when deciding where to direct their charitable giving. A grateful patient program allows your institution to uncover more donors by tapping into your patients’ generosity.

Through grateful patient fundraising, your healthcare organization can:

  • Raise significant money for operations and projects. To continue fulfilling your purpose, you need reliable revenue to cover medical equipment costs, staff salaries, research, technology upgrades, and facility improvements. With a grateful patient program, you can usher in more funding to maintain your operations and pursue projects that elevate the level of care you give patients.
  • Increase patient engagement and loyalty. By engaging present and former patients in fundraising, you can strengthen your relationships with them and encourage them to stay in touch year after year. Over time, you’ll construct a loyal, tight-knit community around your healthcare institution.
  • Improve its community reputation. A successful grateful patient program is a testament to the excellent services your organization delivers to those under its care. The more grateful donors you have, the more evident it is that your organization is trustworthy, high-performing, and worthy of support.
  • Offer a means for patients to express their appreciation. For many people, saying “thank you” is not just a social obligation. Studies have shown a connection between gratitude and reduced depression, lower anxiety, improved sleep, and better heart health. A grateful patient program gives patients an easy way to appreciate your organization for all it has done for them.

Remember that your ultimate goal is to acquire donors who will become the bedrock of your annual or even major giving program. Play the long game. In 18 months, a healthy grateful patient program should completely pay back the funds you invested into donor acquisition. Over five years, your program should yield 3.5 to 4 times the value of the initial gifts you receive from grateful donors.

How to Start a Grateful Patient Program in 6 Steps

Like any fundraising initiative, it takes significant planning and forethought to start a grateful patient program. To safeguard the patient-provider relationship and remain compliant with healthcare privacy standards, such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), you’ll need to implement clear protocols for staff and volunteers to abide by.

Follow these six basic steps to set your grateful patient program up for success:

Six steps for starting a grateful patient program, as explained in more detail below.

1. Prepare to launch your grateful patient program.

Establish a strong foundation for grateful patient fundraising by putting together a dedicated team and budget for your program. Once you’ve secured leadership buy-in, assemble a team of development staff, gift officers, and prospect researchers. Then, prepare to kick off your program by:

  • Equipping your team with fundraising software. A fundraising constituent relationship management (CRM) system allows your team to track engagement with grateful donors and prospects. With this software, you can personalize every interaction according to the individual’s interests, giving capacity, and experience with your healthcare organization.
  • Reviewing privacy and data security standards. Your grateful patient program must comply with privacy regulations, such as HIPAA. You’ll need to prioritize fundraising software with the highest data security measures and obtain patient authorization to use details such as their diagnosis and treatment for your fundraising efforts.
  • Designing detailed policies for staff. Whether you’re adopting fundraising software for the first time or trying to ensure compliance with healthcare privacy standards, create detailed policies so everyone at your institution is on the same page about your program.

Due to the complexity of patient privacy rules and the importance of staff training, consider reaching out to grateful patient fundraising experts, like our StoryCause team, for support. This way, you can get your program off the ground with minimal stress.

Click through to learn how StoryCause can help you maximize your grateful patient fundraising results.

2. Develop an internal culture of philanthropy.

Beyond your grateful patient program team, recognize that everyone at your organization plays a significant role in your fundraising success. To maximize your results, infuse philanthropy into your institution’s culture and establish open communication channels with:

  • Physicians
  • Nurses
  • Support Staff
  • Administrative Staff
  • Volunteers

Make sure that everyone is aware of your grateful patient program’s goals so they know when and where to make referrals. After all, every person a patient interacts with at your healthcare facility can shape their overall experience with your organization. Consider providing patients with a way to tailor their contributions to recognize specific departments or individual staff members.

For example, when a grateful patient goes to make a gift, allow them to designate a department or area of your operations they would like the funds to go toward. Additionally, you can encourage them to nominate a nurse who has gone above and beyond in their care for the DAISY Award.

At the same time, patients’ health should still always come first while they are in your care. Focus on their well-being, concerns, and personal interests. Then, you’ll naturally form the relationships that could lead to engagement in your grateful patient program.

3. Determine how to identify gratitude.

There are so many factors that make some patients more promising grateful prospects than others. Understanding which factors are key for your organization and identifying them in your data is critical to maximizing the effectiveness of your program. Some key elements that can power gratitude include:

  • Age and wealth. Older donors are more likely to have the capacity to make grateful gifts.
  • Area of care. A patient receiving comprehensive cancer treatment will tend to feel more connected with your healthcare organization than a patient who visited your emergency department once.
  • Distance traveled. Did a patient skip over another hospital to reach yours? Patients who prioritize your institution over others can be promising grateful prospects.
  • Number of encounters. For certain patients, like those receiving cancer treatment, it’s best not to make an ask directly after a diagnosis. The more positive encounters you have with patients, the more likely they are to participate in your grateful patient program down the line.
  • Patient satisfaction score. There is a strong correlation between a high patient satisfaction score and gratitude. If your team has access to this information, it can be helpful to inform your outreach.
  • Length of time in the community. The longer someone stays in a community, the closer they feel to the people and organizations, such as your healthcare institution, within it.

There are plenty of prospect research and wealth screening tools that you can employ to automatically collect key details about your potential donors. For instance, you could consider an individual’s real estate ownership, business connections, and past giving history to determine whether they may be a promising grateful prospect to pursue.

4. Create grateful patient program materials.

For patients who express interest in your grateful patient program, make it easy for them to learn more by designing informative materials that provide an overview of how it works. For example, you should:

  • Create a dedicated grateful patient landing page on your website.
  • Mention grateful patient giving opportunities in your email newsletter.
  • Discuss the impact of grateful patient fundraising in social media posts.
  • Print physical pamphlets and brochures to offer at your facility.
  • Produce educational videos to share on various online platforms.

As you build out more online resources about your grateful patient program, be sure to follow accessibility best practices such as adding alternative text to images, choosing colors with high contrast, and including captions alongside your videos. This ensures that all interested patients can easily access your content.

5. Use multiple channels to connect with prospects.

Your patients have varying demographics, preferences, and needs. To build meaningful relationships with them, reach out through multiple channels. Introduce your grateful patient program through:

A pie chart illustrating how to use multiple channels, such as telephone, email, and direct mail, to connect with grateful patient program prospects.


4 billion people check their email every day. To catch the attention of your grateful donor prospects, send a three-part automated email series to slowly cultivate their interest. It should look something like this:

  • Email 1. Thank the patient for entrusting your institution with their care. Lead with gratitude and reiterate the exceptional services you provided.
  • Email 2. Discuss how important philanthropy is for your organization to continue its life-changing work.
  • Email 3. Ask the patient to consider making a gift to express their appreciation and support your mission.

You can supplement your email outreach with targeted social media ads. Encourage more patients to convert to grateful donors through a rolling series of 8-10 Facebook and Instagram ads over two to three months. These can be standard posts or videos that spread awareness of your grateful patient program and emphasize the impact of gifts on your organization.

Direct Mail

Sending direct mail is a powerful way to leave a lasting impression on your patients. Plus, you don’t have to invest time and resources into creating new material for every recipient. Since you’ll be promoting your grateful patient program primarily to new patients, you can produce direct mail templates that serve you for months.

Consider sending content such as:

  • Patient Stories
  • Cases for Research or Facility Upgrades
  • Grateful Patient Program Overview

As with any of your communications, be sure to personalize every letter with the patient’s preferred name. When sharing patient stories, be sure to obtain written consent first to comply with HIPAA.

Phone Calls

With the right approach, phone calls can be one of the highest value channels for grateful patient programs. They’re an opportunity to engage in two-way communication with your prospects, so they can directly share their experiences with you. You can use the insights you gather from these conversations to shape future appeals and make them more impactful.

However, since this is a more expensive channel, you should narrow your focus on the patients with the highest potential for becoming grateful donors. Additionally, callers should be professional and well-trained in representing your institution, regardless of whether patients decide to make a gift. Because of this, many organizations turn to grateful patient fundraising experts to conduct this sensitive type of engagement.

By incorporating phone calls into your outreach strategy, you can increase your grateful patient program’s conversion rate to, on average, 5% to 8%. Furthermore, 25% to 30% of new donors acquired by phone decide to become sustaining or monthly donors to your institution.

6. Craft a plan for ongoing donor engagement.

Make the most of your grateful patient acquisition efforts by developing a thoughtful plan to stay connected with your new donors. Start with thanking your first-time donors by:

  • Making a phone call, sending a hand-written note, or making a personalized video.
  • Sharing how their gift made an impact on your healthcare organization.
  • Avoiding a second ask until 12 weeks after their initial gift.

Rather than thinking about the immediate return on investment (ROI) of your grateful donor acquisition, focus on their lifetime value (LTV). Doing so can help justify the investments you’ll make in cultivating and upgrading donors up to major and planned giving levels.

A sample grateful patient growth plan that demonstrates the long-term value of grateful patient donors.

Overall, a grateful patient program is more effective for acquiring donors than other types of acquisition your healthcare organization might have tried. For example, purchasing prospect lists tends to yield a lower percentage of donors. Plus, their gifts can be as low as half the amount you would typically receive from a grateful donor. Event attendees, while a better potential pool, still contribute initial gifts that are lower by an average of $50.

Grateful Patient Program Best Practices

After your grateful patient program is up and running, use these best practices to maximize your results:

  • Focus on patient stories. Each of your patients leaves your organization with their own experience of hope, healing, and compassion. By listening to their stories and allowing them to share exactly how your staff made an impact on their lives, you can nurture stronger relationships and lean into what inspires their gratitude in your follow-up communications.
  • Be prompt. Aim to reach out to patients within 90 days of their last encounter with your healthcare institution. After that, response rates often degrade by half. Ideally, setting up your automated email series should prevent any grateful prospects from slipping through the cracks.
  • Set key performance indicators (KPIs). Pinpoint the metrics you’ll use to evaluate your grateful patient program’s success. For example, you could track your total number of grateful donors, average gift size, donor retention rate, and patient satisfaction scores. By collecting this data, you can brainstorm ways to continually improve your fundraising results.

Remember that a successful grateful patient program is not all about the dollars you raise. Instead, every relationship that you develop is integral to the community of support that you’re trying to build.

Inspiring Long-Term Giving with Grateful Patient Fundraising

Grateful patients often have deep, special bonds with your healthcare institution. Since you’ve directly touched their lives, many of them are willing to move quickly from transactional to transformational relationships with your organization. Acquiring, retaining, and nurturing these relationships takes time and effort which is well worth the investment.

With years of history serving healthcare institutions, our team at StoryCause is uniquely qualified to turn your grateful patient program into powerful partnerships that will fuel your growth far into the future. Thanks to our extensive experience engaging with grateful donor prospects, we’re equipped with the know-how and tact to support your multichannel outreach and help you forge meaningful, lasting relationships.

On average, 35% of the donors acquired through our programs will go on to become monthly contributors to our healthcare clients. If you’d like to learn more about how we can supercharge your grateful patient fundraising results, reach out to us today!

Wrapping Up: Maximizing Your Grateful Patient Program’s Success

Launching a grateful patient program can be a game-changing addition to your healthcare institution’s fundraising efforts. However, it’s important to acknowledge that setting up a program is not a one-and-done process. Adopt an improvement mindset when it comes to forging connections with patients and identifying promising prospects for your organization. By keeping an eye on your KPIs, you can continue to iterate on your strategy for better results over time.

Feel free to reach out to our team of experts at StoryCause to learn more about how we can set you on the fast track to grateful patient fundraising success!

For more information on how to secure essential funding for your healthcare institution, check out these additional resources: