The Most Important Part of Any Grateful Whatever Campaign is…

Early in my development career, one of my hospital clients introduced me to the term “Grateful Patient Campaign.” The idea being that former hospital patients would be so grateful for the care they received, they would be willing to make a contribution to the hospital. 

Outside of development circles, most people would describe the relationship between a patient and his healthcare provider as transactional. The patient, or her insurance company, pays for the services provided by the hospital. Wise development professionals realized that turning the transactional relationship into a philanthropic one would require a strong measure of gratitude on the part of the patient. So, assumptively, the idea of the “Grateful Patient Campaign” came into being.

Beyond the healthcare environment, other nonprofit organizations are also involved in “Grateful Whatever Campaigns,” though by other names. They are attempting to take a transactional relationship and turn it into a philanthropic one.

Consider colleges and universities. Students, or their parents, pay a school in exchange for an education. Colleges may call a fundraising effort an “Annual Fund” but, really, it’s a “Grateful Alumni Campaign.”

The local animal shelter that charges adopters a fee for spaying/neutering and vaccines in exchange for a new pet runs a “Grateful Adopter Campaign.”

An art museum that charges a fee in exchange for admission to the exhibits runs a “Grateful Visitor Campaign.”

So, what is the most important part of any “Grateful Whatever Campaign”? It’s the Whatevers! Fill in the blank. It’s Patients, Alumni, Adopters, Visitors, etc. It’s obvious, right? Then, why do so many nonprofit organizations do such a mediocre, or even horrible, job providing service and then wonder why they have trouble attracting support?

As a development professional, you have an obligation to help make certain that your organization is providing outstanding service. I’m not just talking about the service provided by your development office. I’m talking about your organization’s core services.

While the direct service providers at your organization might be annoyed when you stick your nose into what they see as their domain, you nevertheless have a duty to do so for two important reasons:

  1. Stewardship is an essential part of the development process. It is your responsibility to ensure that donors’ money is used, as intended by donors, to further the mission of the organization. Making sure your organization provides great service in the pursuit of its mission is simply good stewardship.
  2. New donor acquisition is essential to any development program. You will have a tough time acquiring new donors tomorrow without happy service recipients today. Even when seeking support from third-party sources, your case will be strengthened if you can demonstrate the satisfaction of your service recipients.

In my last post (“Special Report: ‘It was the Best of Times; It was the Worst of Times.’ It was 2011.”), I wrote about my wife’s ongoing battle with Ovarian Cancer. I’d like to share more with you about our experiences as they relate to the topic of this post.

Lankenau Medical Center

A few weeks ago, my wife needed to go into the hospital for surgery. Within three blocks of our downtown Philadelphia home, we have a university-affiliated hospital. Within five blocks of our home, we have another university-affiliated hospital. Both are vastly more convenient than the suburban hospital we chose. Without traffic, it takes 20 minutes to drive to Lankenau Medical Center, part of the Main Line Health System. With traffic, it can take 45 minutes or so.

So, why did we choose Lankenau and what does it mean for our relationship with the hospital?

We knew immediately that we did not want Lisa to go to the closest hospital. We’ve visited many people there over the years and, Lisa herself, has used the emergency room on more than one occasion. We’ve heard a number of horror stories about serious secondary infections. We’ve seen the dirtiness of the facility first-hand. We’ve witnessed medical staff leaving the hospital in their scrubs and booties only to return to the hospital with their now contaminated garb. The staff, while seemingly competent, also seems lost in their own world and detached, perhaps victims of understaffing. Staff does their minimum job. We haven’t seen anyone who tends to go out of their way to be especially helpful.

As far as the other nearby hospital goes, we haven’t had much experience. Our doctors are affiliated, and we’ve had tests done there. But, nothing really stands out other than it’s a large city hospital.

By contrast, we knew a number of family members who had had good experiences at Lankenau. Lisa’s uncle had been on staff prior to his retirement. I’ve known a number of members of the development staff. The thing that struck us about Lankenau is that everyone on staff seems to genuinely care.

Lankenau is clean. The facilities are well maintained. It looks nice. It smells nice; it doesn’t have that sickening hospital smell. It’s quiet. And, Lankenau has one of the top gynecological oncologists in the country.

As the Medical Center’s website describes, “Lankenau is nationally-renowned for our combined mission of patient care excellence, academic achievement and innovative research. As the premier suburban academic and research-based institution in the region, Lankenau is advancing new options to diagnose and treat illness, protect against disease and save lives. To serve our patient’s healthcare needs well into the future, we are enhancing patient and visitor convenience while advancing the clinical specialties that have earned Lankenau Medical Center national acclaim.”

Lankenau has received many well-deserved honors including: For the fourth year in a row, Lankenau has been named one of “America’s 50 Best Hospitals” by HealthGrades®. Lankenau has received Magnet® designation, the nation’s highest honor for nursing excellence. Lankenau has been named one of the “Best Places to Work in Pennsylvania.”

Though geographically inconvenient for us, we believed that Lankenau would be best able to meet our needs.

What we found, in reality, exceeded our expectations. Perhaps the thing that struck us the most is that everyone at Lankenau really does seem to care. I’m not just talking about the doctors and nurses, either. I’m also talking about the parking valet, the desk staff, the cafeteria workers, the pharmacy staff, the gift shop staff, and the kitchen employees. Everybody. Everyday. In countless ways, the entire staff lets you know they care.

The staff offered assistance if you simply looked confused. They anticipated needs. They took time to answer questions. They were flexible in many different ways. They were precise and professional in their work. They were friendly and, at times, even charming. They were compassionate. They cared. And, in turn, we felt well cared for. Like I’ve already said, they exceeded our expectations.

Lankenau has already sent Lisa a patient satisfaction survey. This gave her an opportunity to share her views. This process serves the Medical Center in two ways: 1) Lankenau demonstrates, yet again, that it is willing to listen and cares; and 2) Lankenau can learn from patient feedback.

Lisa is a truly Grateful Patient. I’ve already contacted the development office to begin to explore how we can be of help. Lankenau provided service beyond the simple transactional. By caring, they made us care, too.

So, how many of your service recipients have devoted a blog post to your organization? Is your organization exceeding people’s expectations or is its goal to simply meet them (and is it even doing that?)? Are the people touched by your organization delighted?

If you want loyal, generous donors and advocates tomorrow, be sure to take superb care of your service recipients today. It really is part of your job. Make sure you’ve earned the right to call your next fundraising effort a “Grateful Whatever Campaign.”

That’s what Michael Rosen says… What do you say?

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8 Responses to “The Most Important Part of Any Grateful Whatever Campaign is…”

  1. You provide a poignant and spot-on rationale for all nonprofits to go out of their way to extend superior service that exceeds expectations. Ideally, they should serve exceptionally, regardless of the image they want to project to donors, but the stewardship angle is one more incentive to care for people today.

    I read with joy and sadness your earlier account of what you and Lisa are going through. You both inspire us all. Here’s to good health for both of you in 2012.

    • John, thank you for sharing your thoughts. Yes, it would be wonderful if all nonprofits would provide exceptional service simply because it’s the right thing to do. But, nonprofits are simply organizations run by people. And, sometimes, people need an extra reason to do the right thing. So, if reminding folks of how they can serve their own self-interest by better serving others motivates a few more folks, then I’m happy to have done my part. Thanks for being someone who gets it.

      I also want to thank you for your good wishes. Lisa and I appreciate your thoughtfulness. And, we hope that you and yours enjoy a happy, healthy New Year!

  2. Michael I often thought of that working for an organization that was receiving hand-over-fist millions in bequests from “grateful donors” People that were saved from the Holocaust, people that were nourished after WWI (Oranges turned into a million dollar bequest) and WWII, people who were very engaged in the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Flash forward to now and it would appear that those receiving services from the same organization are highly unlikely to break out of poverty both here and internationally. So who is targeted now? The grateful donor who appreciates the work that is being done? The grateful donor that wants to continue that “voice”….as opposed to a beneficiary of the services.

    • Patrick, thank you for sharing your thoughts. I believe that if a charity provides superior service, they may be able to approach (former) service recipients. However, depending on the organization, (former) service recipients, for whatever reason, may not be appropriate to solicit for a contribution. For example, I’m on the board of the Philadelphia Children’s Alliance, an organization that brings justice and healing to children who are victims of sexual abuse. It would not be appropriate to ask a child for a contribution. And, it would not even really be appropriate to track and ask an abuse survivor for a contribution once they turn 18. However, if PCA is seen as providing great service to these children, we’ll be able to attract the support of others. If the organization were to be seen (and it is not) to be providing inferior service, attracting the support of others would be difficult. So, it still comes back to making sure that service recipients are grateful.

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