In a cautionary tale earlier this week — Part 1 of a two-part series — I looked at the missteps one nonprofit organization took by not taking the time to get to know one of its loyal donors. In Part 2, I now examine a horrible fundraising appeal from an organization that actually knows its potential donor quite well, though it failed to leverage that knowledge.
I originally got the idea for this post from one of my readers who contacted me with a link to an interesting New York Times article: “A New Effort Has Doctors Turn Patients Into Donors.” My reader wanted to know what I thought of the emerging trend of having doctors actively contact their patients for fundraising purposes.
I delayed writing about this subject because I have mixed feelings about it. Then, in December, I received a year-end appeal from my surgeon at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Cancer Center. The letter helped crystallize my thinking.
First, let me share a bit of background. A recent study by Dr. Reshma Jagsi, a radiation oncologist and ethicist at the University of Michigan, was published recently in The Journal of Clinical Oncology. It was the first major examination of the role of physicians in fundraising.
The New York Times reported:
In an unprecedented survey of more than 400 oncologists at 40 leading cancer centers, nearly half said they had been taught to identify wealthy patients who might be prospective donors. A third had been asked to directly solicit donations — and half of them refused. Three percent had been promised payments if a patient donated.”
Involving doctors in the fundraising process raises a number of ethical concerns. Dr. Arthur L. Caplan, head of the Division of Medical Ethics at NYU Langone Medical Center, shared some of his concerns with the Times:
Patients may be emotionally vulnerable; doctors have very close ties to their patients, which can strain asking on both sides; and the fact that incentives to ask sometimes skew toward the doctor’s own program rather than the most needy areas of the hospital.”
Another issue is, how will giving or not giving affect the level of care, or perceived level of care, from the doctor? Will patients feel coerced to give?
While I see the enormous potential for ethical pitfalls, I also see the significant potential benefit of having doctors involved in the fundraising process. The issue is how and when they are involved as well as the quality of development training they will receive.
For example, if I’m half-naked in my doctor’s examination room, I certainly do not want to receive an ask for a contribution. If I’m drowning in hospital bills, I’m not going to be particularly receptive to a fundraising appeal. However, if a development staff member wants to have lunch with me and my doctor to discuss the physician’s latest research, I’m perfectly amenable to that.
There are right ways and wrong ways to involve doctors in the fundraising process.
UPMC Cancer Center Direct-Mail Appeal.
That brings me to the letter I received from Dr. David Bartlett in December. Dr. Bartlett is a world-class oncologic surgeon and medical researcher. He is one of the leading experts dealing with Appendiceal Carcinoma with Pseudomyxoma Peritonei (PMP), a very rare form of cancer I am currently battling. (You can learn more about my fight by clicking here.)
Dr. Bartlett knows me very well. In addition to knowing me as a patient, he knows that I’m a professional fundraiser who shares his passion for finding a more effective treatment for PMP. The development staff also knows me. Prior to going for surgery two years ago, my wife and I reached out to and met with one of the development professionals for the UPMC Cancer Center.
Yet, despite their knowledge of me, they sent me a piece of garbage intended as an appeal letter. The direct-mail solicitation was definitely not the way to involve my doctor in the fundraising process.
Let me outline the ridiculous mistakes that the UPMC Cancer Center made:
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