Oncology Rounds

5 lessons on grateful cancer patient giving

by Deirdre Saulet

Welcome to "Field Report," a new series where Advisory Board experts weigh in on what they are hearing from health care organizations across the country. In this edition, Deirdre Saulet explores the gratitude that cancer patients naturally develop for their provider organization, and how development teams and oncology leaders can engage the patients most interested in giving.

Recently, I've been talking to a number of hospital development teams about how they can make the most of their grateful patient fundraising programs. As hospital margins become slimmer and budget forecasts become harder to predict amid the uncertainty surrounding Covid-19, these programs can be used to help fund services that aren't reimbursed—and they give patients an opportunity to show appreciation for the care they received.

While most organizations use service utilization and wealth screening data to identify potential prospects, the field has long relied on conventional wisdom about who gives and why they give—and our recent survey of nearly 2,000 patients and families revealed some surprising misconceptions. Editor's note: This survey was conducted prior to the Covid-19 epidemic and widespread economic losses. However, we believe the insights still hold valuable takeaways on how leaders can engage grateful cancer patients in giving.

Access our philanthropy resources to support your Covid-19 response here

But one assumption proved true—cancer patients are the most likely of all patient populations we surveyed to express their gratitude through monetary donations.

5 key insights to consider when developing cancer patient fundraising programs

Given the deeply personal connection cancer patients develop for their care team across the weeks, months, or years of treatment, this makes sense. Here are five key insights to help development professionals and cancer program leaders work together to craft an effective grateful cancer patient strategy.

Get up to speed on grateful patient programs, including our take on how to ensure they align with your organization's goals

1. Cancer patients more likely than other patients to give, regardless of income.

This survey was limited to patients and families with the means to be philanthropic, meaning they had to have an annual household income of $75,000 and up. While wealth obviously plays a role in someone's ability to give, it doesn't necessarily predict their interest in giving. This proves true for cancer patients, where individuals with an annual income less than $175,000 actually had a higher affinity to donate than those with greater income. An important note: We defined affinity as the percentage of respondents who made a monetary donation and/or said they were very likely to donate in the future. 

Only 13% of the cancer patients surveyed made "no expressions of gratitude." While nearly every other patient provided a verbal or written thank you note, nearly 16% made a non-monetary donation and over 9% made a monetary donation. As seen in the chart below, the range of donations from cancer patients was vast—from $45 at the 10th percentile to over $4,000 at the 90th percentile. This might in part be due to the smaller number of responses for this question, but also indicates that cancer patients are interested in donating any amount they can afford to express their gratitude. While you don't want to be hounding patients who don't have the means to donate, for appropriate patients, let them know that any size gift can go a long way in supporting your mission. 

2. Millennials are better prospects than Boomers.

Conventional wisdom leads us to believe that older patients are more likely to donate, and that hypothesis is just plain wrong. Nearly 19% of younger cancer patients and family members had donated and/or were very likely to donate, compared with 13.5% of older respondents.

Even more strikingly, when asked if they were interested in receiving future fundraising information, 59% of younger patients said yes—nearly double the percentage of older patients interested in fundraising information. So if you're not already, start including Millennial and Generation X cancer patients in your outreach.

3. Family members are just as likely to give as cancer patients themselves.

Families are also deeply impacted by a cancer diagnosis, but they're rarely included in an organization's grateful patient strategy. However, their affinity rate is just as high as that of patients.

What's more is that family members are more open to fundraising communication. Forty-seven percent indicated interest in receiving future fundraising information, compared to just 31% of patients. Despite HIPAA constraints, this finding should encourage you to include family members in non-clinical rounding and opt-in outreach programs. For instance, you can make caregiver recognition brochures available to loved ones when they're visiting patients.

4. Cancer patients and families want to know the impact of their donation.

To understand how you can best engage patients and families, we asked survey respondents which strategies would be very likely to increase their level of interest in making a donation. Without question, cancer donor prospects were more likely to respond positively to most cultivation strategies, with data and information about the impact of their donation being the most effective, especially for family members.

5. Give cancer patients enough time to recover from their experience before contacting them for a donation.

As an unspoken rule, development professionals often believe the best time to reach out to donor prospects is within 1-3 months of treatment. One of the most surprising findings from the entire survey cohort is that most patients and families actually prefer fundraising information to be sent to them within one month of visiting the medical facility.

However, cancer donor prospects do not behave similarly to other patient populations in this respect. Likely given the length of treatment, post-traumatic stress, and anxiety about recurrence, cancer patients and family members prefer to be contacted after one month of completing treatment, and more than half prefer to be contacted more than three months after treatment ends.

Putting all of this information together, development professionals should collaborate with oncology administrative and clinical leaders to build a grateful patient program that delivers a compelling message at the right time to engage potential prospects, especially younger patients and family members.  

Learn more: Access our philanthropy resources to support your Covid-19 response

In this time of uncertainty, all of us at the Philanthropy Leadership Council are grateful for the work that you do to serve the health needs of your community. Here are our top philanthropy resources to help you navigate your biggest challenges during Covid-19.

Access Now