Hospital philanthropy teams: seize the virtual mandate of Covid-19

By  Rasika Tangutoori and Nick Cericola

Even as many states begin to relax restrictions on businesses and certain activities, most people remain nervous about the risks of Covid-19 spread. We’re likely to see continued social distancing for some time—voluntary or otherwise. And many businesses will continue to encourage telecommuting for all or some of their employees, including hospitals.

For philanthropy professionals, virtual engagement is the primary option right now, and may be for a while. As the saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention, so use this time to develop a virtual toolkit that can help your hospital deepen its connections with donors without creating unnecessary risks. If you’re worried about missteps or dropped connections, don’t fret. Health care development teams will be given the same grace from donors that they give to their employers and their family, as much of the world adjusts to the new tools and norms of digital interaction.

We’ll be digging into your evolving fundraising toolkit across this year. For now, here are 6 virtual engagement strategies to capture new funds and steward existing donors:

  1. Crowdfunding: There has been a notable spike in crowdfunding amidst Covid-19, as patients and health care workers set up fundraising pages to accomplish their specific goals. Consider creating your own centralized platform in order to maintain control and track all the efforts coming out of your organization. UCLA Health’s personal fundraising platform provides a good example.

  2. Virtual town halls: Your organization is considered a leader in crisis response, which presents an opportunity to promote your brand, educate the public on your Covid-19 efforts, and present a vision for how your health system will evolve its strategy moving forward. The format of a town hall can be as broad or narrow as you need, ranging from a webinar with a large audience to a curated Q&A that targets a specific group like your board. Depending on their capacity, this can be a way to reengage hospital administrators or clinical allies who are looking for a stage to spread their guidance.

  3. Video donor visits: In-person visits are the cornerstone of major gifts fundraising, but some donors will remain uncomfortable with non-essential interactions until a vaccine becomes available, particularly if they’re in a high-risk age group. Don’t let that stop you from being face to face. Video conferencing platforms are easy to use and are becoming ubiquitous features of everyday life. Just don’t forget to update your performance metrics for gift officers to include video visits.

  4. Physically distant socializing: Perhaps not for the faint of heart, but some organizations are already starting to experiment with online social events for donors. Happy hours, cooking demonstrations, and dinner parties are possible in a virtual environment. Just make sure they include something topical, like time for discussion about funding initiatives, Q&A with a researcher or clinical leader, or stories of donor impact.

  5. Flash fundraisers: With the cancellation of annual events and a halt in regular campaigns, flash fundraisers can refresh your annual giving strategy. In the form of e-mail campaigns or social media pushes, flash fundraisers can be used to fund a specific project or promote donating on a special occasion. These time-restricted fundraising blitzes are managed directly by the development team. A good example is CHOP’s upcoming Cure Sickle Cell Walk & Family Fun Day.

  6. Shareable content: For all the engagement strategies listed above, help spread the message by providing the necessary stakeholders with sharable content. These bite-sized graphics can be shared via social media or e-mail and allow you to control the message that is broadcast to the community at large. In addition to advertising, sharable content can act as a way to upgrade your impact reporting after the completion of a project or event.

There are a few critical considerations to account for when crafting your virtual strategy. First, don’t be afraid to experiment to figure out what works for your organization. Start with a virtual brainstorming session with your team. Second, don’t feel the pressure to schedule an entire year’s worth of virtual engagement, but rather focus on a strategy for the next 2 to 3 months. Think about your cadence, time constraints, and resource needs. Finally, consider collaborating with other departments, such as marketing, volunteer services, and population health, in order to operate at top of license and utilize everyone’s expertise to achieve a common goal.

These virtual engagement strategies are a necessity now, but will remain important in the coming years with continued technological innovation and new, tech-savvy generations entering your donor pipeline. Invest now for your future; this is a toolbox you can keep forever.

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