The data is clear: hospitals should fundraise during Covid-19

By Dan Galambos and Nick Cericola

The climate for fundraising is changing. Hospital and health system development teams are debating whether to approach donors for funding in the midst of a rapidly unfolding public health emergency and a precipitous economic downturn. Due to our current reality, some health system leaders – and professional fundraisers – are concerned with appearing opportunistic if they communicate with donors, particularly to solicit new gifts.

Is it wise to reach out to donors at this time?

It may seem logical for fundraisers to pull back from solicitation activities during a time of such heightened economic uncertainty, but that would be a misread of the environment. There is substantial evidence that the funder community is aggressively responding to the societal needs created by Covid-19. While there is no pandemic fundraising playbook, all signs currently point to a surge in generosity from donors.

According to a recent Fidelity Charitable survey, 79 percent of major donors plan to donate as much or more this year than the previous year.

In fact, U.S. funders have already issued at least $6 billion in grants in response to Covid-19. Donors understand that there is a profound need for financial support and they want to help.

How are different types of donors responding?

Development teams should take notice of the many different donor archetypes who are stepping up to meet the need.

Many individual are considering donations to hospitals right now. A recent poll found that 50 percent of Americans have donated or plan to support a public health clinic or hospital during this time. In contrast, only 34 percent of poll respondents reported contributing to similar organizations in the prior 12 months. The data continues to suggest that hospitals are at the forefront of American generosity and that development teams should be active in cultivating individual donors as part of their relief fundraising initiatives.

More than 750 grant-making foundations have pledged to temporarily ease grant-making restrictions to allow faster access to more funds for their grantees. Hospitals should not hesitate to apply for newly available money in line with their relief efforts.

Donor-advised funds (DAFs)
The nation’s largest grant maker, Fidelity Charitable, had challenged donors to double grant making from their DAF accounts to achieve a $200 million goal by May 5th. With an incredible outpouring of support, donors not only met the stated goal but exceeded it by over $52 million. In March alone, Fidelity reports grant volumes increased 36 percent from the prior year, with 136,000 grants recommended. Over 4,500 nonprofits stand to benefit from this disbursement with many hospitals among the recipients.

A large share of relief donations have come from corporations, whose pledges currently top $4 billion worldwide. As of early March and even in the face of major business disruption, corporations and their foundations were responsible for 80 percent of the total dollar value of all donations.

Hospitals should consider reaching out to businesses with operations or headquarters in their market to discuss potential philanthropic opportunities.

When is the time to act?

Hospital philanthropy will be different for the foreseeable future, and there is a lot of uncertainty about how giving patterns will change over the medium and long term. However, we know from the data that significant dollars are available right now. This is not the time to hold back fundraising activities for concern over seeming insensitive. Active and thoughtful outreach to donors is likely to be met by needed financial support for your clinical staff, your patients, and your institution.

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