9 Tips for a Thriving Grateful Patient Program

by | May 21, 2024

Roughly half of all hospitals in the U.S. are not-for-profit, according to the American Hospital Association. If your organization is part of that statistic, grateful patient programs have the potential to be the life force behind your healthcare organization. But for your grateful patient program to be successful, you need to understand what makes these programs effective. Follow along as we break down the key elements of a thriving grateful patient program.

What is a Grateful Patient Program?

Many of us were taught to express gratitude by saying “thank you” when someone does something kind for us, such as holding the door open or giving us a gift. However, expressing gratitude is even more important when someone provides life-changing medical care to us or a loved one.

A grateful patient program is a way for patients to express their gratitude for the outstanding care they or a loved one received by donating to the healthcare organization. Grateful patient fundraising involves soliciting donations from patients or their family members who have experienced positive outcomes and are willing and able to give.

These highly personal programs are designed to cultivate a culture of philanthropy and raise funds to support the institution’s work (like research, new equipment or facilities, and educational opportunities for staff). When it comes to grateful patient programs, it’s important to operate strategically, efficiently, and effectively. In turn, they can drive greater impact and generate larger returns.

What Makes a Thriving Grateful Patient Program?

Grateful patient programs are complex systems with many moving parts. Successful implementation requires careful planning, execution, and continuous evaluation of effectiveness.

1. Prioritize compliance.

Healthcare organizations are no strangers to patient privacy and data security. Federal, state, and local laws limit the information you can obtain or share from patients. You must ensure that every element of your grateful patient program adheres to HIPAA requirements, including any fundraising partner you choose. (Psst…Graphcom is 100% HIPAA/HITECH compliant and SOC 2-certified, so your PHI is in good hands.)

2. Knowledge is power.

It’s crucial to inform potential donors about your organization’s philanthropic arm – your foundation – before expecting them to donate. You should educate them about the foundation’s mission, purpose, goals, and the impact of donated funds on the healthcare organization as a whole. According to a study by Root Cause, 75% of respondents seek concrete information about a charity’s accomplishments before deciding where to donate. Therefore, it’s your responsibility to provide this information to bridge the knowledge gap.

A few effective ways to reach potential donors are through newsletters, monthly emailers, and social media. Additionally, it’s essential to prominently feature this information on your website. The more exposure, the better!

3. Timing is everything.

There’s a balance between asking patients to donate during their hospital discharge and waiting so long to ask that they forget they were patients in the first place. The most effective timing falls somewhere in the middle. Insights from the Woodmark Summit indicate that patients or their families are 76% more likely to donate if they receive communication within the first 30 days of their post-hospital visit or care.

4. Make it personal.

Unsurprisingly, your organization is not the only one vying for donations, and overall available household philanthropic dollars are the lowest they’ve been in recent history. According to Giving USA’s Giving Report on Philanthropy, giving in 2022 declined for just the third time in 40 years.

With acquisition becoming increasingly more difficult and most donors being limited in how much they can give, you must do everything possible to tailor your communications specifically to your prospect. Using personalization tokens or variable language in communications can help grab your prospect’s attention and propel your organization above others. Prospects feel like you’re talking directly to them versus feeling like merely a number.

5. Reach out (more than once).

Multiple touchpoints are key. Recent data suggests that sending five communications (specifically one direct mail and four emails) within the first 90 to 120 days following a hospital visit can increase the likelihood of receiving a gift on the second or third communication (between 30 and 60 days). If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again!

Tailoring your communication methods to each prospect or donor can also make a big difference in achieving a thriving grateful patient program. Consider what you know about each person to determine the best way to reach them. For instance, one donor may prefer a phone call, while another may prefer to be contacted via email or social media.

6. Involve the team.

Your healthcare team is likely the reason your organization will receive donations in the first place, so it’s a good idea to get them involved in the grateful patient program process! It’s important to provide training and support to care team members who may not be familiar with fundraising best practices. Such support can be provided by hosting a training session or providing a toolkit with fundraising tips and resources for identifying grateful patients.

Including stories of how philanthropy has positively impacted patients, physicians, nurses, programs, and scientific breakthroughs is crucial to emphasize the value of philanthropic support at all levels. Sharing meaningful patient stories specific to physicians, care teams, or locations, then sending those communications to patients in that service area, can be a powerful tool to demonstrate the impact of philanthropy and the value it holds for patients and organizations. This is another element of personalization that can influence donors – people are more likely to give when they see people or places they’re familiar with.

7. Make it easy.

In an ideal world, patients would ask how they can give back to your organization without being prompted, but that’s often not the case. Many patients may not even realize that grateful patient programs exist. If that information isn’t common knowledge or readily available, it’s a huge missed opportunity.

Creating easy-to-grab materials like pamphlets and brochures and placing them throughout heavily trafficked areas like lobbies and reception/check-out desks or in welcome/post-care packets can help. Make sure your care team is aware of these materials (and has some on hand) so they can distribute them to patients if/when appropriate.

Further, you can create a website landing page specific to your grateful patient program, where donors can submit notes of gratitude to specific team members or departments. Here, you can add virtual giving tools like recurring giving options, automatic donation receipts, a matching gift search tool, and more to make the process effective and efficient. When creating donation forms, ensure they’re concise, easy to understand, and mobile-friendly, as 1 in 4 donors give via their cell phones.

It’s essential to make it easy for those who cannot donate monetary funds to contribute to the cause as well. Even if patients cannot give money, they may have a remarkable story to share that can be used in philanthropic communications to promote a conversation or inspire others to donate. Post-care surveys and landing pages can help collect this information. Include a link, phone number, and/or email address where people can share their stories on flyers and easy-to-grab materials like those mentioned above.

8. Track your progress.

It’s critical for continued success to measure and report your program’s effectiveness and outcomes regularly, analyze potential improvements, and continuously update it. Keep track of metrics such as ROI, number of donors, response and retention rate, and average gift size. Monitoring these metrics and making adjustments along the way can improve your program and help better serve your patients and organization.

9. Remember: People, not payments.

Lastly (and most importantly), never lose sight of the fact that your prospective donors are patients and people first and donors second. While the goal is to raise money, it’s important to remember that thriving grateful patient programs rely on positive patient relationships to succeed. Providing the best possible care to your patients is not only the right thing to do but also helps your hospital secure future funding (and loyal patients)!


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