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Hallmarks of a Strong Culture of Philanthropy in Healthcare

Every healthcare organization – whether it is a standalone community hospital, an academic medical center, or a growing health system – is at a unique place in its philanthropic history and striving to raise charitable dollars to support its respective missions. What underlies the success of the highest-performing organizations is an intentionally designed and cultivated culture of philanthropy.

A culture of philanthropy refers to an organization’s attitude and approach toward philanthropy and fundraising for key organizational priorities. Why does a strong culture of philanthropy matter? Because humanity depends on philanthropy. Some of the most critical breakthroughs in our understanding and treatment of diseases and conditions, from cancer to cardiovascular health to neurodegenerative diseases, have been made possible in large measure because of the role donors have played in advancing research, education, treatments, facilities, and care.

So, what does it take to create and maintain a strong culture of philanthropy? Organizations must champion philanthropy as part of the organization’s identity, engage key stakeholders in philanthropy, and implement best practices within a Philanthropy department.

Championing Philanthropy Across the Organization

  1. The Philanthropy department aligns with the values of the organization and is part of its identity (as opposed to a siloed framework, where philanthropy is positioned outside of values, intentionally or unintentionally).
  2. The Philanthropy department possesses a clear identity across the organization and is considered an important department. For example, naming the program as a Development Office rather than a separate Foundation aligns fundraising more closely within the healthcare provider. This identity alignment builds trust and minimizes prospective donor confusion.
  3. The leader of the Philanthropy department is a member of the President’s cabinet or CEO’s executive team and participates in all senior leadership meetings at the organization, contributing equally among peers.
  4. Staff across the organization understands and can speak to the value of a Philanthropy department and charitable giving.
  5. The organization has a reputation for honoring its promises to donors and grateful families and a robust and authentic stewardship program that engages clinicians, staff, and leadership to demonstrate impact to donors.
  6. In larger systems, the Philanthropy department provides partnerships across the organization to maximize opportunities for increased charitable giving, as opposed to uncoordinated conversations with prospects.

Engaging Senior Leaders and Key Stakeholders

  1. Physicians, caregivers, allied health, senior leadership (including C-suite executives), and the Philanthropy staff all play a role in engaging grateful patients and families and members of the community via a grateful patient and family program.
  2. There is a strong commitment by care providers and leaders to follow industry standards and best practices regarding philanthropy, which may require an ongoing educational process about their role in cultivating donors.
  3. The organization or system engages a Medical Director for Development (either as a formally defined job or informal responsibilities) to facilitate important partnerships between care providers and Philanthropy staff.
  4. Physician and Caregiver Advisory Groups may be utilized to foster internal partnerships and create opportunities to engage care providers in the philanthropic process.
  5. High internal giving participation from employees and care providers exists. For example, high-performing organizations place more emphasis on participation and less emphasis on total amount raised, achieving a participation rate beyond 50 percent (100 percent for senior leaders), and implementing a process to proactively promote payroll deductions.
  6. Board members (philanthropy and fiduciary Boards) achieve 100 percent giving participation and prioritize the organization among their top 2-5 priorities (top 1-3 during a campaign). Furthermore, giving expectations are set with Board members at the outset of the recruitment process.

Implementing Best Practices Across the Philanthropy Department

  1. Cohesion exists throughout the Philanthropy department. This is demonstrated with a shared focus on the mission and a commitment among staff to both meet their individual goals and collaborate across teams to deepen donor engagement.
  2. Philanthropy staff treats care providers and physicians like they do donors, cultivating their partnership in the process and building relationships as they would with potential donors.
  3. Fundraisers treat every gift and every interaction (with donors, colleagues, and staff) with respect. They approach what they say or write as if it will be on the front page of The New York Times.
  4. The Philanthropy department uses systems and data that facilitate informed decision-making – from a clear moves management process, to using data to inform annual revenue forecasting, to documenting donor conversations to ensure sustainability of relationships in the face of inevitable staff transitions. Furthermore, Philanthropy staff receives HIPAA compliance training and follows its application to fundraising.
  5. The Philanthropy department celebrates successes. This includes celebrating all gifts in appropriate ways and encouraging leadership to acknowledge the history of giving (e.g., by having attractive recognition in public areas of an organization).
  6. The Philanthropy department celebrates staff success and milestones and invests in opportunities to grow staff, including preparing them for future leadership opportunities.

How Can You Build a Stronger Culture? 10 Immediate Steps to Get Started

  1. Commit to making philanthropy an integral part of the organization’s culture. This commitment must come from leadership at the highest levels, including the Chief Executive Officer, executive leadership cabinet/team, and Board leadership.
  2. Communicate the impact of philanthropy to leadership by demonstrating goals and key performance indicators and sharing impact stories about transformational gifts.
  3. Set clear expectations with Board leadership by positioning giving participation as an expectation (in recruitment and with existing members) and demonstrating their collective impact on Philanthropy’s goals.
  4. Launch a grateful patient and family program that identifies patients and families willing to go beyond gratitude and engages clinicians in the philanthropic process.
  5. Invest in key systems within the Philanthropy department. This may include securing necessary approvals to integrate the electronic medical record system with the donor database, conducting wealth screening analysis, and determining prospect assignments for qualification.
  6. Invest in training for leadership, clinicians, caregivers, and Philanthropy colleagues around topics such as: engaging grateful patients and families, leadership’s role in philanthropy, clinician engagement, HIPAA in the context of fundraising, and donor stewardship, among others.
  7. Engage Philanthropy staff members in setting key performance indicators to promote shared accountability and a sense of collaboration.
  8. Launch an internal awareness campaign to demonstrate the need for philanthropy with patient/family stories and increase annual giving participation among employees, clinicians, and caregivers.
  9. Align funding priorities with your strategic plan, identifying the total cost for each priority and how gifts at incremental levels can be impactful.
  10. Invest in authentic stewardship that underscores the impact of philanthropy at different levels. Develop custom reporting and/or host annual stewardship events for top donors or donor societies, highlighting their impact and giving access to care providers and physicians who can speak about what philanthropy has enabled them to do. For example, host a quarterly or bi-annual State of the Organization with the CEO or other leaders, inviting donors to attend virtually and/or in-person.


Amid an ever-evolving philanthropic landscape, creating a strong philanthropic culture continues to emerge as a priority for healthcare organizations. Organizations that champion and implement action steps to build understanding of and promote engagement in philanthropy now will be served well in the long-term and ultimately raise more support for their missions.

Lead Author

Megan Bailey, Vice President


Walt Edwards, President
James Lyddy, Senior Vice President
Jay Vogelsang, Senior Vice President
Amy Buick, Vice President
Jennifer Herrmann, Vice President
Kristin Fehrenbach, Senior Consultant
Todd Weissman, Senior Consultant