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The Medical Director for Development: A major boost to fundraising

Over the past few decades, there have been many giving ideas, concepts, and strategies that have brought true joy to donors and charities who strike genuine partnerships to alleviate vexing societal challenges. The notion of the donor-advised fund is one such vehicle that is relatively new and is increasingly being used to benefit humanity.

However, as we eventually return to a new normalcy of how we move about our community, inviting major gift philanthropy will undoubtedly continue as a positive part of our culture – one that will continue to instill deep gratification in donors wherever these important gifts are made.

More now than ever, donors are inspired by brilliant research scientists, physicians, nurses, and many others who seek exciting therapies and modalities of care to help eradicate the physical and emotional pain associated with the seemingly countless variations of disease.

As a practicing development professional for many years in a number of first-rate, high-quality institutions, I experienced an idea that appeared from the outset to be truly new – indeed radical – in the traditions of the philanthropy profession: creating a Medical Director for Development in the Development Office.  Without doubt, this role can make a significant difference in major gift fundraising.

Medical Director for Development

Fifteen years ago, the Mayo Clinic Development Office advanced the concept of a Medical Director for Development. This position has been so successful in helping to generate major, principal, transformational, and mega gifts that what started as a single position has now grown to many positions within the three primary sites of the Mayo Clinic: Minnesota, Florida, and Arizona. This important strategic decision has had an undeniable positive impact on the number and quality of significant annual and campaign major gifts to Mayo.

How It Works

A Medical Director for Development is first and foremost a highly regarded physician or research scientist who is either tapped by the Chief Executive Officer or applies to a job announcement to fill this position. While there are many criteria sought in a Medical Director for Development, the primary attribute is that he or she be highly respected by most of the research scientists, physicians, and allied health workers at the institution and, when appropriate, by the same constituents at the affiliated sites. In fact, it should be a person who, when his or her name is announced to the hospital or healthcare system employees, generates the following type of reaction: “Wow, it is truly incredible that Dr. (name) has become part of the Development Office at this time in his or her career. Philanthropy must have a new focus here now!”

The Medical Director for Development must be willing to re-allocate between .25 FTE and .5 FTE to working with the Chief Development Officer, other development professionals, as well as countless deans, directors, and other healthcare professionals. These dollars are often paid through the Development Office or associated foundation.

To provide the Medical Director for Development with the proper authority, he or she reports to the President and CEO of the organization. Importantly, the Medical Director for Development will have an office for fundraising work close to the Chief Development Officer and share a respectful collaboration with the senior leadership of the Development Office.

Greatest Value

The institutional fundraising priorities found in comprehensive campaigns today are often extremely complex. Clearly, this is an area where a physician who is the Medical Director for Development can partner with the assigned development professional for an accurate vetting of the opportunity and institutional need with the prospective donor.

Oftentimes a prospective donor at the principal or transformational gift level requires involvement by a medical professional to help design the gift, including a gift agreement. It is the Medical Director for Development who is invited by the assigned development professional to enter the conversation with the prospective donor. The rationale for this involvement is to make certain that the correct information is obtained and that the anticipated gift remains within the institution’s various protocols. This is of great value to the development professional, the Chief Development Officer, the CEO, the Chief Financial Officer, and everyone who may be involved in principal and transformational philanthropy. It also gives the prospective donor confidence in the process of making certain that his or her interests are aligned with the institution’s needs.

Ten Traits of a Successful Medical Director for Development

In addition to being a highly respected medical professional, the Medical Director for Development must:

  1. Have the respect of a wide group of the medical professionals at the institution.
  2. Have a keen sense of the institution’s mission, and particularly its needs and priorities.
  3. Be able to work comfortably with prospective donors who often have their own respective reasons for giving very significant philanthropic support.
  4. Be able to tell the institution’s story in a compelling way.
  5. Master the art of asking a prospective donor, including the prospect’s family, for principal and transformational gifts.
  6. Be an advocate among medical colleagues for the highly transient development professional staff, and address areas that require agreement.
  7. Be able to lead prospective donors to research scientists and medical professionals who can help inspire large philanthropic support.
  8. Be able to participate in the negotiation of solid gift agreements and memoranda of understanding.
  9. Be able to travel to meet prospective donors wherever necessary.
  10. Be able to work effectively with development professionals to create appropriate stewardship strategies, as needed.

Where appropriate, the Medical Director for Development should help to recruit Associate Medical Directors for Development. Once the program is underway, it is likely that these additional medical personnel will need to be recruited for affiliated hospitals.

A key responsibility for the Medical Director for Development is to sit on the President’s Cabinet and Board of Trustees. Although some Presidents or CEOs might not support this step, it is crucial that the Medical Director for Development be able to have ready access to information about the institution as well as immediate access to the President or CEO. This is important because prospective donors will be keenly interested to see if the person they are working with has true institutional clout.

I have been most observant over the years to new ideas that will help inspire the elevation of philanthropy. We have seen some clients introduce, and are now seeing other clients seriously look at introducing, a Medical Director for Development into their respective institutions. Increasingly, hospitals and healthcare systems are understanding of the unique role that a medical professional can play in partnership with a development professional and a prospective donor.

Jim Lyddy is Senior Vice President at Graham-Pelton and can be reached at 1-800-608-7955 or jlyddy@grahampelton.com.