National Doctors’ Day: Thank the doctors you work with – and mean it!

For a lot of hospital fundraisers, National Doctors’ Day is the culmination of a campaign when you reach out to grateful patients and suggest they honor a doctor who touched their lives and donate to your development department or foundation. Some of you raise a lot of money in the campaign, and most of you (we hope) recognize the honored doctors in some small way. But what are you really doing to thank the physicians who are the backbone of your fundraising efforts?

Look, you can slice it any way you want, but people choose hospitals because of the doctors that practice there. Yes, the latest technology is important, and yes, the nurses and technicians are crucial. But in the end, patients who have the luxury of making choices (in other words, patients who don’t come to a hospital via the emergency room) usually select their hospitals because a family member, friend, or sometimes a doctor they trust has recommended the procedure be done by a certain physician or physician group that practices at your hospital.

All too often, we, as healthcare fundraisers, get that equation backwards. We determine that the doctors need or want the latest technology to do their job better and only we, the development office or foundation, can make that happen for them. While the first part of the sentence is true – doctors deserve to practice to their highest ability and use the latest technology to provide the best outcomes – the second part is a little disconnected.

Hospital foundations and development departments are vital to the bottom line of a hospital; however, the most successful fundraising programs ask physicians to provide access to grateful patients (and sometimes friends and colleagues from other aspects of the doctors’ lives, such as fellow club members, neighbors, etc., who score high on wealth screenings) to raise money for a building, technology, or service line priorities. Most hospital fundraisers can share stories, good and bad, of walking into a physician’s office with a list of that physician’s patients who have been deemed to be good prospects. That’s where the disconnect lies. Yes, we know how to develop the case and strategize the ask and all the important skills we have spent our careers honing – but, with very few exceptions, grateful patients, even those who self-identify, have a loyalty to their physicians and will respond with more commitment if the physician is engaged and involved.

So, thank the doctors you work with today – even the ones who have declined when you’ve approached them for assistance, because they may come around to support your efforts at some point. Thank them again tomorrow, and next week, and next month, and all throughout the year.

And when you are working with them on a project, show your gratitude by keeping a few things in mind:

Just because you have an appointment with a physician, doesn’t mean it is a good time for him or her.

A week or two earlier, the doctor (or his administrator) might have set up the appointment to meet with you, and now, just before you walk into the office, he or she has had to deliver difficult news to a patient or family member and is not in a good frame of mind. Take stock of the situation; don’t just sit down and get to business. If it is not the right time based on your introductory discussion, make an offer to come another day (I can assure you, the list can wait a day or two). Most times, the doctor will opt to continue the meeting, but he or she will appreciate the offer.

Don’t waste the physician’s time.

This one, hopefully, goes without saying, but keep your meetings and supporting materials short and sweet. Don’t give doctors the entire dossier on every patient or a complex print out from your donor screening service. Keep it simple, easy-to-read, and quick to respond to. Start with your top prospects or issues to discuss. Just because the doctor has agreed to give you a half hour of his or her time, that doesn’t mean an emergency won’t arise, or he or she won’t be tired and distracted, so the meeting may get cut short. And on that last point, read the cues: if you can see his or her attention is waning, wrap up. If you have prioritized the discussion points, you will still walk away with important information, even if you don’t get through the whole agenda.

Make sure you don’t “thank” the doctor for his or her involvement by overwhelming him or her with more and more lists and requests from you and other colleagues.

It is tempting to keep going back to a doctor who is generous with his or her time or who “gets” fundraising. This is no different than working with donors. People need a break and need to be acknowledged for what they have done. Don’t live up to the adage that “no good deed goes unpunished.”

Honor and recognize the doctor in ways that matter to him or her.

Your Chief Development Officer should reach out to department chairs and other medical leadership to let them know about the invaluable assistance from physicians. The physicians will appreciate hearing from their leadership that this work is important, and the by-product of this recognition is that it may engage other physicians – and may strengthen the bond between your department/foundation and the hospital’s leaders. You can also consider stopping by with a small treat or emailing an article about a non-medical topic of interest to the physician. Remember, physicians are volunteers and all the things you do to connect with and recognize important volunteers should be done for physicians as well. Don’t fall into the trap of believing it is “part of their job.”

Meet doctors where they are, not where you want them to be.

Just because it would be a slam dunk to have the physician on a solicitation doesn’t mean he or she is comfortable with that. You should offer (they may want to be there for the patient’s sake), but you should also accept the physician’s declination graciously. Some doctors feel like it is a quid pro quo for their patients: “You give the hospital money, and I will give you better care.” And while nothing is further from the truth, if the doctor feels that way, you should acknowledge that feeling and work with him or her to put together a solicitation team that represents the hospital and its needs well.

All of this is a tremendous amount of work – preparation and relationship management – but that is what a good development officer does every day. And all of it can be made so much easier with a simple thank you.

And since we’re celebrating National Doctors’ Day, why not make a point of spending some time in your hospital and thanking all of the doctors you see – whether they work with you or not.

— Gina Carro, Vice President

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