The Growth of Grateful Patient Programs

In health care, development leaders and teams can’t depend on a winning football team or wealthy alumni (at least outside of academic medical centers) to create a natural pipeline for ongoing philanthropic support.

As I talk to my friends working in and around the health care arena, almost every organization is turning to, and in many cases increasing fundraising efforts around, “grateful patients”.

In many ways, these potential donors are your alumni. They visited your institution, they developed important relationships with your faculty (physicians, nurses and other key staff), gained some type of positive result from the experience and are now your best ambassadors in the community – sounds like alumni to me.

Components Of A Successful Grateful Patient Programs:

Wealth Screening

Wealth screening is nearly ubiquitous in all facets of fundraising now and that is no different in healthcare. Hospitals conduct daily screenings to capture timely patient encounters and this data is helpful in identifying and managing the grateful patient program.

Physician/Caregiver Involvement

After you have activated your team to make contact, how can you move the relationship towards a gift?

The most successful programs are engaging the clinical teams and ultimately the physicians to develop substantial relationships. Over time, these programs have reported significant shifts in screening of patients as physicians become more comfortable operating as volunteers for the development team. Thanks to physician referrals, many are finding higher caliber prospects and only screening after referrals have been made.

Following the identification process, participating clinicians are involved in appropriate cultivation, providing regular updates on the relationship with their referrals and publicly recognizing when gifts are closed.


Key to the development of any good Grateful Patient Program is appropriate follow-up.

Most of these programs still rely on mailing campaigns to a large degree for follow-up with “grateful patient” prospects. This has been a proven method for donor acquisition and filling the pipeline, but there is a subtle difference observed at top performing organizations.

Thanks to modifications of HIPAA regulations, high performing institutions are segmenting mailings by service lines and even specific physicians. When newly acquired donors enter through this acquisition strategy, the best prospects are assigned to an major gift officer’s portfolio and into the moves management process.

Untapped Donors

One of the last great frontiers for healthcare philanthropy and grateful patient programs exist in the largely untapped outpatient setting. On average, there are at least 6 outpatients for every single inpatient in terms of annual volume. Only a select few organizations are tackling this opportunity and designing strategies to better engage the outpatient population. Some are deploying tactics like wealth screening future outpatient appointments or placing pre-appointment calls to initiate early exposure to concierge programs designed to aide major gift prospects and donors.

As behaviors shift concerning health care and the movement towards prevention over treatment gains traction, identifying and engaging patients in the outpatient setting is more and more critical in the establishment of successful comprehensive Grateful Patient Programs.

With the ever-changing dynamics surrounding the delivery of modern healthcare in America, the increase in mergers and acquisitions of smaller regional hospital into much larger systems and the demand for prevention over treatment, development offices must evolve as well.

If you are still depending on a few physicians, local foundations, fundraising events and vendors for the bulk of your annual fundraising goal, I encourage you to look closely at your strategy and to either enhance or perhaps begin a meaningful Grateful Patient Program to move your organization to the next level.

Per Giving USA, the overwhelming majority of major gifts come from individuals and families…make sure your hospital has a seat at that table through more thoughtful and purposeful engagement of your most valuable customers.

If your office is at a crossroads with your existing Grateful Patient Program – or you would like to start a new one – Alexander Haas is here to help.