The Power of Partnering: How to Partner Philanthropic Priorities With Healthcare Strategic Plans

  • Published April 24, 2024
  • / By Bobie Clement, CFRE

When embarking on a strategic planning process, it is imperative that philanthropic partners be included as active participants. This ensures the diverse perspectives of key stakeholders around philanthropy—leadership, top benefactors, fundraising volunteers of greatest influence, and clinical partners—are heard and included. Such engagement not only helps build consensus around a strategic direction and propels ownership of these stakeholders as plans form, but positions them to actively participate in the eventual fundraising process for resources to help execute the plan.

The Dollars and Sense of It

As healthcare leaders face ever-tightening budgets and increased pressure on slim operating margins, philanthropy is more important than ever not only for achieving an institution’s strategic priorities but sustaining long-term viability and creating excellence among an institution’s caregivers, programs, and facilities. Philanthropy will continue to be one of the most flexible resources and one of the least expensive for the internal investment made.

Consider the national trends: Typical healthcare institutions experience a philanthropic ROI of $4.96 with the top performing organizations averaging $8.53[1] per dollar invested. These kinds of returns are very often higher than those achieved by service lines and clinical care programs. Without philanthropy, most institutions would be faced with the unsustainable options of either increasing clinical care revenue or cutting costs to support critical initiatives that currently benefit from the generosity of donors.

Shared, Mutual Understanding

As leaders of the process, the institution’s C-suite and clinical executives richly contribute to their philanthropy partners’ understanding of the relevance and urgency of the institution’s needs and priorities. Equally as important, philanthropy partners know how to refine relevance and urgency by adding perspective on why the needs are (or are not) so compelling to prospective donors. The ability for an institutional plan to yield a relevant, urgent, and compelling case is ultimately what will drive benefactors to decide to fulfill their philanthropic objectives through the institution. If philanthropy is excluded from the strategic planning process, then misalignment almost always occurs to the detriment of raising the dollars necessary for achieving the institution’s strategic goals.

To develop this shared vision, it is important for the leadership team to outline its plans and focus on answering the following questions:

  • What is our aspirational vision for the future that will capture benefactors’ imaginations?
  • What resources are needed to realize and sustain this vision? How can philanthropy specifically contribute to its fulfillment?
  • What are the detailed philanthropic opportunities for donors within the stated needs?
  • How will those opportunities be prioritized for potential investment?

Donors who maximize their giving prefer to direct their contributions and impact specific areas they care about most. In relationship-based fundraising that yields the greatest results, it is critical to ensure that donors’ interests are aligned with the institution’s strategic vision and associated fundraising priorities. Providing prospective benefactors with the answers to the above questions through a variety of philanthropic opportunities that have been vetted and prioritized by the institution, ensures that philanthropy is mission-aligned, appeals to the broadest number of high-level benefactors, and well-stewarded by the institution.

An Intentional Culture of Philanthropy

Once leadership has defined its strategic plan priorities with tangible philanthropic opportunities, the shared goals and expectations must be communicated across the institution to nurture a culture of philanthropy. A strong culture of philanthropy—one where key leaders and volunteers intensely care about the institution, believe in its mission, and can talk about its philanthropic goals and impact—best positions the institution to achieve future fundraising success.

By partnering with philanthropy, institutional leaders help equip all key stakeholders with the tools and energy they need to tell the institution’s story. Their ability to articulate the institution’s strategic plan in a compelling way, within the context of its mission and environment, helps them make the case to their personal networks about the role of philanthropy. This capability is far more powerful than any brochure or website. Enabling a stronger culture of philanthropy must be done with intentionality through collaboration, transparency, and trust—and it starts with the entire leadership team, including philanthropy—partnering together on a strategic plan.

[1] Association of Healthcare Philanthropy, 2023 Report on Giving