Creating a Stewardship Plan for your Healthcare Institution: Step 1 - Evaluation

Since I first became involved in healthcare fundraising, it has become increasingly difficult to meet the stewardship expectations of donors. The increased use of technology in all facets of modern life has led to an environment where people expect instant gratification and a high level of service—and not just in commerce—the  modern donor has come to rely on personalization, quick response times, and a high level transparency from the nonprofit organizations that they support.

This will be the first of several posts I will do about donor relations and stewardship in the healthcare sector. My hope is to share an approach to donor relations and stewardship that helps to systematize the processes surrounding donor relations in order to effectively provide personalized — and timely — stewardship for every single of one of your donors.

Creating efficient and effective stewardship processes in a scientific research or healthcare setting can prove to be especially complicated. A key difference between healthcare and other nonprofits is that the number of restricted gifts to a healthcare institution is typically much higher than the number of un-restricted gifts. So, even the simplest tasks to automate, like mailing thank you letters and gift receipts, become cumbersome; with hundreds — or even thousands — of funds, staff ends up working overtime to make sure each letter is appropriately personalized. A process that should take a week ends up taking months. And, as we well know, quick and impactful stewardship can mark the difference between a onetime gift and sustained support.

The first step in developing a stewardship plan that works in a complex healthcare setting, is taking a comprehensive look at your current program. This can be a long process; I would suggest dedicating at least a month—possibly 3-4 to fully investigate the answers to the following questions:

1. What are your current stewardship practices? This should take into account official and un-official practices.

Do your best to list every stewardship activity completed in the past year (or few years). Make sure to include the gift sizes associated with the different activities. It helps to lay them all out on the same spread sheet so you can compare and start to pull out patterns.

2. How is stewardship referenced in your gift agreements and / or your gift recognition policies? Do donors have expectations based on their agreements? What are you contractually obligated to provide?

3. How long does it take for a donor to get their thank you letter and / or receipt after they make their gift? This should take into account.

  • The time it takes for the gift to go through gift processing
  • The time it takes to route the letter through approvers and/ or signatories
  • The time it takes to make copies of the documents for records before they are mailed

As you track the letters take note of any bottlenecks that occur during the process. I would suggest tracking all of the letters during this period using time / date stamps at each segment. This will help provide you with the analysis that will serve as the basis for any changes to your processes. 

4. What is your stewardship budget? If you don’t have a line-item in your budget, how much do your stewardship practices cost? If you can, track the man (or woman) hours that it takes to complete some of these tasks. 

Once the data is tracked and recorded, you can start to analyze it and develop solutions that will work for your institution.

In the next post, I will walk through how you use the data that you gathered to create a matrix of stewardship solutions that you can use at your healthcare institution. The matrix can serve as a simple guiding document for the stewardship plan of every single donor—from annual fund to leadership level. 

Fundraising Tips, Healthcare Trends

Leah Libolt

Leah Libolt is an Associate Consultant at Campbell & Company. She worked in campaign strategy and donor relations at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles and in donor relations at The California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. She has a deep understanding of the unique donor relations needs of complex research institutions.