How Academic Medical Center Fundraising Leaders are Planning for 2021

Posted November 19, 2020

For our latest Coffee Talk—a virtual conversation series where we gather clients, former clients, and close friends of the firm to share ideas and advice about navigating through the pandemic—we sat down with Chief Development Officers at academic medical centers throughout the northeast.

CDOs from Mount Sinai, Boston Medical Center, Tufts Medical Center, Beth Israel Lahey Health, Joslin Diabetes Center, and Lifespan Health System discussed how they were charting the course for 2021.

Here are the takeaways…

The early months of COVID resulted in unprecedented levels of philanthropic support, but 2021 is likely to be a different story.

Not surprising given their work, all participants received extraordinary levels of philanthropic support in the early months of the pandemic – an influx of new donors, the re-engagement of lapsed donors, and large, first-time gifts (some of them from individuals not at all engaged with their institutions). Yet, while they closed the 2020 fiscal year much stronger than preceding years, COVID support has already begun to wane in the last few months. As hospitals begin to turn their attention back to their pre-COVID strategic priorities, CDOs are anxious about whether they will meet a receptive audience or see a lessened sense of urgency among donors.

Remote and virtual work casts a new light on your staffing and staff structure.

Our participants reported that their highest performing gift officers are energized by the challenge of virtual and motivated by the sense of urgency – no surprise, they are performing strongly. Several CDOs talked about how hard some team members are working and that they worry about burn out. In response, the CDOs are working hard to keep them energized and content. Some are being creative at redeployment with ideas like transitioning event staff who are talented at seeking sponsorships to their corporate relations teams or moving frontline fundraisers into digital marketing positions with great results.  They suggest that this can improve performance and protect staff when so many of their institutions are downsizing. 

Don’t back down!

One CDO shared that they were conducting a feasibility study to test the viability of a campaign. It was a win-win. They got in lots of cultivation visits as part of the study and the response was overwhelmingly positive. Another is launching an initiative to celebrate healthcare heroes. Great idea!  All concurred that we know a lot now about how Zoom can be an ally – and sometimes a foe. While it is harder to engage wholly new donors, it is not impossible. Stewardship calls have had great results. And it is, as many have proven, highly effective for engaging existing donors. It can be easier to get a physician or scientist on a Zoom call vs. out for a donor visit. And COVID updates via webinar are still working. Despite dwindling numbers of attendees, the number present is still not a bad ROI.

All of us here at Development Guild recognize the critical role our friends and clients are playing in supporting the most vulnerable among us during this crisis. As we face these uncertain times together, it is our top priority to support you. Visit our COVID-19 Resources page for useful information and insights.

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