By Nigel Harris – Founding Partner at Giving Architects Australia 

In my last article on engaging clinicians in healthcare philanthropy, I shared some observations around patient philanthropy and the significant role of healthcare professionals in advocacy and referrals. In my closing remarks, I touched on two themes that frame key challenges in engaging patient philanthropy and opening up opportunities for patients, and their families and friends, to express their gratitude. These challenges are fundamental to the effective implementation of a patient philanthropy program, to form a key focus for fundraising  professionals in healthcare philanthropy in achieving results.

One observation was that patient philanthropy has been a conversation for a long time. Certainly, for the four decades I have worked in this area, and I’m sure well before that. However, the conversation seems to continue without a lot of apparent change.   

This begs the question – what can we do differently and what are we prepared to do, to effect change and ultimately shift this conversation?  

There is an increasing amount of guidance available to assist in answering the first part of this question and much may already lie within your current practice and frame of reference. In other words, you may already know what to do and there is support available to help fill any gaps or to augment your approach.

But knowing what to do and doing it, can be two different things. So, what stops us?

This brings us to the second part of this question – what are we prepared to do? What practice change will we commit to? What cultural positioning is required? What resources and training will be needed? And what leadership commitment and advocacy is necessary to prepare for and sustain this change?

And this is where things get hard. Often very hard. We are dealing with much more than a fundraising problem, as is so often the case with most fundraising problems. So, this needs to be tackled as an organisational issue – and will take a whole lot more than a fundraising conversation.

So, what are you prepared to do? How do you make this happen? And who needs to be involved?

Once these questions have been addressed, it’s all plain sailing, right? Well, no, not really. But I’m sure you know that already.

My second observation related to the degree of difficulty in making things happen. Arguably, this is more challenging than influencing organisational commitment to change. 

So how should we navigate these challenges for better outcomes? 

Creating a consistent and disciplined practice approach with a proven systems base, communications, and reporting frameworks, as well as record keeping, metrics and analysis is critical. It’s not simple, but nor is it complex. It takes knowledge, training, and discipline. And it also requires a supporting systems base appropriately resourced.

In my experience this is the success factor – or fail point. Continuity of staffing, know how, application, and reporting along with competing demands on time and focus, as well as a constant pressure for short term returns are all tipping points.

Which brings us back to the question of what are you prepared to do? And how do you do it? 

This too is an organisational question rather than a fundraising question. It’s answered through a considered commitment of resources, a longitudinal approach to investment with shared clarity around the return.

I’ve raised a number of questions, and several challenges, in building an effective patient philanthropy program. In 500 words, there is less room for answers than questions.


Facing these challenges already or planning to launch your own patient philanthropy program soon and need some hands-on help?  

Our team at Giving Architects Australia is happy to field your questions and consider answers that might be most suited to your needs and situation. Send us a quick message or give us a call. We look forward to continuing the conversation with you.
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