By Chris Carter, published March 2020

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve been talking about how charity and non-profit fundraisers should be responding to the health emergency. It can be summed up as:

  • Be responsible
  • Don’t stop
  • Diversify
  • Boost mass marketing

This is particularly pressing for hospital foundations and healthcare charities, because they are on the front line, bearing the brunt of the challenge. It is common during crises for one type of organization to be the focus, a position unfamiliar to hospital foundations.

There’s something else that makes the current situation especially pressing:  the type of fundraising and marketing needed is an unknown to the vast majority of these organizations. The major giving model of philanthropy has served these organizations well, but is not suited to a crisis like this.  Many of the activities that were fundamental to these approaches — networking, galas, cocktail parties, etc — can physically no longer be done. This is where direct marketing can and will pick up the slack. Done right, it can also lay the crucial groundwork for a much stronger, diverse, well-funded organization. Integrated direct marketing is multi-channel, so this approach should  include things like direct mail, digital, telemarketing, and TV.

The good news is there are a number of organizations who have been here before. In the broader non-profit community, international development organizations have perfected the fundraising response to what may appear to be overwhelming crises. This is exactly the approach hospital and healthcare organizations need to implement:

  1. Create an emergency fund, ideally with a goal. Create an overall theme, tight timelines and clear calls to action
  2. Make sure the messaging is urgent, clear and story-focused. Avoid inward-focused stories at all costs, including those that are too institutional, or that celebrate a major gift (which may alienate smaller donors). Consider: during urgent response campaigns focused on relief after a devastating hurricane, do you see the leading international development charities posting pictures of people holding oversized cheques?
  3. Line up all your existing channels and investigate new ones; things like urgent direct mail appeals and video can be put together in a matter of days.

These campaigns will immediately support front-line organizations with urgently needed funding; moreover, perfecting this approach will lead to additional benefits. People are already feeling a bit helpless and craving an opportunity to make a difference; you will be providing a very positive outlet for supporters to demonstrate their generosity and feel empowered. If you are promoting this campaign  featuring stories involving front-line workers, you will inevitably boost morale to people on the front line, sending the message that people care about and appreciate them. Finally, because this type of fundraising is crucial to all organizations and has been lacking in many health-related charities, you will be laying the groundwork to broaden your appeal and thus boost your organization in the long-term.