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Grateful patient programs are fundraising initiatives that allow hospitals and other healthcare organizations to find more major gift prospects among their patients.

They raise money from present and former hospital patients and aim to increase gifts from past donors. The goal of these programs is to identify high-quality fundraising prospects or donors and use proper fundraising strategies to bring in donations for the hospital.

These programs are designed to foster a culture of gratitude and raise money to support the many services that hospitals provide. 

Ready to learn more? Browse through the following categories to get answers to the most popular questions regarding grateful patient program basics:

  1. Why do hospitals need grateful patient programs?
  2. What makes a grateful patient program successful and who is involved in the process?
  3. How do you track program success?
  4. What is a Daily Patient Screening?
  5. How do you start a grateful patient program?
  6. What are the grateful patient program best practices?

Let’s dive in with the purpose of grateful patient programs in the first place.

Grateful patient programs help hospitals accrue funds for necessary equipment, staff, and services.

1. Why do hospitals need grateful patient programs?

We all need money to do things, and, likewise, hospitals require funds to pay for:

  • Equipment
  • Employees
  • Services
  • Facility renovations

In addition, there are other functions that need financing to improve both patient care and the overall hospital experience.

Grateful patient programs also benefit patients. These programs give patients the chance to both express gratefulness and extend support to the individual staff members and departments that played meaningful roles in their care.

Patients also get to support the future of their own healthcare as well as the medical care of countless others in their communities.

In asking for money so that your hospital can do more, you’re extending the opportunity for patients to do more, too.

And finally, hospitals are also brands, and all brands want to be known for doing good things. A grateful patient program is evidence of all of your excellent work, since grateful patients are generously giving back in honor of the positive experiences they had in your care.

A hospital with a good reputation is apt to receive more patients, and, when the good word spreads, any and all patients might consider giving some amount to support the future of both the hospital and their own medical care.

To see how medical institutions present their grateful patient program to prospects, check out The Linder Center of Hope’s professional brochure.

The Linder Center of Hope grateful patient program brochure.

On top of cultivating a stellar grateful patient program, remember that it never hurts to look into other healthcare fundraising opportunities too for providing aid to specific expenses like hospital bills, medical research, and more!

A grateful patient program requires a dedicated hospital staff, time, and resources.

2. What makes a grateful patient program successful and who is involved in the process?

A lack of public awareness in regards to financial need is the biggest hurdle for nonprofit hospitals. High healthcare costs create incorrect beliefs that hospitals rake in huge profits, but philanthropy is essential for nonprofit facilities to be able to continue to provide the best doctors, equipment, and overall care.

Grateful patient programs require a serious investment of time and resources from your healthcare organization, so, for long-term fundraising success, think about instituting the following program components:

  • Dedicated staff
  • Budget
  • Privacy guidelines
  • Data processes
  • Recruitment strategies
  • Screening processes
  • Prospect and program management
Incorporate these grateful patient program components for long-term healthcare fundraising success.

Day-to-day success relies on timing, research, and a staff that is dedicated to providing the best patient experience. Timing is especially important, as patients are much more likely to donate closer to their discharge. Hospitals, therefore, have to be proactive about identifying prospects early.

Healthcare organizations generally wait until after discharge to make a monetary ask, but building relationships with prospects should begin as soon as you’ve identified a patient as a major gift prospect.

You may not know if your patients prefer ketchup to mustard, but you will unearth relevant information such as past philanthropy, corporate and nonprofit involvement, and real estate ownership.

With more information in hand — data that’s detailed, accurate, and easily comprehensible — you can more effectively identify which patients to focus your program staff’s attention on.

Speaking of staff, the task of providing exemplary patient experiences largely falls upon a hospital’s employees.

A dedicated staff makes or breaks your efforts, as a grateful patient program is only as successful as the people who make the gears turn.

Your grateful patient team of hospital staff will include:

  • Nurses
  • Doctors
  • Administrators

All of them need to be active and vigilant in doing their part to support the program.

To get an idea of who should comprise your grateful patient program team, let’s take a look at this statistical breakdown from The Collin’s Group.

The Collins Group grateful patient program team statistics.

Families are also involved in grateful patient programs, as a large part of creating a great patient experience is satisfying the patient’s family.

Not only will creating goodwill among the major gift prospect’s family help to remind the potential donor of the great work that you’re doing, but some donors don’t make donation decisions alone. If a spouse is not pleased with a hospital’s care, then that spouse might insist that the patient not donate to that particular hospital. Your exemplary care can make a big difference.

Data tracking and prospect outreach strategies can help you measure the success of your grateful patient program.

3. How do you track program success?

The grateful patient giving sector represents about $5 billion, and your healthcare organization wants its slice of the pie. However, you shouldn’t rush your grateful patient program into existence.

A grateful patient program can be a great way to raise money, but it is crucial to have robust controls in place to ensure optimal operating processes, such as:

  • Appropriate outreach strategies.
  • Data tracking.

Measuring both the actions that your program takes and donor responses to those actions allows you to improve, so you will want to track important information, including:

  • Number of new prospects identified versus new donors acquired.
  • Number of patient visits to the hospital versus total money donated.
  • Amount of repeat donations.
  • Amount of donors increasing their annual gifts.
  • Length of time for a donation to be received after discharge.
  • Response rates to certain types of solicitation.
  • Stewardship, such as thanking donors and other donor follow-ups.
Track grateful patient program actions and donor responses to improve your programs success.

That list is a snapshot of what can be tracked and improved. Perhaps a certain type of solicitation, such as direct mail, works best, or you find that most patients desire a week between their discharge and the receipt of a donation inquiry.

You can track your grateful patient program’s performance by studying:

  1. Return on investment (ROI). Divide the net profit by the expenses and multiply by 100. Calculate the ROI for of all of your fundraising programs to determine if your grateful patient program is viable and comparable to other fundraising efforts.
  2. Cost per dollar raised (CPDR). Divide program expenses by the gross income and multiply by 100. Your CPDR should ideally stay below 35%.

Tracking information lets you see the results of your work, so you can stop, pivot, and improve your program.

Daily patient screenings help you identify prime prospects for your grateful patient program.

4. What is a Daily Patient Screening?

DonorSearch’s Daily Patient Screening helps you identify the best prospective donors at the perfect time to begin a relationship — while they are still in your facility or while their positive experiences are fresh in their minds and they feel grateful towards your organization.

Detailed analytics, based on back testing of two million records representing $5 billion in giving, can help you identify and research known philanthropists with a high degree of confidence.

As the most comprehensive Daily Patient Screening Service in the industry, DonorSearch can even help you formulate strategies by pinpointing who your donor knows.

Daily Patient Screening is ideal for organizations that want to incorporate this best practice into their fundraising strategy.

Patients appreciate the extra attention and service from an organization, and you can start relationships with potential donors who are receptive to learning more about your organization.

Starting a grateful patient program requires preparing for, screening, and managing prospects.

5. How do you start a grateful patient program?

This section will break down the daunting task of starting a grateful patient program at your organization into manageable steps.

Let’s look at them one at a time.

A. Prepare for implementation of a grateful patient program

Establishing a viable grateful patient program requires a dedicated staff and budget. Plans should be made for additional gift officers and advancement services staff to meet the demands of the program. Besides the increase in human resource expenses, funds will need to be available for Daily Patient Screening.

While determining the necessary staff and budget resources for your grateful patient program, ensure that you ask:

  • How many gift officers will we need for the grateful patient program?
  • Should the gift officers be only major gift officers, or would our institution benefit from an annual giving officer or planned giving officer on the team?
  • Is there a prospect researcher who can handle the patient screening results, or will an additional researcher need to be added to the team?
  • Will the import of patient information overwhelm the advancement services team?

In addition, while preparing for the start of a grateful patient program, federal, state, and local laws regarding patient privacy must be reviewed. The hospital’s own policies should also be reviewed.

After this review, prepare a plan for protecting the privacy of patients and their families by making sure you ask: 

  • What are the privacy laws our institution is required to follow?
  • What are the institution’s policies regarding patient privacy?
  • Who in the foundation office will have access to the patient information?

To establish a beneficial grateful patient program, the foundation office must work with many different hospital divisions. In order to obtain the support of the different hospital divisions needed to carry out the program, seek the backing of the hospital’s CEO first.

Present the potential increase in foundation revenue from a successful grateful patient program. Seek out information from other institutions with a similar structure that have a successful program. If necessary, enlist the help of board members to convince hospital leadership. Once the CEO is on board with the project, it will be easier to convince the various other hospital divisions that will be affected.

While seeking the support of hospital leadership, ensure that you ask:

  • What hospital divisions will be affected by a grateful patient program?
  • What can the foundation staff do to make the roll out of a program a positive experience?
  • Who is supportive of the program, and who can convince others of its importance?

The medical staff is bound to have concerns with foundation officers making visits to patients that they are trying to treat.

If their concerns are addressed early and often, potential problems can be minimized. Review and select a group of doctors and nurses who are supportive of the program to serve as ambassadors.

While forming a grateful patient program team, don’t forget to address these questions: 

  • Which members of the medical staff can serve as foundation ambassadors?
  • How can we use positive patient stories from the medical staff as foundation marketing material?
  • How can we minimize the impact of the grateful patient program on the medical staff?

B. Screen and validate prospects

First, decide how frequently you need to screen patients. If you plan to make visits while patients are still admitted, daily screening is needed. If you plan to contact patients within three months of their discharge, weekly or monthly screening is acceptable.

A patient who had a positive experience in your hospital should be contacted within three months of their discharge.

Determine which gift capacity levels will warrant a personal visit and which gift capacity levels can be moved into mail solicitation by making the most of wealth screenings. Make sure your priority for visits is on those who have given to you previously.

With the help of DonorSearch, you can have all of your patient data screened and returned with:

  • In-depth reports on past philanthropy.
  • Past philanthropy to your organization.
  • Insights into the organizations and causes the donor supports.
  • Political giving.
  • Ask amounts based on philanthropy and wealth.
  • Corporate and nonprofit involvement.
  • Real estate ownership.
  • SEC insider stock transactions.
  • Links to annual reports where the donor is mentioned.
  • Giving by the donor’s spouse.
  • Personal, corporate, and organizational backgrounds.
  • Wealth markers, such as airplane and boat ownership.
Prospect screenings can help your grateful patient program find potential donors.

After your screening results are imported into your database, a prospect researcher should prepare a report on each highly-rated prospect.

When choosing which prospects to approach first and how to assign them to gift officers, start with the patients who are already donors. Once you have contacted or visited the patients who have already demonstrated some loyalty to your organization, the next group of prospects is those who have the capacity give much more to you than they are.

Wealthy non-donors should be approached with the idea that they need to be shown the value of philanthropy to your organization. If they have the capacity to be philanthropic but do very little giving, a development officer should find out why:

  • Have they not been approached correctly?
  • Have they not found a cause they support?
  • Have they not been convinced of the value of their donation?

Discovering the answers to these questions can only help your efforts.

C. Manage your prospects

Once you’ve generated a list of valuable giving prospects, it’s time to organize prospect proposals and communications efficiently. To accomplish this, follow along with these steps:

  • Track proposals in your donor database: Create a proposal for each patient prospect after they are assigned to a gift officer. The proposal should include the ask amount, the anticipated gift date, and the fund or purpose for the gift. Make sure that the proposal is updated through each stage of solicitation: research, qualification, cultivation, solicitation, and stewardship.
  • File contact reports: Any phone call, visit, correspondence, or other interaction with a prospect should be reported in your donor database. Development officers should handle the reporting of these contacts.
  • Conduct frequent prospect management meetings: Conduct meetings with front-line fundraisers and the advancement services staff to make sure prospects are moving through the solicitation pipeline. During these meetings, gift officers can report the need for further research and prospect researchers can present new prospects.

These steps are essential for measuring grateful patient program effectiveness down the line. Ensure your donor management software fulfills all your prospect research needs by investing in one of Double the Donation’s top 9 picks!

Make your grateful patient program the best that it can be with these essential best practices.

6. What are the grateful patient program best practices?

Ice cream is wonderful, but it is even better when mixed with your favorite toppings. In fundraising, as in life, great things can always be improved, and you should never settle for anything less than the next determined progression towards your desired destination.

Just like vanilla ice cream transforms into a delicious sundae thanks to the addition of whipped cream and sprinkles, you can improve your grateful patient program by implementing best practices that can help the program turn a corner.

Use these best practices to yield an efficient program.

A. Entrust major gift officers

Once you know who your major gift prospects are based on your screened list, it is time to assign them to specific gift officers. Gift officers will save you from having to punt on prospects by answering the tough questions, such as:

  • Why does this prospect do very little philanthropic giving despite a large capacity to give?
  • Has the prospect been incorrectly approached about donating?
  • Has the prospect not found the proper cause to support?
  • Has the prospect not been convinced of the value of a donation?

Patients can still be split up according to what works best for your organization, but it is good to prioritize certain types of donors to the gift officers who can cultivate those prospects best. Types of donors include:

  • Patients who are current major donors.
  • Patients who could be more philanthropic than they presently are.
  • Wealthy patients who have yet to give.

Fundraising is a long game, but gift officers armed with prospect research can make it a whole lot easier. Learn more about what it takes to recruit a game-changing major gift officer with DonorSearch’s free job description and hiring tips!

B. Implement a solicitation plan

From letters to emails to phone calls to in-person visits, it requires a team effort to convince a prospect to commit to a big donation. So strap on your boots and get to work! Fundraising can be an unpredictable pursuit that should be tailored to the individual prospect as best as possible.

You’re competing against many other nonprofits, both hospitals and other organizations, for the limited funds that any donor is able to give. You need to be timely, precise, and enthusiastic about all of your donation pitches.

To organize a killer solicitation process, reference these key steps and our handy visual aid:

  1. Thank donors for past support and encourage a future donation.
  2. Visit prospects at home to check up on their health, but do not necessarily solicit them for money at this time.
  3. Send a prompt letter or give a phone call from the hospital’s president or other higher-up to check in on the patient and open the discussion about a donation.
  4. Invite prospects to special events or membership programs to highlight their value to you.
  5. Send an email, but this should be restricted to tech-savvy donors, as other forms of communication, such as phone calls or in-home visits, are more personal and stand to grab donors’ attentions in meaningful ways.
Utilize these solicitation strategies to elevate your grateful patient program.

Actual solicitation does not typically begin until the patient leaves the hospital, but donors vary and it is up to you to decide when it is best to start the asking process. Keep in mind that solicitation plans are just guidelines, and every donor requires an individualized game plan.

C. Remember your prospects are patients first and donors second

Patients become donors because they want to recognize the staff and departments that gave special meaning to their care.

All patients are people and want to be treated as such. If you provide the best possible care, a discussion about a donation can occur after discharge.

Patients donate for personal reasons and according to varying motivations. Your doctors and staff doing a good job will lead to donations, but don’t underestimate the wide array of other factors that could cause someone to donate. Cast a wide net when searching for donations. You never know who might jump at the chance to give to your hospital.

Let’s take a look at a few inspiring donors from Summit Health as they share their grateful patient story:

D. Create an integrated grateful patient program team

All grateful patient programs confront some common problems, and planning for potential pitfalls can make all the difference. One problem is solving the riddle of a dedicated staff being more than solely doctors, nurses, and other hospital personnel.

A formidable grateful patient program requires dedicated gift officers to reach out to patients after discharge. Gift officers are also the people who ensure that all other hospital staff are both aware of and aiding in the fundraising cause.

It can be difficult for gift officers to get doctors and other hospital staff to consistently act with your grateful patient program in mind. For instance, conflicts may arise from medical staff who are concerned about foundation officers making visits to their patients. A good idea is to select a group of doctors and nurses to serve as ambassadors for the program.

E. Always keep patient privacy in mind

Patient information must remain private, and there are limitations to the data that you can obtain and share.

Federal, state, and local laws govern patient privacy, and many hospitals have their own policies regarding the handling of patient information. Once you’re abreast of all privacy policies, create a plan to protect the information of both patients and their families.

For DonorSearch’s rigorous policy on the privacy and security of your data, request a copy of it here.


Now that you’ve learned the grateful patient program basics, it is time to get out there and start your own program. Your hospital and your community will be better for it!

For more on healthcare prospect research and fundraising, check out these expert additional resources:

Build a solid foundation for your healthcare fundraising with a wealth screening demo from DonorSearch!

Grateful Patient Programs: Breaking Down the Basics