After more than two decades of working in the nonprofit sector, it’s hard for me to turn off my fundraising and marketing mind.
Even when I’m at the hospital.
Nonprofit Lessons from the Hospital
I’ve spent a very good chunk of the last 3+ months dealing with a family member who’s been a patient at a local hospital. To say the least, it’s been a grind.
While at the hospital, I’ve…
- met many wonderful, dedicated people, both staff and volunteers
- learned more about anatomy in these few months than I ever expected
- had way too many sleepless nights.
Even with all the craziness and trying to manage everything, I did find pockets of time to think, reflect, look around. As I did, I noticed some things I want to share with you. They are all related to your work as a nonprofit.
1) Social Proof
The above picture is a partial list of donors to the geriatric ward at the hospital.
Odds are you’ve seen similar plaques hanging on walls of various institutions and organizations. It’s a wonderful way of recognizing and thanking donors publicly.
But after seeing this sign daily, I realized there’s another reason why nonprofits put up these plaques:
Social proof. People will copy the actions of others.
I happen to know Kurt and Edith Rothschild. Kurt was my dad’s boss for 3+ decades.
The other donors? I know many of them from my days living in Toronto.
Consider what we do when we need advice for what product to buy. We tun to our network, family and friends. We trust their opinion.
Same goes for charities. Looking for where to donate? People will ask and rely on their network.
Social proof is critical to a charity’s fundraising and marketing. Listing names of supporters, posting testimonial videos and quotes allows people in the community to see others who are like them. If that person donates, maybe I will as well.
This is why getting your donor’s origin story is so important! Post them on your website, social media channels, email, printed materials etc.
I might not have the funds to dedicate an entire floor. But the fact that Kurt and Edith- and everyone listed below them- vetted this hospital and donated can serve as proof to those visiting that this is a worthwhile charity to support.
Make sure social proof is a part of your fundraising and marketing efforts.
2) Update your Audience
“The patient went into surgery.” I got a text message letting me know the operation was beginning.
Almost five hours later I got another text. “The operation is almost over and a surgeon will be out to update you.”
This sounds like something simple to do. But unless the hospital ensures its procedures are patient centric, those text messages won’t be the norm.
Sitting in the waiting room is no fun. Which is why I appreciated the above text messages. Yes, there was plenty of time in between where you’re not sure what’s going on. But the hospital makes sure to give you a beginning and an end. Close the loop.
As a nonprofit, you need to update your supporters consistently and constantly. You send them a fundraising appeal where you outline a problem they can solve. The reader takes action and donates.
Now what? Does your organization update them with a resolution? Do you get in touch two months later with a further update?
A donation isn’t the end of the road. It’s just the beginning. You need to update, demonstrate impact, keep donors informed of what’s going on in their community.
And yeah, that doesn’t have to only be via direct mail or email. Text works really well. Trust me.
3) Frustrating as Hell
They prepped him for surgery. We got there early in the morning so we could be there when they wheeled him into the surgery room.
And then we waited. We waited. And waited some more.
Finally, after a couple of hours, I asked the head nurse to find out what time surgery would be. She checked and her answer shocked me. “He’s not on the list for today.”
Me: “So why did you prep him for surgery?!”
I know that hospitals are large institutions and things happen. I also have experience with the public health systems in the United States, Canada and Israel. In all three places, there are times when the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing.
When it happens to you, it’s frustrating as hell.
Consider your nonprofit: Are your fundraising and marketing efforts working in tandem? Or does each have its own territory and they don’t talk to each other?
The latter happens way too often. It means your supporters get mixed messages, differently branded materials and there’s no cohesion in what they see and read.
That can be frustrating for them. And when supporters are frustrated, do you think they’ll continue to support your organization?!
Make sure fundraising and marketing are on the same page. Always.
I cannot begin to say enough good things about the volunteers at the hospital!
There were people coming around with food and offering it both to the patients and their loved ones. Groups of teens, going floor to floor, singing songs with the patients to lift their spirits. People who came to sit with patients who unfortunately had no visitors.
Volunteers are the backbone of your organization. They give their time and effort to help you have greater impact in the community. Without them…
My advice is to treat them like the amazing people they are. Constant gratitude and updates about the work they do. Special programs or events for them. Make them feel the love.
They absolutely deserve it.
5) Your Staff
Like all hospitals, the one I spent time at was short of staff. Definitely not enough nurses.
I have enough friends who work as doctors and nurses to know that they work crazy hours and are very underpaid.
And yet they show up because of their dedication to their patients and to the hospital’s mission. Until they don’t.
Nonprofit staff are notoriously underpaid, overworked and sadly, underappreciated. Every time I saw a nurse running from room to room, I was reminded of people I’ve worked with in the past. No problem was too big. People in our community need us and we’ll be there.
Unfortunately, that takes a toll. It causes fatigue and burnout. Your staff can only be Herculean for so long. And the day comes when suddenly a couple of people call in sick and you’re shorthanded.
When this happened at the hospital, I saw firsthand how it affected every patient in the ward. It wasn’t pretty.
Fundraisers move jobs every 18 months. Wanna know one of the reasons? Read this section again.
6) You’re Doing Amazing Work!
The above sign can be found in a corner of the hematology-oncology ward at the hospital.
Loosely translated, the two-word title means “the warm/hot corner.”
The Darchei Miriam charity provides a space where patients and their loved ones can get free coffee, tea, sugar, spoons, cups, milk, hot water etc. 365/24/7.
Additionally, a couple of times a week their volunteers come around the ward to offer snacks, cakes, drinks and more to everyone. All free of charge.
The situation I’m involved with isn’t a good one but every time I visited that area, I smiled. It’s amazing what one organization can do.
According to their website, they provide 100,000 cups of coffee and tea a year. Awesome!
It may seem small but it’s a big deal for many. It may be tucked away in a corner but it warmed my heart every time I went there.
Nonprofits- small and large- do so much good in the world. There are wonderful people impacting others in many different ways.
And it’s good to be reminded of that.
It didn’t take long for me to learn that I had to be the advocate for my family member. That meant talking with every doctor, nurse, specialist, surgeon, cleaning staff, social worker, dietician and Lord knows how many other people.
It was my job to keep on top of everything from medicine to daily routine to checkups to consultations. Know everyone’s names. Know their schedule. Find out as much as possible and keep the patient informed.
Think about your nonprofit. You have a mission. You have a problem you want to solve.
To do so means you have to be an advocate for those in the community who can’t speak up for themselves.
To succeed, you have to know all the local players and what they do. Your donors- who can’t solve the problem on their own- depend on you to advocate for the rights of the people they want to help.
It is tiring. It is exhausting. But when you have the full picture, when you know what has to be done to reach the finish line, when you’re prepared with all the right info, success will find you.
Be an advocate. Raise awareness. Get the desired results.
8) Language Matters!
At the hospital, the doctors and staff have their own language. Problem is, the patients and their loved ones don’t speak it. Which can cause confusion and frustration when conversing.
When your nonprofit uses “inside baseball” words, terms and phrases only recognizable to you, it confuses readers. You know who stops reading and doesn’t donate?
A confused reader.
For example, every time I see a food bank talk about “food insecurity” I wonder how much money they’re leaving on the table. How many people can quickly translate that as “hunger”? When you make someone have to pause while reading your fundraising and marketing materials, you’re going to lose them.
Use language that’s simple and easy for everyone to understand.
I wanted to find a good note to end this post but couldn’t think of one. Until ten minutes ago when I was informed that the patient would finally be coming home this week.
Thank you Ephraim, your post is hugely insightful!
You are right on when you observe that every patient needs an advocate.
Honestly, I can’t imagine how scary it must be to confront a hospital solo.
p.s. This comment box is a little strenuous on the eyes for those of us with less than perfect vision.
Medium-gray text on a slightly paler back ground is not enough contrast.
Thank you Doris!
I did see patients who were by themselves- no visitors. And I have no clue how they managed.
Thanks for the comment about the comments box- am going to look into it!