Five discussions health sector fundraisers are having

Five discussions health sector fundraisers are having

Sam Boyle | 29 May 2019

Sam Boyle, Policy and Information Officer at the Institute of Fundraising, attended the inaugural Fundraising in the Health Sector conference last week. He looks at five of the themes that emerged throughout the day, and what the wider fundraising community can learn from the health sector.

I was delighted to attend the Institute of Fundraising’s first ever Fundraising in the Health Sector conference this week and explore what’s unique to this area of fundraising, as well the common challenges health fundraisers share with the wider fundraising community.

I’ll confess I was unsure of what to expect and came into the conference with a few misconceptions about this particular area (apologies to all health fundraisers!). What I came away with was a sense of the unique challenges that fundraising communities in this area have to overcome, but also how resourceful, passionate and brilliant they are.

To give a commentary on every fantastic talk would not be possible in 700 words, but there are 5 key themes that I think are worth discussing.

1. The general public often question why the healthcare sector needs voluntary funding at all

One of the key things I took away from the conference was the unique position health fundraisers find themselves in from a branding perspective. Great Ormond Street, the Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital, the London Air Ambulance – these are names that most of us are familiar with. A fantastic advantage to have in terms of charity branding, you might think.

But not necessarily!

With the NHS being part of everyday life, the public often assumes that many vital services are funded by the government, when this is far from the truth. 

Take the Air Ambulance, for example. Air ambulance services across the country depend on donations from individuals and communities, not the government. This is the same for a number of other services which often depend on our support and generosity. Fundraisers in this field are often told by donors that “I thought this was a NHS service”, a misconception which can create barriers to giving.

2. Patients and their loved ones give because of gratitude rather than expectation

Why do patients or their families give back to those who have cared for them? Is it because they expect something in return down the line or because of the competent care they received? The answer is usually neither.

People give primarily because they want to express gratitude towards those who have gone the extra mile to help them. The role of gratitude in giving often doesn’t get enough attention when explaining giving behaviour. As Betsy Chapin Taylor from Accordant Philanthropy told us in a fantastic talk on embracing philanthropy, 88% of major gifts in the US healthcare sector come from patients or their loved ones. There is a lot we could learn from this in the UK.

3. Health fundraising must be underpinned by strong ethical principles

Okay so this probably isn’t the most surprising revelation that you’ll hear today. After all, fundraising in general has clear ethical requirements in the Code of Fundraising Practice. But there are particular challenges that health fundraisers need to think about.

In many circumstances, individuals who give back might find themselves in situations where they are vulnerable. This is particularly relevant for fundraising in this sector.

For instance, imagine a grieving family member who wants to support your cause following a sudden accident. They may be grateful for the attention that their loved one received or want to find purpose after a traumatic loss. In any case, they are probably going to have moments where they feel overwhelmed and emotionally exposed.

There is a duty of care to ensure their needs are met before we consider the benefits of a donation or their wider support. On these occasions, it is important the fundraiser or professional working with the donor is prepared to say no, even when it is not the easy thing to do.

4. We need to be prepared to have difficult conversations with loved ones about death

Having a conversation about dying isn’t easy, it can bring up a range of emotions and, for many of us, it can be an uncomfortable experience. But what about if we can turn a potentially difficult conversation into something positive?
We all want to leave a meaningful legacy after we die. Consultant Clinical Psychologist Lesley Howell’s wonderful interactive talk on how we can change our perceptions of death and illness was a welcome reminder for legacy fundraisers and health professionals to not feel shy about approaching these important conversations.

5. Despite challenging times, there is a lot we can learn from excellent health fundraising 

In uncertain times, it easy to focus on external barriers rather than on what we personally can do to overcome challenges. What impressed me was how solution-focused everyone was. From a wonderful presentation on how to bring in new income with the help of a Monopoly Board from Stephen Roberts, Chief Executive of the North Devon Hospice, to the Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital Charity increasing their fundraising income by 100% in two years, the creativity and enterprise of fundraisers never fails to astonish me.

Having got to this point, it would be a mistake to omit a major announcement. Following an excellent day of talks, we launched our Health Sector Special Interest Group. Earlier in the day, a panel chaired by Andrew Watt discussed the importance of collaboration in the sector. I can’t think of a better platform for sharing ideas than this. This will be an excellent forum for our members to share knowledge and discuss best practice.

To find out more get in touch with

Sam Boyle is Policy and Information Officer at the Institute of Fundraising.


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