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Community leaders, including those who are our top philanthropic prospects, often expect the “head” of the hospital to be the one they interact with as their “key” relationship within a hospital or health system. While that’s not always the case, CEOs are often considered peers by donors and expect their contact with an organization to involve the CEO. I once thought that “the fundraising people can do that.” What I learned over time is that those with great financial means often need and want to hear from the CEO to guide them about the value of investing in their community hospital. They want to hear from the CEO about the important role of the hospital, not just as a healthcare organization, but as a significant employer in their community. Ultimately, they want to hear directly from the CEO why and how their hospital is the best “investment” they could make when it comes to affecting the overall health of the community. The organization’s CEO is the best person to deliver that message.

With the many demands on a CEO’s time, engagement in philanthropic activities means managing the various daily responsibilities of a healthcare leader. Fortunately, there are many responsibilities a CEO can delegate to other members of the C-suite and the rest of the organization. However, philanthropy is one of the activities that shouldn’t be “left to others.” Philanthropy is all about relationships. It’s about nurturing associations with potential donors. It’s about developing deeper and stronger connections with the community. And it’s about facilitating the incredible bonds that develop between grateful patients and the selfless caregivers within their organizations that change and save lives every day. Spending time to nurture these relationships will not only evolve into a tremendous asset for the organization, it will also bring with it a sense of tremendous pride and satisfaction that a CEO should feel, by sharing with key stakeholders the amazing experiences that take place in their healthcare organizations each and every day.

When looking at the role of the CEO in philanthropic activities, it is interesting to note how higher education has changed its leadership paradigm over the past several decades. A look at the traditional choices of college and university governing boards in the middle part of the 20th century saw their choices typically based on one’s academic pursuits, time in the classroom, and the experience one gained to lead an organization, based on being an “educator.” Jump forward to the past 10 years…a study from Virginia Commonwealth found that more the 40% of university presidents had not served as a tenured faculty member during the career. In other words, they came from outside the classroom environment because the perceived skills and experience to be successful were not derived from teaching. You only have to look at the hiring at The University California System (Janet Napolitano), the University Of Miami (Donna Shalala and Julio Franks), the Purdue University (Mitch Daniels), and/or the University of Iowa (Bruce Harreld) as examples of this trend. The number one (1) concern and job responsibility for the college or university CEO, based on a multi-year investigation of university leaders from the Chronicle of Higher Education, was fundraising. This was followed by budgeting and overall leadership. The study found that the daily “running” of the education product can be handled by others, specifically the Provost and the Deans. The situation is no different in today’s hospitals and health systems where day-to-day operations can be managed by clinical leaders and leaders in the C-Suite.

The outcomes of those choices to hire leaders with the capability to raise money has naturally led to much larger increases in philanthropic results for education. A comparison of healthcare and high educational dollars raised, as recently as 1995, shows that higher education and healthcare fundraised essentially the same amount of money. Since then, the commitment to fundraising of both executives and boards in high education has resulted in nearly a 400% increase to charitable giving while healthcare has seen less money raised, with just a doubling of overall philanthropy. Intentional and strategic decisions in higher education about the important values and characteristics of the right leader, how they want leaders to spend their time, and what their priorities should be has been a huge part of the reason for why chartable dollars raised in the education arena is double over that raised by hospitals and healthcare systems.

Let me know if I can help you with this challenge….your investment of your leadership, time, and vision into fundraising will be rewarding to not only your organization, but to you personally.

This series of articles is written by Jeff Fried, Executive Consultant for Gobel Group and former President and CEO of Beebe Healthcare. Click here to read the next article in the series.