Four Benchmarks that Predict a Successful Healthcare Campaign

What makes some hospital or healthcare campaigns wildly successful while others barely hit their goals?

The answer is more straightforward than you think.

Successful campaigns led by the Winkler Group over the firm’s 18-year history can be traced back to four fundamental elements—pillars—because they are as essential to a campaign as four walls are to a building. A healthcare organization that meets all four benchmarks is far more likely to reach or exceed a campaign goal than a hospital foundation that is missing one or more.

Key takeaways from this white paper:

  • Identify the four pillars of a successful campaign.
  • Strengthen your grateful patient program before and after a campaign.
  • Learn what donor data is important to capture.
  • See case studies from healthcare campaigns.
  • Use these benchmarks to score your readiness for a campaign.
  • Shore up weaknesses to improve your readiness.

The four benchmarks of a successful campaign are the same regardless of the type of hospital foundation or healthcare organization. What’s behind a successful campaign transcends size and budget.

Now is an ideal time to launch a campaign

It may seem counterintuitive given the state of today’s economy, but organizations today are seeing bigger gifts—more transformational gifts—today than at any point in the Winkler Group’s history.

Despite fears of a recession, transformational giving is not slowing down. Nationwide, philanthropic giving in 2021 was higher than in 2020 and eight percent higher than in 2019 (Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, 2022).

During the pandemic, donors became highly aware of the importance of supporting health systems and hospitals and invested in their success. Donors continue to be inspired to act and ensure the future of their favorite causes.

Giving USA 2022, the seminal report on philanthropy, found growing support for health-related causes. Between 2020 and 2021, giving to health rose 7.7 percent in current dollars to $40.58 billion (2022).

It’s also important to recognize that giving always rebounds. The chart below shows just how resilient giving is. In fact, when adjusted for inflation, giving has only declined 10 times in the past 41 years. After the 2008 Great Recession, giving quickly skyrocketed to the record levels we’ve seen recently.

Pillar #1: A Big and Inspiring Vision

The key to a successful campaign is a vision that moves your hospital or health system to the top of your donors’ and your patients’ priority list.

To do that, you must deliver a set of campaign priorities that excites them—one that inspires them to stretch and give sacrificially for the period of the campaign.

Inspirational priorities are not limited to capital projects; donors are increasingly interested in investing in outcomes. For healthcare organizations and hospital foundations, this can mean endowment funding for research programs, initiatives that strengthen community wellness, or expanding widespread access to medical education among diverse populations.

Leadership donors are today more interested in endowments than in years past and are deliberate about the staffing and maintenance of new facilities. Not content to merely fund bricks and mortar, donors are concerned about the long-term health of the facilities.

An important trend we’ve seen over the past ten years is the need for a higher level of specificity. In years past, donors were fine with nebulous priorities presented without details. Today’s donors are more savvy; they want to hear specifics (high-level details, not minutia) associated with each priority being presented in a campaign readiness study.

Case Study: There’s nothing that makes or breaks a campaign more than momentum—or the lack thereof.

The first five gifts sealed the success of a hospital system’s entire campaign. Not only because of the size of those gifts but because of who made them.

Big names. Trusted community leaders. Landmark, transformational gifts and commitments that made headlines and set the tone for the entire campaign. Their investment signaled to other donors that an investment in local healthcare was prudent and expected. In the past, hospital foundations looked to their board for these advanced and leadership gifts. Those expectations have shifted, with board member gifts now comprising only 20-40 percent of any campaign goal.

Look beyond board members for lead gifts. That’s why a strong campaign readiness study is more essential than ever. In this campaign, the study yielded a solid list of prospective donors and grateful patients that had been compiled using past giving history, electronic wealth screening, and then a qualifying committee that vetted the list and made recommendations. Study interviews parsed out donors’ philanthropic priorities. Campaign initiatives were created to inspire donors and do the most good for the hospital system, its patients, and its community. Combined with the good cultivation and stewardship work the hospital foundation had done over many years, donors felt heard and were ready to chart the campaign’s course.

Pillar #2: Do Your Donors Have Confidence in You?

If you were buying stock in a public company, you would want to know if the company was well-run. Major gift donors to a hospital foundation campaign are no different.

They must trust that the healthcare organization or hospital system CEO, director, board, and volunteer leadership makes good decisions. Today, trust in leadership is even more critical. Giving USA has charted a consolidation in giving since the 2008 Great Recession. Donors are giving larger gifts, but to fewer organizations and healthcare organizations. To be one of those organizations, your donors must feel comfortable that their money is wisely stewarded by solid decision-makers. Without this trust, it will be impossible to get donors to stretch beyond nominal gifts.

Case Study: Never underestimate the power of listening.

A Texas hospital system with 13 facilities in nine counties exceeded its original goal by 46 percent because it conducted a robust capital campaign study.

During the campaign planning phase, the Winkler Group worked with the hospital’s executive leadership and board of directors to think beyond the original priorities. It became clear that the community wanted the hospital to think bigger and focus on the future.

The result: staff and volunteer leadership decided to add a new ambulatory care center to the list of campaign priorities. Community members were inspired by the new patient service lines and advanced care they would receive in the new facility. Campaign leadership was encouraged to make bold asks. Donors responded with bigger investments—some of the largest gifts in the hospital’s history—because they felt heard during the campaign study. One donor increased their seven-figure gift by 230 percent to make the largest single gift in the hospital’s history and secure naming rights to the new building.

Pillar #3: Do Your Donors Support the Vision Enough to Fund it?

Donors can have great confidence in a hospital system’s leadership and find the campaign’s priorities compelling, but if they’re not willing to invest their own funds, your campaign will not reach its goal.

We spend weeks identifying the proper people to interview in a campaign readiness study—those who can impact the campaign’s bottom line by making a potential leadership gift. If these prospective donors are not fully in support of your priorities, an interview can uncover their objections. This data can be used to improve the final messaging and enhance potential support.Donors today want to be more engaged than ever before. If you do not involve them prior to the campaign—and give them a role in the decision-making process—expect only a nominal gift. Ask for their genuine input. If you can match their passion with your vision, they will stretch their giving to make it a reality.

Case Study: A medical school and hospital with a growing cancer research program recognized the need for a new stand-alone facility.

They launched a campaign built around a single priority: a new cancer center.

The campaign readiness study found many donors were excited about a new cancer center, particularly grateful patients whose lives had been saved at the hospital. But the same number of donors were uninspired by the new facility. Their lives had not been touched by cancer, but by the hospital’s team of cardiologists. During the study interviews, these prospective donors voiced a familiar refrain: the aging heart center should receive the same level of attention as the cancer center.

The result: the hospital system built a new cancer center and overhauled the entire heart wing. Donors on both sides invested passionately in the two structures because they felt heard during the campaign study. They were encouraged to stretch in their giving, and they made bigger investments as a result. Donor investment went far beyond the campaign. The hospital system had a tradition of under-asking or blanket-asking its major donors. The campaign built a more robust culture of philanthropy. Donors and grateful patients became more engaged and as a result, annual giving soared after the campaign ended.

Pillar #4: Are Your Donors Willing to Play a Role?

Relationships are the foundation of every major gift, especially during a campaign.

Many large hospital systems and medical schools have complex development and advancement operations that can do the majority of a campaign’s heavy lifting.

But never underestimate the power of volunteers who can maximize their spheres of influence. Volunteers capitalize on their peer-to-peer relationships to cultivate other lead donors. The more leadership volunteers who agree to leverage their relationships, the more likely your campaign will be successful. And in smaller health systems and organizations, where development offices are already stretched thin, volunteers are essential. They will conduct most of the donor cultivation and solicitation because a campaign simply requires too much work for a small staff to handle alone.

Case Study: A beloved healthcare clinic in the Southeast had reached capacity.

The clinic served thousands of people each year, particularly immigrants who found themselves in a foreign land. As the population grew, so did the demand for high-quality affordable care.

The answer: replicate the model in areas where it was most needed. Scale to meet demand by building satellite clinics in neighborhoods where its patients were clustered.

During their campaign study, the Winkler Group worked to share the organization’s bold vision with lead donors. The response was overwhelming as donors were inspired by what they heard. Donors had long recognized the effectiveness of the organization’s model. When given the opportunity to invest in its growth, they responded with generosity. The clinic opened its first satellite location just before the pandemic began. The importance of the clinic’s model was highlighted throughout the fight against COVID, which has increased donor support and will make possible even more clinics designed to serve their communities’ most vulnerable populations.

Measure Your Campaign Readiness

The best way to measure your hospital system or healthcare organization against the four benchmarks of a successful campaign is to conduct a campaign readiness study (also known as a feasibility or planning study).

Without a study, you run the risk of jumping into a campaign before you’re ready. You also risk leaving millions of dollars on the table by not engaging your investors before the campaign and asking for their feedback.

A campaign study will…

In addition to these often-overlooked benefits, a robust study will help you make decisions grounded in fact—not feeling. You’ll receive direct feedback from your donors, including whether the campaign priorities inspire them and how much they are willing to invest. You’ll learn what messaging will best resonate in a campaign and strategies that will encourage your donors to stretch in their giving to the campaign.

What if You Don’t Meet all Four Benchmarks?

You can still launch a successful campaign even if your foundation or organization doesn’t meet all four benchmarks.

There are effective remedies that any organization can put into place to increase the likelihood for campaign success. You may, however, need to adjust your timeline and do some additional homework first.

If some of the priorities presented to donors do not resonate or fail to generate intended investment levels, listen to feedback from the study. Consider eliminating or changing the priorities to align with most donors’ interests. Keep donors apprised of your decisions so they know their opinions were heard.

When measuring benchmarks, we often see high levels of confidence in staff leadership but not in trustees. It’s not because donors do not trust the board; instead, they don’t know the trustees or the governance process. A campaign is a great opportunity to increase a board’s visibility—and to create a more transparent culture. Consider new ways to engage key stakeholders. Invite leadership donor prospects to be part of the next strategic planning process. Look for opportunities like wellness forums or grateful patient seminars. Reward donors for consecutive gifts by creating a society that recognizes repetitive annual gifts.

Mystery Solved

Just like good fundraising is based on time-honored fundamentals of relationship building and donor stewardship, there really are no mysteries surrounding what makes a campaign successful.

If you hear of a new method that promises campaign success without hard work and deliberate effort, be skeptical. A successful campaign is built on a strong foundation, not gimmicks or events.

Whether a campaign is imminent, or you are still in the planning process, keeping these four benchmarks top of mind will improve your overall fundraising efforts. Donors are dreamers and problem-solvers; if you can inspire them and show them how you turn their investment into impact, they will respond. Keeping them updated and engaged will build their confidence—and will grow their investment levels. When it comes time for a campaign, they will be ready to give and encourage others to follow their lead.

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