Breaking Down the Barriers: Hospital Marketing and Development Collaboration

March 20, 2018 Scott H. Share Michael J. Beal

“Oh, East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet.”

—Rudyard Kipling

Contrary to popular belief, this sentence from Rudyard Kipling’s 1889 poem is NOT referring to the historic lack of cooperation between hospital marketing and development departments.

It is true, though, that most hospital marketing and development professionals seem to live in separate hemispheres. In spite of the fact that both departments rely on excellent communications to achieve their desired outcomes, there is little to no work product developed or created in common. Sure, there are joint projects and special events that bring them together on a limited basis…

…but for the most part, these two departments have their own goals, objectives, leaders, customers, and metrics. Throughout the industry, there is very little overlap between the two functions.

Times have changed. With  increasing  pressure  for  hospitals  to do more with less, work practices need to evolve  to  meet  our new reality. In this brave new world of austerity—where budgets and expenses are scrutinized as never before and staff members are expected to develop new and innovative processes—it behooves marketers and  development  staff  to  work  more closely together than ever to achieve their goals.

What’s in it for foundation staff?

As the forlorn real estate salespeople in Glengarry Glen Ross lamented, it’s all about the leads. Those salespeople spent every waking moment strategizing about how to get the good leads and complaining about how management was holding these leads back. Two stressed-out employees even resorted to plotting how they could steal the leads.

We don’t have that problem in healthcare. Hospitals are an extraordinary warehouse of leads. The typical facility admits  thousands  of  inpatients each year, with tens of thousands more treated in the emergency room or outpatient services. Each encounter with a patient (and family) provides the opportunity to provide outstanding service, and thus generate a grateful patient. These are the leads that fund development experts can turn into future donors.

Over the years, Accordant Philanthropy has helped dozens of foundation clients—from small hospitals to large national health systems—build and enhance their fund development efforts. Through  software,  services, and education, companies like Blackbaud help fundraisers understand, appreciate, and harness the data and leads that are generated every day by hospitals. Based on our collective experiences, we strongly recommend that the foundation officer’s best friend should be the chief marketing officer.

Why? Because marketing departments live, eat, and breathe data; most marketing departments expend significant time and resources on analyzing clinical, population, customer satisfaction, and community awareness data. They routinely survey physicians, patients, employees, and community members on a variety of issues.

As foundation leaders, you should become familiar with the data and metrics collected and analyzed by your marketing department, learn more about how this information can help you enhance your fund development efforts, and actively partner with marketing to help build a data-driven foundation.

What’s in it for marketers?

If someone asks your chief marketing officer to describe your hospital’s cardiac product line, she could no doubt reel off a list of key statistics, such as the number of open-heart surgeries, cardiac catherizations, and angioplasties performed annually; the number of board-certified cardiologists on staff; patient satisfaction trends; clinical and patient safety metrics; and more. She could probably provide similar information on your hospital’s cancer and orthopedic programs as well.

Alternately, what could your top marketer tell you about the hospital’s foundation? Typically it’s very little. Is it because marketers don’t care?

Not necessarily. For most, it’s because they have so little to do with development. For key product lines like cardiology, marketers are responsible for strategy, planning, research, ad campaigns, building awareness, building referral programs, and ultimately “putting heads in beds.” They are expected to measure the effectiveness of their efforts, and they are personally evaluated each year on their ability to meet very specific goals.

It may surprise many marketers to learn that in the typical hospital, the product/service that enjoys the largest return on investment (ROI) is the foundation. On average, every dollar invested in fund development results in  a return of $3. This 3:1 ROI is higher than that realized in most clinical services. (NOTE TO MARKETERS: do we have your attention now?)

In a world where new sources of revenue are sorely needed, the benefits  that marketers can provide to help enhance the hospital’s fund development efforts should not be underestimated. To be successful, marketers need to begin looking at the foundation as one of the hospital’s key product lines and devote time and resources to support fund development just as it supports its key clinical services. Again, the ROI for marketing to simply partner with the development team far outweighs the ROI on medical service lines alone.

Three Ways to Jump-Start Collaboration

We’ve outlined key reasons why marketing and development professionals should collaborate. These are long-term opportunities that will take considerable time to plan, develop, and implement.

In the meantime, there are several actions the two departments can take that will result in immediate and meaningful “wins.” Here are three suggestions on how you can jump-start your collaborative efforts:

          1. Create storytelling squads.

Both marketing and development  departments  need  a  constant  supply  of new, inspiring stories for their audiences. The creation of a joint “storytelling squad”—staffed by both departments and  charged  with  identifying,  vetting, and writing stories—will streamline and strengthen the process for everyone.

          2. Schedule joint meetings.

Commit to having the staffs of both departments meet together on at least a bi-monthly basis. Use this time to build collaborative relationships, share information and challenges, and brainstorm about future collaborations.

Devote a portion of each meeting to education; select a practical topic for each meeting that will directly benefit colleagues.

          3. Jointly develop and refine your hospital’s grateful patient program.

Grateful patients serve as the prospecting pool for the foundation, as well  as a source of stories for marketing’s internal and external communication vehicles. If your hospital does not have a grateful patient program, these two departments should initiate one together. If you already have a program, study it carefully. What works? What can be improved? Marketers and fund development staff working together can build a powerful program that will meet the needs of both departments.

Creating a Brighter Future

Progress often requires tearing down the old and building anew. With hospitals facing financial challenges that threaten their very survival, forward-thinking hospital marketers and fund developers can help secure a brighter future by breaking down the barriers that exist between the two departments. By embracing collaboration and cooperation, marketing and the foundation can create and benefit from new synergies and work effectively together in new ways to secure the financial future and mission of their organization.

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