Bon Secours adopts more strategic approach to fund-raising

June 15, 2012

Leaders say donor dollars are especially critical now


Last year, despite the nation's economic downturn, Bon Secours Virginia's philanthropic society increased the amount of money it raised by more than 20 percent over the prior year.

"It was the best year in the organization's history," said Terry Mohr, chief executive of the Bon Secours Richmond Health Care Foundation of Richmond, Va., which is part of Bon Secours Virginia. "And, 2012 already is looking great," he said.

He attributes the success in large part to changes that foundation — and all foundations within Bon Secours Health System — have been making over the past several years to improve their ability to raise funds: They are integrating their executives into their facility's senior leadership team and ensuring those executives are closely involved in strategic and facility planning from the outset. They are engaging key stakeholders including system and facility leaders and foundation board members in planning how the foundation will support Bon Secours system priorities. And they are engaging those same top executives and board members as fund-raisers, encouraging them to ply their respective social and business networks as a source of philanthropic support.

"We're standardizing a strategic approach to philanthropy, in which philanthropy is not outside of the core of what we do, but integrally aligned with what we do," said Jeff Oak, senior vice president of corporate responsibility and development for the six-state Bon Secours Health System of Marriottsville, Md., which has 19 hospitals and a network of other facilities. Oak said the approach calls upon Bon Secours facilities to follow similar fund-raising methods, tying that work into the Bon Secours system's mission and values. Fund-raising initiatives are expected to flow from the system's strategic priorities, which are to create healthy communities, accelerate clinical care innovations and create an exceptional patient experience.

"We're taking basic strategic planning principles and applying them to philanthropy," Oak explained.

Embedding fund-raisers
The process of change began about five years ago, with Bon Secours and its facilities assessing how effectively their foundations were operating.

"We saw that we were doing a lot of activities — we were doing lots of things — but they all seemed very tactical, and there didn't seem to be an underlying strategic framework to bring those activities together," said Oak.

Each facility's foundation was at a different level of sophistication when it came to fund-raising, but in general, said Oak, few of the foundations were as aligned as they needed to be with the priorities of the system and its facilities.

"Many of them were raising money for the 'nice-to-haves,'" or items that were on some unit's wish list but that may not have been strategic priorities for the system or facility. For instance, facilities may have focused on fund-raising for an endowment for a scholarship, while scholarships may not have been identified as a top system or facility priority.

At some facilities, foundations were taking a short-term approach to philanthropy. "We were just going from (fund-raising) event to event," said Stacey Kirschenbaum, executive director of foundations for Bon Secours Charity Health System, located in Rockland, N.Y., and Orange County, N.Y. "Now it's not about special event planning in particular, it's about having a comprehensive development program."

June Bradham, a consultant to Bon Secours, said that prior to the shift Bon Secours' fund-raising concerns mirrored those of many health care providers: "The single biggest problem with health care philanthropy is that it's not integrated, it's not embedded into the culture of the institution.

"You need to build a culture of philanthropy," she said, so that everyone in the hospital understands what the funding priorities are and why. "You need to show why someone should care enough about you to give you their hard-earned money." For instance, she said, when senior hospital leaders donate their own money to a project, it puts a seal of approval on that initiative.

Mission critical
The Bon Secours system used the information gained through the assessments to develop the new approach.

Bon Secours hired Bradham, the founder, owner and president of the consultancy Corporate DevelopMint, to implement the approach. She is helping each Bon Secours facility map out how its foundation will better connect with senior leaders, link in to operational planning, engage foundation and governing boards in the process, and make the case to potential donors about why philanthropy dollars are so crucial to the facilities' mission. Each foundation is developing a three-year strategic plan addressing these priorities.

Leaders of all its foundations, including all of its facilities' chief development officers, met last year and the prior year in Marriottsville to discuss how the transition to the new approach is going.

Mohr noted that economic pressures in health care are a big part of the reason Bon Secours is investing so heavily in the new approach. "Capital is scarce now. In the past, philanthropy was seen as more of a nice-to-do activity, but now it's seen as a critical source of funding."

Engaged stakeholders
The new direction is taking a slightly different tack at each location.

The four foundations affiliated with Bon Secours Richmond have a task force made up of foundation board members, facility executive leaders, mission leaders, sponsors and others that is examining community needs and capital funding priorities through a philanthropic lens. Mohr explained, "We're looking for projects that excite donor interest and that require community support."

Mohr said that now that the task force members are involved in establishing philanthropic priorities in this way, they are more personally invested in the success of the fund-raising projects. They provide advice on how to raise funds, and they open their personal checkbooks. Research shows that when top executives and board members contribute to a campaign first and enthusiastically, other donor groups will follow suit. In the case of hospitals, these groups can include physicians, staff and community members.

Mohr said through the task force, leaders "are more engaged now, and they have a sense of ownership. We have conversations with them about what their passion is," and the foundation leverages those interests in its fund-raising initiatives.

At Bon Secours Charity, the rollout of the new approach has come as that system is involved in a $250 million capital project to expand and renovate its Suffern campus, and foundation leaders are routinely involved in planning discussions now to ensure they are strategically aligned with the funding plan for the facility. Kirschenbaum said Bon Secours Charity's foundation staff is educating foundation board members on how to think in new ways about fund-raising and talking to them about how to ask their contemporaries for donations.

All this priming is paying off. For example, instead of concentrating on one-time cash donations, board members are courting long-term givers, including people who may prove willing to name the foundation as the beneficiary to life insurance policies.

Kirschenbaum said that the foundation is working to build concentric layers of support by getting more and more potential donors both inside and outside of the hospital walls involved at a deeper level with philanthropic support: First, top facility executives and board members, then physician leaders, then other hospital staff, then community members. "It's a process to build culture. It's slow change in which you keep engaging new and different constituencies."

Mohr added that as the foundations go through this change, they are keeping in mind the importance of focusing on their Catholic identity. "All of our hospital donor programs need to reflect our fundamental faith-based mission so that we're viewed as worthy of philanthropic support. I believe our fundamental mission is our differentiator," he said.


Copyright © 2012 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States
For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3477.

Copyright © 2012 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States

For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3490.