Turn one-time gifts into long-term pledges

Planned fundraising campaigns add support

Your budget is shrinking. Reimbursement is dropping. Expenses are rising. How can you meet the growing need for funds?

Fundraising campaigns are one way, but home health agencies typically don’t run capital campaigns for one-time needs, says Charles R. Hillary, president of Hillary Lyons Associates, a fundraising consulting firm in Dimondale, MI.

"Home health and hospice agencies need to focus on long-term fundraising efforts that are designed to support all services of the agency, not just one immediate need," he suggests.

Hillary recommends that home health and hospice organizations take a look at how they can convert their periodic memorial gift givers into ongoing contributors. "People who make memorial contributions based on their good feelings about your agency and how you treated their family member are an excellent way to build a donor base," he says.

The funds can be significant for agencies that take the time and effort to build a fundraising program, says Anne E. Koepsell, MHA, executive director of the Hospice of Spokane (WA).

"Between the years 1985 and 1997, we usually received around $300,000 in donations," she says.

Following her efforts to establish a formal program for fundraising, her agency has seen growth in donations rise to $544,000 in 2000 and $937,000 in 2001. "Part of the money we raised in 2001 are funds designated for use to build a hospice house, but the undesignated funds are at least $600,000," she says.

Undesignated funds are used to underwrite programs such as bereavement classes, new services, and staff salaries, Koepsell explains.

Hospital affiliates have extra challenge

Koepsell’s agency is not affiliated with a hospital, so it was easy for her to gain approval to actively solicit funds.

"Hospital-affiliated hospice and home health agencies may have to get permission to conduct their own fundraising activities, but it can be done," Hillary says.

He suggests that agency managers offer to get staff and themselves involved in the hospital’s fundraising effort and offer community-service activities such as seminars on health-related issues or bereavement issues as a way to help the hospital foundation’s community efforts.

"The more educated donors and your own hospital fundraisers are about your services, the more likely you can participate in raising or helping distribute funds received," Hillary says.

"We are not allowed to solicit our own funds, and whatever donations we do receive from patients or the community go directly to the hospital foundation," says Judy Hannah, RN, director of home health care and hospice for Hamilton Medical Center in Dalton, GA.

"All of our employees do participate in the hospital’s fundraising campaign through payroll deduction, and we often do request financial assistance for some of our patients through the foundation," she says.

"Almost all of our requests are for hospice patients who need financial assistance to pay for medications, add a room air conditioner during the summer months, or pay essential bills such as rent or telephone," Hannah says. Although most home health patients don’t require the same type of assistance, it is available if needed, she adds.

Hannah does point out that if funds are designated for use in hospice or home health, they must be used in those areas. "We have one hospice benefactor who donated a substantial amount of money and designated it for the hospice’s use," she says. The funds were used to refurbish and refurnish the hospice agency’s offices to make them more efficient, she adds.

If you can solicit your own funds, be sure to think long term, says Hillary. Design your program to ask first for donations from two groups that are already believers in your good service, he says. "Solicit funds from employees and from people who have already contributed," he says.

Not only are these two groups readily available, but also it is important to show that your employees support your efforts before you go to community donors, he adds.

Rely on community leaders

The most successful long-term fundraising programs are based on a system of committees composed of community volunteers, Hillary says. "We set up committees such as annual support, planned giving, and major gifts. The leaders of these committees as well as key community leaders make up the volunteer governing board," he says.

Each committee chair is responsible for recruiting committee volunteers and developing a plan for soliciting donors, he explains. Employees volunteer to serve on the employee giving committee and set their goals and objectives, he adds.

Be sure to recognize your donors with letters, preferably handwritten, never e-mailed, Hillary says. "I also recommend telephone calls and will often suggest a board meeting at which half of the time is spent calling donors to say thank you," he says.

While technology has made mailing, receiving, and tracking pledges much easier, it’s important to remember that fundraising is an effort that requires a personal touch, he adds. Also, don’t forget public displays such as a wall of honor that displays donors’ names in a lobby or area that others will see, he suggests.

Setting up a fundraising program doesn’t require the use of a consultant, but Koepsell chose to hire a consultant when she realized that her staff did not have the expertise or experience to keep everyone focused on the task during the formation of the committees and kickoff of the program.

If you choose to use a consultant, look for one that offers assistance in the specific type of program in which you are interested, suggests Hillary. "Some consultants specialize in long-term fundraising, capital campaigns, or planned giving," he says.

One good source of information is the Association of Healthcare Philanthropy in Falls Church, VA, and colleagues in other agencies that have conducted campaigns, he suggests.

While long-term fundraising foundations or programs don’t have the specific amount of money to raise or a brick-and-mortar project to describe to potential donors, it still is important to be specific about how the money is used, says Hillary. "In all of your reports, describe how much you raised and how the funds were used," he says. If you add a music therapy program, a special camp for children who have lost a parent, new equipment, or extra staff that enable you to provide a service for which you previously had to rely upon outside contractors, describe how it benefits your patients, he explains.

Be careful with fundraising expenses

You also need to watch how much you spend to raise funds, adds Hillary. In the first two years of a fundraising program, plan to break even at best, he says. But in the third through fifth years, plan on spending less than 20 cents to 25 cents to raise each dollar, he suggests.

Koepsell’s agency spent a little more than 13 cents per dollar raised in 2001. "We do have a total of two full-time equivalents allocated to support the fundraising effort," she explains. The staff people coordinate the volunteer meetings, handle paperwork such as minutes, receive and track donations, and generate reports for the governing board.

"We started by assigning two staff people to handle support of the fundraising effort as well as community education, but it was too much," Koepsell says.

Now, the director of fundraising spends about half her time on community education, and another employee also splits time between fundraising and community education, she explains.

You can keep fundraising costs down by selectively recruiting some volunteers, Koepsell points out. "We have a printer on one of our committees, and he printed our brochures at a very low cost," she says.

"We encourage in-kind’ donations from our donors because it is an easy way for them to donate and it keeps our costs down," she adds.

Brochures don’t have to be glitzy, but they do have to present a professional image for your organization, Koepsell says. "I don’t want people thinking that the money they’ve donated was used for a fancy brochure, but I do want them to understand the high professional standards we have for our agency, and the goals and objectives of our fundraising efforts."

[For more information about fundraising, contact:

  • Charles R. Hillary, President, Hillary Lyons Associates, P.O. Box 99, Dimondale, MI 48821. Telephone: (517) 646-2096. E-mail: hillarylyons@att.net.
  • Anne E. Koepsell, MHA, Executive Director, Hospice of Spokane, P.O. Box 2215, Spokane, WA 99210-2215. Telephone: (509) 456-0438. E-mail: akoepsell@hospiceofspokane.org.
  • Judy Hannah, RN, Director of Home Health Care and Hospice, Hamilton Medical Center, 1103 Memorial Drive, Dalton, GA 30720. Telephone: (706) 226-2848.
  • Association of Healthcare Philanthropy, 313 Park Ave., Suite 400, Falls Church, VA 22046. Telephone: (703) 532-6243. Fax: (703) 532-7170. Web site: www.ahp.org. The organization offers a variety of publications about fundraising and fundraising consultants.]