Tough economic times present challenge for hospice fundraisers

Donations, grants available, but you need time, creativity to find them

Diversification is not only sound investment advice during these rocky economic times, but it also is sound fundraising advice. While a financial advisor will recommend a mix of cash, short-term savings such as certificates of deposit and stocks in a variety of industries or types of companies, fundraising experts for hospice recommend a development plan that addresses passive and active efforts as well as short- and long-term activities.

"There are many stories of small, not-for-profit organizations, not always hospice, that lose an annual grant upon which they relied for operational and program funds," says Pam Brown, CFRE, executive vice president for community development at Alive Hospice in Nashville, TN. "You don't want to rely on one source of funding for any program."

For this reason, her development program includes grants, special events, individual donors, and endowments. A direct mail twice each year to former donors asks for individual gifts, and the hospice receives memorial gifts or thank-you gifts from family members throughout the year. "We also receive funding from United Way, which includes a three-year grant, as well as directed gifts from individual donors who ask that their entire pledge be given to the hospice," explains Brown.

Even with diversification, the current state of the economy is affecting fundraising. "I am noticing that the number of gifts from our direct-mail campaign is not decreasing, but the dollar amount of each gift is less," says Mike Blanchard, vice president of development for Hospice of Wake County in Raleigh, NC. Even grants from major foundations are affected, he says. Although grants that already have been announced will be paid, Blanchard received a letter from one foundation that wanted to let recipients know that the foundation staff were taking a close look at funds and would not be awarding any new grants. Although foundations have money set aside, grants are usually awarded from the earnings on the principal foundation funds, he explains.

"When the stock market dropped, foundations lost earnings just as individuals did," he says.

Blanchard also experienced smaller sponsorship levels for a fundraising special event. The event volunteers had to work hard to find more sponsors to raise the same funds that they raised last year, he explains. "Attendance at the event was also down slightly from previous years," Blanchard adds.

Alive Hospice coordinates two major special events during the year to raise funds, but the agency often is the beneficiary of events sponsored by third parties, says Brown. "If we know about the event, we ask that our special events coordinator be included in the planning," she says.

Larger gifts require staff involvement

While individual gifts and special event funds are important, larger gifts usually are the result of efforts to obtain grants, solicit major gifts from individuals, or endowments, points out Blanchard. "Endowments can be considered long-term savings," he says.

While some family members, board members, or individuals in the community might ask a hospice for advice on how to make a bequest in their will to the hospice, many times a hospice does not know in advance about the gift, says Brown. "Just this week, we received a check from an estate that we never anticipated," she says. Last year, the hospice received a six-figure gift from an estate that also was a surprise. "For every one endowment about which you know, there are four or five that you don't know," Brown adds.

Alive Hospice is opening a 16-bed hospice unit and palliative care center in a local hospital, and it is funding the renovation costs with grants and major donor gifts, Brown says. A recent $150,000 grant from a local foundation will be used for the renovation, she says. "Most of our grants are local because our staff grant coordinator is very familiar with local organizations that provide grants," Brown says.

At Hospice of Wake County, "about 8% of our operational support is provided by grants," says Blanchard. The grants designated for operational support are used for indigent care and support of the hospice's family grief center. "Bereavement programs are an active area of growth for hospices and their fundraising efforts," he points out. "Medicare requires that bereavement services be offered to families of hospice patients, but no reimbursement for the service is provided."

Blanchard and Brown have a staff grant writer who researches grant opportunities, prepares the applications, and produces the follow-up reports required by some grant sources. "Our grant writer spends time calling foundation staffs to make inquiries to be sure that our program is a good match for their funding priorities," says Brown. Matching your goals to the goals of the organization offering the grant is key to your success, she says. "You have to be creative as you look at grant opportunities," Brown says. "Don't just type in 'hospice' as you search the Internet for potential grants, because you limit yourself," she adds. If your bereavement program has a children's component, or a summer camp, look for grants focused on services for children, she explains.

Although large grants are nice, don't overlook small grants, suggests Blanchard. "We received a letter from a church that had money available for grants, but the letter was almost apologetic and pointed out that they were a small organization with a small amount of money to offer as grants," he says. After submitting a request for $1,000 to offset one-fifth of the cost of their children's bereavement camp, Blanchard's hospice received a check. "The letter not only thanked us for giving them the opportunity to support our program, but it also thanked us for recognizing their financial limits and asking for such a reasonable amount," he says.

Need More Information?

For more information about fundraising, contact:

  • Pam Brown, CFRE, Executive Vice President for Community Development, Alive Hospice, Nashville, TN. Telephone: (615) 327-1085. E-mail:
  • Mike Blanchard, Hospice of Wake County, Raleigh, NC. Telephone: (919) 828-0890. E-mail: