Innovation keeps palliative care philanthropy afloat despite COVID

Hospices are finding opportunities to bolster their philanthropic fundraising, which has plummeted for many organizations due to the pandemic. As some events and other fundraisers begin to rebound, providers are taking with them the lessons learned from the tougher years.

Fundraising and philanthropy are often the primary source of funding for programs such as complementary therapies, hospices, homeless programs, and hospice services. The reduction in fundraising funds caused by the pandemic has resulted in a significant drop in income for some organizations.

Some providers, like Maryland-based Hospice of the Chesapeake, have been able to adapt quickly to changing conditions to keep their programs afloat. After the organization had to cancel its annual gala — its biggest fundraiser of the year — they realized they had to adjust their strategies.

By acting quickly, the hospice was able to exceed its annual fundraising goal, even at the height of the pandemic.

“When we realized that we weren’t going to be able to organize the event, we asked our donors to support us during the pandemic. So many of them have actually transferred their funds to a COVID fund for us,” Chris Wilson, director of advancement and volunteer services for Hospice of the Chesapeake, told Hospice News “We have a very comprehensive program where we really have a strong major donor program. We organize events, but this is not our main source of funding. We were able to really change and be very nimble, we actually hit our revenue target.

The Hospice of the Chesapeake has seen a drop in memorial giving, in which families ask mourners to donate to the organization that cared for their loved one instead of sending flowers or gifts. other gestures.

But early in the pandemic, fewer families were able to hold funerals or memorial services than they otherwise would have, slowing the flow of those donations, Wilson said.

Some suppliers have been hit harder than others. Among them were the many organizations that operate thrift stores to raise money for their hospice.

Many of those stores had to close during the pandemic, the National Hospice & Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO) wrote in a November 2020 letter to U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Alex Azar. The letter sought clarification on whether lost fundraising dollars could be included in Vendor Relief Fund (PRF) applications.

Revenue from these thrift stores paid for care of uninsured patients as well as bereavement programs, NHPCO said. In one case, a supplier lost $100,000 for each month their store remained closed.

Ultimately, HHS allowed hospices to recover some of their lost fundraising dollars through the PRF. Currently, no specific data is available as to the extent to which this has mitigated losses.

An encouraging note is that while many fundraising efforts have suffered nationally, in some cases the pandemic has galvanized the commitment of some donors to support palliative care providers caring for them. community. according to Kathy Rabon, director of philanthropy and marketing for the Suncoast Hospice Foundation, member of Empath Health.

“I think people have seen the news. They watched it on TV. People were sick. People were afraid. People were alone and isolated, and our donors tended to be there,” Rabon told Hospice News. “And for some people, their motivation has actually increased because of the pandemic. People who give for these kinds of reasons want to give more.

Anecdotally, a trend that seems to have developed is that although some providers now have fewer donors, they are giving larger amounts, said Wilson of the Hospice of the Chesapeake.

As with the rise of telehealth services for patient care, many providers have relied on technology to bridge their gap.

For example, when their annual fundraiser was postponed due to shelter-in-place, Hospice and Palliative Care of Western Kentucky created an online event website as an alternative. The site featured an online silent auction and social media photo posts to encourage participation in a Kentucky Derby-related fundraiser.

The Suncoast Hospice Foundation has stepped up telephone contact with potential donors, as well as online videos, social media and video conference calls to stay in touch with financial supporters.

In some cases, awareness-raising activities specifically aimed at raising funds nevertheless resulted in donations.

“We created a small group of like-minded people and made informative Zoom calls. Not to ask for money, but just to let them know how we were responding to the pandemic because they wanted information. They wanted to be educated. They wanted to be inspired and they wanted to help,” Rabon said. “We used new tools; we tried new things.

Hospice of the Chesapeake also worked to reach donors through multiple communication channels, according to Wilson.

This included a phone call campaign and a print and mailed newsletter as well as social media and other modes of communication. The hospice also offered a virtual memorial service for families and the public to celebrate the lives of their deceased loved ones and comfort each other in their grief.

This also generated donations, even if it was not the main purpose of the event.

“We all had to learn new lessons. First and foremost, I think you really have to keep an open and innovative mind and seek to understand the needs of your donors. We must support them; they don’t just need to support us,” Wilson said. “We did a campaign of phone calls, contacting everyone, not to ask for money, but to verify them. They have been there for us for so many years to support our organization and our mission, so we wanted to be there for them.

So far in 2020, fundraising options are on the rise again. Many thrift stores were able to stay open and some live events returned.

Nonetheless, many providers, including Empath Health and Hospice of the Chesapeake, will continue the new methodologies they adopted during the pandemic to bolster their traditional approaches.

“We had to be very creative in how we could talk to people, and we were successful with those campaigns,” Rabon said. “I think we’re finding that people now have a better understanding of the differentiation that hospice brings. That we were always there every step of the way do whatever we needed to do to bring comfort and care to the family, wherever they may be.

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