Healthcare, Meet Philanthropy

green EKG line with heart

The rising tide of healthcare costs will soon reach a head. National healthcare expenditures (NHE) totaled around $3 trillion in 2013, and there seems to be no sign of it slowing down. In fact, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) projects healthcare costs to rise at a rate of about 5.8 percent each year during the 10 year period from 2014-2024. On top of that, the growth rate of those rising healthcare costs during that time is expected to be about 1.1 percent greater than GDP. Eventually health care costs will compose almost a fifth of total GDP.

That’s a lot to digest. The long and short of it is that health care is costing us. A lot.

Now, before we get any deeper, we’re going to have to address the elephant in the room: politics. Healthcare is a deeply politicized issue. After all, it has been a major target of reform during the Obama administration. Today, it is debated on the national stage by those on the left and the right who hope to be his successor. Civil debate and argument is a defining feature of American politics, and we should encourage an open and honest dialogue with those who agree with and oppose our views. But here’s the thing— healthcare costs don’t tow a party line. Even if, suddenly, taxpaying citizens were no longer expected to pay a single dime on healthcare, the price remains the same. Costs don’t disappear like magic by the thud of Congress’s gavel or the stroke of the executive’s pen; it does however become a matter of who’s paying for it. That, friends, is a decidedly political question for another post for another time.

But why is such a cost surge on the horizon? In the opinion piece “The coming tsunami will radically change healthcare philanthropy— will you be ready?”, Steven A. Reed explains that it has to do with rapidly changing demographics. In short, the Baby Boomers who made up a large part of the workforce are approaching an age at which healthcare costs shoot up, and Gen X-ers (millennials) are going to have to foot the bill. However, today’s generation is experiencing a lower birthrate that has resulted in about nine million fewer people than their parents’ generation. Fewer working people means less tax revenue, so when the bill arrives, the entire generation will come up short. This is an impossible task of Penrose proportions not because the millennial generation is lazy, but “because it doesn’t have the critical mass.”

So what are we to do? This is the moment, Reed argues, that philanthropy comes in. We need to embrace the American spirit of giving, and take joy in reaching out and giving back. We have a collective desire to see everyone happy and healthy, and we should do our best to make that happen. We need to fundraise, and quite a bit— more than twice as much, in fact.

For those of us who may be concerned about our organization’s ability to raise that many funds, Reed directs us to the the Association for Healthcare Philanthropy’s Healthcare Philanthropy Journal. The Spring 2014 issue presented data proving that an organization’s fundraising expenditure budget was the greatest predictor of fundraising success. Or more simply, “the more you spend, the more you make.”

Now’s the time for us to reassess our organizations’ giving habits. Are we giving because we’re expected to? Because it makes us feel good? Those are two popular reasons, yes. But maybe we should think about giving as a duty. Charged with the task of assisting our countrymen, we can take on any economic threat.

An Awesome “No”



When I first entered the assignment of Chief Development Officer, my philanthropy coach taught me the best methods to ask for a major gift. She had great life experiences, raising millions from donors, and she walked on water when it came to teaching and exercising wholesome influence.

Early in my training the day came when we were scheduled to meet with a community philanthropist at his office. It was our strategy to ask for a six figure gift. My coach offered to present the close and suggested that I express some words to warm the discussion.

As we arrived for the meeting the tone was cordial and upbeat. My coach and I were well acquainted with our donor and he showed positive engagement. After a twenty minute discussion of pleasant exchanges my coach laid out our appreciation for his friendship, the case for a major gift, and asked for a pledge.

I was prepared for a favorable result, given all the positive signals. But, instead the philanthropist responded with “an awesome no” … Not a maybe, just a definitive no.

I thought I was about to fall out of my chair. I wanted to shrink and become invisible. It was a moment I did not expect. I felt really awkward.

However, my coach was so gracious. She showed empathy for his philanthropy priorities. She agreed that he could not make large gifts to every worthy cause. She kindly let him know that she understood his conclusion and how we still valued his friendship.

Before leaving the office we returned to some fun banter and then a few minutes later we adjourned. As we walked into the parking lot I looked at my coach in amazement and asked how she felt about what happened?

She replied with ease, saying that we did  good work. She explained that we gave him an opportunity that he was not ready to accept. She pointed out how much time we had talked about his potential gift as we had prepared for the meeting and getting to a clear result was important to our process. She treated the outcome as useful research. It was not distressing to her. Her point was simply that we could now shift the time we we were dedicating to cultivate him to another worthy donor.

How often in life are there circumstances when we need to hear an “awesome no,” so we can move on with our purpose? How often do we resist calling for the decision because we fear the “awesome no?”

I learned a lesson from my coach that day about the value to hear the word “no.” If an “awesome no” is coming, it seems useful to get that understood. The word “no” can open new paths for making healthy adjustments as we navigate our responsibilities in work and life.

Done Practicing?

thinking man in black and white

Doctors practice medicine, Lawyers practice law, Accountants practice finance, and all of us have the opportunity to practice whatever it is that we each do.

When working as a hospital CEO one of my thoughtful board members once shared some useful coaching with me. He said Terry, do not treat each day too seriously, because everything you do is just practice.  He went on to explain that each day is filled with challenge and it is what we have done in prior periods that will allow us to perform our duties today most effectively.

In other words, he emphasized that it is our past practice, our past lessons that get us through each new day. The daily goal, according to my mentor, should not be about how well we will perform, but how well we will practice.

My board member went on to emphasize that if we put less pressure on ourselves for performing, and allow ourselves to absorb the lessons of each day, we can practice life continuously, learning and growing from our experiences. He built a case that by following a pattern of practicing, our performance will also improve.

While it seems short sighted to expect that practice alone should be our goal, it really does take the pressure off the daily grind and replaces it with the benefit of better learning. Think of the ease of practicing compared to the stress of performing. His gem has changed the pace and focus of my daily routine.

Wishing you peace and success with your “practice” today.

Short on Staff? Here are Some Tools to Help.

As with any business venture, being involved in philanthropy may force you to get lean early on. You don’t need to be the head of a major foundation or nonprofit organization, but if philanthropy is a part of your life, it can sometimes be a scramble staying on top of it all– especially if you don’t have any staff or advisors to keep you up to speed. Luckily, in the age of the internet, staying in the know is easier than ever. PhilanthroFiles staff has compiled a list of amazing tools that understaffed (or no-staffed) philanthropists can use to keep them ahead of the game. Check out a few of them below.

For Staying on Top of The News: Twitter

What isn’t there to know about the SMS service cum microblogging platform? If you aren’t using it to Tweet cool links and opinions to your followers, the least it can be used for is staying in the loop on news. Just follow your sources and the brightest minds, and let the updates stream into your feed.


When Grant Writing Becomes a Burden: Grantmaker Assessment Tool

No one said writing grants was easy or fun– it’s a legit skill that has it’s own niche in the job market! If you’re running a streamlined operation, though, there’s no need for this necessary component of philanthropy to be a bear. For instances such as these, check out Project Streamline’s Grantmaker Assessment Tool. Features include tools that will allow you to compare your grantmaking process to those of other fundraisers, and a cost estimator.


For the Times You Need Extra Help: Working with Consultants

Yes, it’s true. We all suffer from burnout. We can’t do everything on our own. So when the going gets tough, you may want to check out Working with Consultants, a cool… book? That’s right. Not every tool has to be an app or web software. An old-fashioned tome often contains all the information you need. Working with Consultants will acquaint you with the different types of consultants, give you the clarity to determine whether or not you need one, and in the event that you do, outline to process for making the hire.