Vital Signs: A New Way for Hospital Fundraisers to See How They're Doing



American nonprofit hospitals and medical centers can now compare their fundraising returns with others that have a similar number of beds and are located in regions of comparable wealth.  

As the country’s most sophisticated fundraising organizations (along with colleges and universities), American medical providers have long struggled to identify universally recognized signs of fundraising success and the means by which to compare themselves with like organizations.  

The Healthcare Philanthropic Index, as the new tool is called, is the result of a year-long partnership between Blackbaud, the software company, and June Bradham, vice president of strategic consulting in the company’s Healthcare Solutions Group.

The bed size and fundraising returns of 7,000 hospitals and medical centers were first analyzed, along with other publicly available information from healthcare monitoring agencies, the U.S. Census Bureau, and other sources. Using that data, Blackbaud analysts then created “cohorts” of similar medical institutions locally and across the nation.

Their analysis found that the economic health of the community where a hospital or medical center is based—a factor largely beyond its control—accounted for half of institutions’ fundraising success. But other factors that medical institutions can influence—the strength of their relations with donors, for example—accounted for all other contributed income. That’s why, to cite one example, fundraising results varied greatly among three hospitals with similar bed size and community wealth, with contributions ranging from a low of $4,452 to more than $26,000 per bed.    

To see how their fundraising stacks up, hospitals and medical centers can contact Blackbaud for a free report by clicking on the first link above. That report will show how much money per bed they are raising and how those results compare with fundraising returns of similar organizations.

A sample report provided by Blackbaud shows how one hospital system ranks in relation to 11 others with similar characteristics. The institution, according to the report, is raising about the same amount as one of its peers. But five others are raising more money, while the same number of institutions raise less.

The sample report also shows how the hospital system ranks against its 11 peers in individual measures assessing the wealth in its community, bed size, and funds raised per bed.

While the index does not delve into why one medical institution’s fundraising returns are stronger or weaker than others, it is a useful starting point for staff and board members to explore ways to strengthen their fundraising. “It gives them confidence to reach for what’s possible and shows them what they could be raising if they focus on strengthening philanthropy,” Bradham says.

In the case of weak fundraising returns relative to others, she adds, the findings can help staff and board members justify a decision to invest more resources in raising money.

The index is a welcome addition to benchmarking comparisons compiled by the Association for Healthcare Philanthropy, which has seen participation in its benchmarking work decline in recent years, says Bill Mountcastle, president of Health Giving, a consulting company.

Any yardstick offering comparative data is always a useful tool, he says, though one concern is whether such measures actually provide apples-to-apples comparisons that truly reflect an organization’s standing relative to peers.    

But Blackbaud defended the quality of the index, given the thoroughness with which its analysts reviewed thousands of medical providers to group them with others of similar size and scope operating in comparable local economies.