In today’s economy, raising money for any organization is challenging. For hospitals, ephilanthropy and using social media has become vital for strengthening people’s awareness about the importance of giving.
I met Jesse Stremcha, ePhilanthropy Officer for Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota Foundation at a recent healthcare conference, where he graciously agreed to discuss some of his successes and strategies. He shared that the target of any successful ephilanthropy digital strategy has to be about sharing stories and educating donors.
About Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota
Founded in 1924, Children’s had more than 12,000 admissions last year at their two hospital campuses in St. Paul and Minneapolis. An independent, not-for-profit health care system, Children’s provides care for any child, no matter if they can pay or not.
This means the hospital relies heavily on philanthropy, to provide services like Child Life Specialists, the Family Resource Center, foreign language interpreters and art therapy—services the staff refers to as wraparound care. Those resources create a patient and family experience that make a critical difference for families as they navigate a health crisis.
Children’s tagline is, “Nobody knows kids like we do”. This brand promise shows in those programs that may seem secondary, but are truly central to the patient experience.
Jesse explained that in Minnesota and the surrounding states, most people have had a direct experience at Children’s, or know someone who did. Therefore, the Foundation’s strategy revolves around two prongs:
1. Telling stories of other donors who gave and sharing those stories across networks
2. Activating the latent awareness of Children’s for people who are removed by one or two degrees
Social media is really the perfect medium for this two-pronged approach, because the blog serves a central repository of all their stories. The grateful families already in their network share those blog stories with their networks. This sharing widens the funnel to increase the amount of people who know about Children’s and understand the importance of giving.
Another important feature of the social media strategy is the hospital’s microsite, which talks about the “big stuff”, “medium stuff” and “surprising stuff” they do at Children’s. This charming site invites patients to leave short stories about what surprised them at Children’s and to watch videos about all aspects of patient care there.
Q. How do you create a strategy around giving?
Jesse: We talk about a culture of generosity. What does that look like? Not just for our patients and families but for our employees as well. And, how do we reflect that culture of giving back to the community?
Q. How do you take that strategic framework—the culture of giving—and communicate it digitally?
Jesse: We tell stories about people who have donated. For example, next week a group is coming in who donated pajamas to kids in the hospital, so they can wear cool, funky pjs instead of sterile hospital gowns. We’ll be taping that for our in-house TV show. Our social media specialist will take pictures and turn it into a blog post for sharing on Facebook, Twitter and Google+. (See the post here.)
Ephilanthropy, partly, is about empowering your supporters to be ambassadors to spread your message. So, we really do three things:
1. Create awareness
2. Educate about the importance of giving
3. Encourage our supporters to share these stories within their own networks.
We had an entire $100,000 room funded by a family who had a strong network of friends. They gave a large gift and collected the rest through social media fundraising. Those types of stories can absolutely happen; they demonstrate the importance of sharing stories with those in your network who feel an emotional connection with you.
Q. Is the blog the center of your social media strategy?
Jesse: The blog is main home base. From there, we can tell longer form stories designed for sharing. You can say more in a blog post than you can on Facebook and Twitter. However, we also use direct mail and events to cultivate ongoing relationships.
We’re also lucky enough to have a Grateful Patient Officer, who educates families about how donations make a fundamental difference in their stay. For example, the Family Resource Center was funded through philanthropy. Insurance doesn’t cover those types of amenities that truly make a difference to families.
Q. How do you decide where to “pin” your social media attention? Do you create it around a certain physician or service line, or patient story?
Jesse: In every philanthropy situation, there’s a tension between what the hospital needs and what donors want to give. We approach it from the point of view of building signature events around cornerstone programs, like the Heartbeat5000 (a 5K run to raise money for children with heart conditions).
We also pay careful attention to what’s happening on the ground and in social media spaces. For example, we saw that there was a lot of attention paid to NICU stories, so we created a campaign around the NICU. Finding those opportunities and building on them activates our donors’ response.
Getting Started at your Hospital
From talking to Jesse (Thank you!), it’s clear to me that if you are charged with this role in your hospital, you need three major things to get started:
1. An overall strategy and message that fulfills your brand promise
2. A home base for your content
3. Access to the people you want to tell those stories about
With these three elements, you can create your own effective strategy with strong tactics. The goals are clear: activate your audience to give generously, and perhaps more importantly, share your stories with others. The more people who know about the good work you do at your institution, the more opportunities there are for giving.
How about you? Any good stories from your organization regarding ephilanthropy?