Forward-thinking healthcare organizations are increasingly turning to virtual fundraising to help compensate for shrinking budgets and a lack of in-person events. Discover how London Health Sciences Foundation leverages virtual fundraising and how your hospital foundation can use these strategies to achieve your fundraising goals.
In the last few years, hospitals have discovered that full reliance on in-person fundraising events can be a big liability.
In-person events like galas and peer-to-peer walks and rides have served healthcare organizations as go-to fundraising methods for years. For many organizations, these costly, time-consuming, and logistically challenging ventures had to be cut in response to the pandemic and to accommodate tightened budgets.
Fundraising for healthcare is still desperately needed. In the U.S., hospital revenue is estimated to be down between $53 billion and $122 billion in 2021. That's a big problem since U.S. health organizations rely on their own revenue and foundations to operate. Positive margins allow U.S. hospitals to invest in facilities, treatments, and technologies to better care for patients and build reserves for an uncertain future. The pressure on healthcare systems is felt across the board—even in countries like Canada, where hospitals rely on the government for primary funding. Despite this funding, they still need fundraising to support specific programs and efforts that baseline funding won’t fully cover.
Hospitals must find new and better ways to engage fundraisers and donors to not let the decline in hospital revenue halt the vital work hospitals do. Virtual fundraising strategies can transform the way healthcare organizations approach fundraising altogether, by providing opportunities for growth, increasing efficiency and accessibility, and achieving higher ROI.
Leveraging virtual fundraising for healthcare organizations
London Health Sciences Foundation (LHSF) is the charitable arm of London Health Sciences Centre (LHSC) in London, Ontario, Canada. LHSF raises money for a wide variety of hospital programs and has had success across many fundraising campaigns since launching their first event Heroes of Health Stream-A-Thon in April 2020.
Using virtual fundraising, LHSF saw unprecedented growth.
- Dash 4 Dad grew by 40% in 2020.
- Our Lady Peace concert raised $280,000 in 2020, the most money ever in the event’s history.
- Running Against Ruptures saw its revenue triple in 2021.
Not only did these events surpass expectations, but they show virtual fundraising is a necessary step forward that healthcare organizations need to take.
LHSF’s virtual fundraising strategy gave them four valuable advantages:
Save money & Increase ROI
Every fundraising campaign needs an engaged community supporting it. It may feel more challenging than ever to build community without the help of in-person interactions. LHSF did some successful and repeatable things to help keep their community feeling connected and growing as they fundraised virtually.
The three things LHSF did to build a community through virtual events were:
Engage with fundraisers & donors
Connect with promotional partners
Invite donors into the fundraising journey
1. Engage with fundraisers & donors
LHSF knows listening and building meaningful relationships with fundraisers increases loyalty to their brand. That’s why they did virtual stewardship events and implemented a chatbot.
One creative idea LHSF implemented was hosting a virtual stewardship event through a livestream. They sent a private link to major donors so they could participate from the comfort of their homes. The registered guests were sent wine and charcuterie board kits to their donors' houses. The virtual event allowed them to learn from an instructor on how to assemble thier own board and then they could enjoy it while they heard news and impact stories from the LHSF team.
“It was a great way to have our donors watch and engage,” said Lindsay Manz, Manager of Community Events and Celebration Giving at LHSF.
Another way LHSF engaged with its audience was through a chatbot. They embedded a third-party chatbot into their page so donors could feel like they were talking to the LHSF CEO.
“It’s an automated messaging system that makes it seem like they’re really communicating with [the CEO],” said Justin Tiseo, Development Officer of Community Events at LHSF. “As he’s live on a stream, he’ll answer the questions to the donors so that way they have the communication style still.”
2. Connect with promotional partners
LHSF had to get creative to get the word out about the virtual fundraisers since signage and in-person marketing options were no longer effective. They partnered on a special stream-a-thon fundraiser with their local radio station who helped host and was influential in bringing in more talent to the cause. The local station promoted the fundraiser not only on the radio but used their social media and website to embed the livestream and a donation widget. “That sent us a lot of traffic, so that was a huge component for us,” said Justin.
3. Invite donors into the fundraising journey
LHSF engaged with donors in new ways by making it possible for them to interact with the fundraiser and cause. By adding streaming to the mix, donors tuned in and watched opening and closing ceremonies, comedy hours, and entertaining or educational live streams—all with donation capabilities. With activity tracking turned on, they could pledge to specific participants and watch them progress in their movement and fundraising goals. And milestones & incentives connected them even more with the fundraiser they were supporting—and potentially get rewarded for contributing the right amount at the right time.
One of LHSF’s events, Dash 4 Dad, grew a whopping 40% by raising nearly $60,000 by going virtual in 2020. That’s because the virtual element increased accessibility for participants and donors.
Even without a pandemic, an in-person event can limit specific groups of people from joining when they don’t live close, can’t make the date, or don’t have the ability to come to an event. When virtual participant types are created it can only help a healthcare fundraising event expand its reach to broader audiences.
For example, one rockstar virtual fundraiser for LHSF is Joan, Dash 4 Dad’s oldest participant. She participates in the Dash 4 Dad event virtually from her nursing home. Inspired by her determination at 101 years old, she always exceeds her fundraising goal and in both 2020 and 2021, she’s become one of the top fundraisers in the campaign. Without virtual fundraising, she wouldn’t be able to connect with the LHSF community and participate in the cause she is passionate about.
For many healthcare organizations, in-person fundraising events can be a cumbersome project for the development and finance staff. One of the key benefits LHSF discovered when they began building their virtual events was their ability to quickly and efficiently set up and manage everything from a central platform on DonorDrive. The time it took them to go from idea to execution was very swift, which allowed them to respond to urgent fundraising needs. It also allowed them to make a virtual version for all of their suspended 2020 events rather than simply cancel them. Additionally, a big burden was lifted off of the financial team because they now had tracking tools to properly earmark donations through all of LHSF’s various campaigns and the DonorDrive system helped them to send donation receipts to donors in an efficient way.
Save money & increase ROI
Virtual fundraising strategies can put significantly less strain on a healthcare organization’s budget compared to hosting in-person fundraisers. Instead of paying for a venue, food, or event rentals and paying contractors to support event amenities, you can create a virtual experience with minimal investment that your audience can participate in from anywhere.
LHSF began their virtual fundraising journey with a stream-a-thon called Heroes of Health. The stream-a-thon cost only the staff time it took to produce and to promote it — which was minimal compared to previous years with in-person events. Plus, the event received national attention from the media, which brought more awareness and donations.
Forward-looking healthcare organizations need to turn to employing virtual fundraising to support their hospitals and programs. Virtual fundraising was first perceived as a short-term solution to side-step the precautions of the pandemic, but healthcare institutions like LHSF have discovered there is significant ongoing value.