Medical fundraisers tap patients

by Nicolas Diaz

Associate Dean for the School of Medicine and Health Sciences and Associate Vice President for Medicine Development and Alumni Relations Dennis Narango leads the University's push to expand fundraising through its medical branches with a development plan called the Grateful Patients Program.
Media Credit: Delaney Walsh | Hatchet Photographer
Associate Dean for the School of Medicine and Health Sciences and Associate Vice President for Medicine Development and Alumni Relations Dennis Narango leads the University's push to expand fundraising through its medical branches with a development plan called the Grateful Patients Program.

The University is rolling out a fundraising strategy targeting patients treated at the GW Hospital and the Medical Faculty Associates to help support patient care, research and academics and the School of Medicine and Health Sciences.

The development plan, dubbed the Grateful Patients Program, will bring GW up to speed on a medical fundraising tactic employed at academic health centers nationwide for decades.

Over the next year, GW is looking to hire four medical development officers for the program, which top administrators say could boost medical fundraising by 10 to 20 percent.

Fundraising by the School of Medicine and Health Sciences contributed 21 percent, or $24 million, of the University’s entire $113 million pool of money raised last year. But once the Grateful Patients Program fully develops over the next three years, the medical school could make up “about 30 to 40 percent of all the money raised at this [University],” Vice President of Development and Alumni Relations Mike Morsberger said at Faculty Senate meeting in March.

“That’s how powerful this can be,” he added.

The program will help development staff in the school of medicine identify which patients at GW Hospital or the MFA are alumni, former donors or national figures.

Gift solicitations would take a more personalized form, like sending a letter after patients leave the hospital or sending flowers to a hospital room. Doctors who engage in research will also reach out to patients they treated to spur donations.

“We need to have a system by which we flag names of people who are friends of the institution or important figures in our city or nation. If a member of Congress is here, or any number of important people, the level of their care won’t change. We just want to make sure at some level that they’re acknowledged,” Morsberger said.

"Within a few weeks, we’d like to be able to follow up with a letter or communications piece to give them a sense that this is a nonprofit enterprise, and one of the ways we try to find a cure for cancer is through philanthropy. We need funding for this,” he added.

While the potential for alumni to donate builds as their incomes rise, the opposite is true for medical patients. The desire is strongest right after medical treatment, Dennis Narango, associate dean for the School of Medicine and Health Sciences and associate vice president for medicine development and alumni relations, said.

Narango’s role was created after last year’s reorganization of the Medical Center, which split apart the management functions of the three schools that made up the center: the School of Medicine and Health Sciences, the School of Nursing and the School of Public Health and Health Services. Since assuming his post in November, Narango has overseen development and alumni relations at the school of medicine, GW Hospital and the MFA.

While the school of medicine, the GW Hospital and the MFA each operate independently, Morsberger said the three institutions have partnerships in place to streamline development efforts.

Under an agreement finalized earlier this year, any donation that a patient wants to make to the nonprofit MFA or the for-profit GW Hospital must go to the medical school to support its doctors’ research, educational programs or clinical care, Morsberger said.

Morsberger said the Grateful Patients Program would mirror what has been carried out at top-tier medical institutions like Duke and Johns Hopkins Universities, both locations where Morsberger fundraised before coming to GW in 2010.

At the Wilmer Eye Institute at Johns Hopkins, an 87-year-old patient-based fundraising strategy collects $15 to $20 million annually, the institute’s Senior Associate Director of Development Donna Clare said.

“The concept behind the institute’s grateful patients program is basically targeting those patients most pleased with their treatment who, as a sign of gratitude, might be willing to support their doctor’s research,” Clare said.

Narango helped develop and implement a similar program at the University of Maryland’s School of Medicine, where he spent three years as associate dean for development and chief development officer before joining GW.

With Narango at the helm, the University of Maryland’s School of Medicine received a $45 million single donation through its grateful patient program to fund research in 2010.

Narango declined to pinpoint a fundraising target for the Grateful Patients Program, saying there is not “enough data or track records to put our thumb on a goal,” referring to the early stages of the program.

“Our program is still nascent, still very young, still coming forth,” Narango said.

Efforts to raise money in the medical school will coincide with the ongoing development of an intensive University-wide fundraising campaign that seeks to boost overall giving levels by five to 10 percent over the next year.

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