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  • Debra A. Gill

Back in the Saddle

Updated: Aug 18

Interim CDO role is an enlightening experience.



Eight years ago, I transitioned away from a nearly two-decade career running my local hospital foundation. While I loved that position, I turned 50 and became an empty nester in the same year so it seemed like the right time to venture into consulting which I had long coveted. And it was. I’ve learned a great deal from my clients, large and small, and am gratified every day to be able to shine a light on philanthropy best practices in ways that accelerate their charitable accomplishments.


I recently returned to the same local hospital foundation as interim part-time CDO while the search for a new leader is conducted and I’m finding it to be the perfect complement to my consulting work. In my opinion, the best way to be a consultant is to have walked the walk and I value being able to walk it again in this temporary capacity.


As people ask me what has changed the most in the past eight years, I would have to say exponential growth. Not just for my local healthcare system but for the systems I work with around the country. Growth in the scope of services provided, growth in the size of the teams, growth in physical plants and technology, growth in capacity, and most importantly, growth in vision. Geographic barriers have been reduced by conveniently located clinics and telehealth. Service line barriers have been reduced by increased volume, sufficient to sustain new specialties. Technological barriers have been reduced by advancements not even conceived of a decade ago. Access barriers have been reduced by expanded, renovated, and reinvented facilities.


Fortunately, healthcare philanthropy has also experienced exponential growth. Some of the largest gifts in history have been made over the last decade. And the number of contributors has been steadily increasing. According to Giving USA, charitable giving reached an all time high in 2020 of $471.4 billion. Nearly 10% of these funds were designated to health which has experienced a 300% increase in charitable donations received over that past 40 years. The Association for Healthcare Philanthropy (AHP) has identified the top three areas of support for hospitals as construction and renovation, patient care/program support, and capital equipment.


Since 70% of the contributions received by hospitals are from individuals, it has become even more essential that foundation teams anchor the case for support directly to the impact donors can have on patient care through philanthropy. Close collaboration with system leaders to identify strategic priorities that resonate with donors, particularly grateful patients, has never been more critical. According to AHP, on average healthcare foundations return $4 for every $1 invested, likely the highest return on investment of any hospital department and a clear indicator that heightened philanthropic performance favorably impacts medical outcomes.


I would be remiss not to acknowledge the impact of the pandemic on healthcare philanthropy. Rather than dwell on the challenges, I will highlight what from my perspective are positive effects. Donor and volunteer conversations are no longer hampered by seasonal residency and travel now that video calls have become commonplace. Citizens who may have never used the hospital have surfaced as enthusiastic donors, wanting to make sure the best local medical care is available when needed. This seems to be particularly true of the elusive younger generation for whom healthcare had not previously resonated as a charitable giving priority. As mentioned in a previous blog, the movement away from special events has enabled foundation teams to reassess and reprioritize their roles with an emphasis on relationships rather than transactions. This is an abbreviated list but suffice it to say, I truly believe that when the stats are run on recent philanthropic trends, we will find that we did in fact find a way to make lemonade out of the lemons of 2020 and 2021.


I’ve always felt deeply that healthcare philanthropy is about the patient and recent history has emphasized this point even further. Whether as a CDO, consultant, donor, or patient, I embrace the growth and am grateful for the exceptional healthcare that results from vibrant and impactful philanthropic partnerships.


Alliance Philanthropy’s philosophy is to inspire staff, volunteers, and board members for all types of not-for-profit organizations to raise funds enthusiastically and passionately - at maximum levels - in support of their missions.

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