Springfield, Massachusetts—In the world of large-scale healthcare fundraising it can become all too easy to forget about the individual stories of care and healing, and to focus instead on clinical statistics, the flash of technology, and the impressive facilities.
That was precisely the situation that the development team at the Sisters of Providence Health System in Springfield, Massachusetts, had fallen into. They weren't utilizing the strongest aspect of their organization—the individual stories that emerge from their health system's commitment to being a healing and transforming presence in their community—in order to form a connection between donors and the organization.
Over 130 years old, the Sisters of Providence Health System provides a wide range of services, including acute care, behavioral health, rehabilitation, mental health and addictions treatment, skilled nursing care, home care, hospice retirement living, diagnostic laboratories, and more.
Brenda McCormick, vice president of fund development, says that soon after she arrived in this position, she realized that relationships with donors were not the primary focus. Instead, the Sisters of Providence Health System relied on direct mail and static fundraising for individual expenditures, neither of which was working to build a foundation for giving.
"I worried that we would run out of people to send direct mail to, and we had nothing to replace them with," McCormick says.
Her first day on the job, she received a call from the CEO's wife telling her about a workshop she had just attended—Benevon.
That model stayed in the back of McCormick's mind, until she happened to attend a workshop where Terry Axelrod was speaking.
"As I sat listening to Terry talk I thought to myself, 'Oh my gosh, here is the system for us!'" McCormick remembers.
That was all it took to get the wheels spinning.
McCormick brought the model back to Sisters of Providence Health System, where she says the CEO instantly embraced it.
Their first Points of Entry, "Catch the Spirit," still reflected the clinical approach they were so accustomed to: exact, stiff, and at times over-rehearsed. But McCormick says that as they continued they became more and more comfortable with the testimonial oriented format, eventually adopting it wholeheartedly.
"Everything we do now is testimonial oriented," she says. "In all of our publications we talk about our technology, expertise, value, and quality, but coupled with that are the stories of the people who have been served. That, I think, has been the biggest change for all of us—to not forget that part, that it is equally important to speak about our capabilities—the new technology, the new wing, the important quality outcomes and value equation in the marketplace. Okay, that's important, but what does the person who has been served by this system feel about the care provided? That's what's most important, and that is what has the power to connect people to the mission."
Over 5,000 people have now attended "Catch the Spirit." Those Points of Entry have proved critical to generating people who want to get involved in the organization, including a new CEO who enthusiastically supported the model.
When the Sisters of Providence Health System hosted their first Ask Event, McCormick says she was struck when she saw so many people assembled who cared enough to donate. That day she and her team raised $360,000.
"In a community that's very poor, that's a lot of money," McCormick says, crediting that amount to the testimonials shared at the event. "Telling those stories of care that has been provided is so important to the process. Sometimes the things other people say about us are much more powerful than anything we could say about ourselves."
The Sisters of Providence Health System have raised $2 million using the Benevon Model, though McCormick says that's just the starting point. The health system now has an ongoing basis for major gifts initiatives, has exceeded their $6 million goal in their first-ever capital campaign, and further down the road will begin thinking about an endowment. McCormick says those goals have been made possible because of Benevon. "Attributable also is at least another $10-15 million in annual and major gifts because of the people who became engaged with us through our Benevon process.
"We now know who the donors are, and they know who we are, and we know that there are lifelong relationships that have been developed, not with us as people, but with the organization for the right reasons, and that was not the case before Benevon."
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