A $1.5B Campaign: Mass General’s VP for Development on the Hospital’s Ambitious Fundraising Initiative

Last month, Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston announced an extraordinary $1.5 billion capital campaign — the largest in the hospital’s 200-year history. Jim Thompson, vice president for development at MGH, offers insight into how political and economic factors are influencing this ambitious fundraising campaign.

Silent phase kept fundraiser low-profile until last month
MGH, the largest teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School, has already raised just over $1 billion for the Campaign for the Third Century of MGH Medicine since Oct. 2006, when the campaign officially commenced. It maintained a low-profile during the first 5 years, also known as the “silent phase.” This silent phase is standard for large-scale fundraisers, which typically take seven to eight years to complete. It’s also a crucial time for project planning. “That time frame gave us the opportunity to begin educating key constituents and members of the public,” says Mr. Thompson. It was through meetings, discussions and small dinners with key constituents in the silent phase that MGH was able to raise the $1 billion.

Where the money will go
MGH has broken down where the money will go, with a portion allocated to finance its new Building for the Third Century, recently named the Lunder Building by the hospital in appreciation of a generous contribution by Peter and Paula Lunder and the Lunder Foundation. The $579 million facility will include 150 acute-care inpatient rooms, a state-of-the-art radiation-oncology unit, an enhanced emergency department and three floors of operating rooms. The building will be an addition to the MGH campus, built primarily to advance technologies and address capacity issues since the hospital is in need of additional ER and OR space. The campaign’s other objectives include: advancing medical research, since MGH conducts the largest hospital-based research program in the country, along with education and specific hospital programs such as cancer, cardiology and pediatrics.

Development model relies on volunteer leadership

The silent phase also allowed MGH to build an extremely cohesive volunteer base. “We knew that we needed to move away from a staff-driven development model, to a more hybrid-model that includes volunteers who are invested in the mission of the hospital and interested in its philanthropic success,” says Mr. Thompson. Volunteer leadership for large-scale projects is not only important for community morale, but also integral to reducing fundraising costs. Since 2005, MGH has created 16 volunteer leadership councils and committees associated with various initiatives in the hospital, such as the Cancer Center Leadership Council, the Research Advisory Committee and the MGH President’s Council. The Campaign Steering Committee, consisting of many of the hospital’s trustees and closest advocates, works closely with MGH president, Peter L. Slavin, MD, and the co-chairs of the philanthropy program, W. Gerald Austen, MD, and Patricia F. Ribakoff, to maintain the campaign timeline, make decisions regarding campaign priorities, and cultivate and solicit high-level prospects. The total volunteer base now rounds out to more than 100 individuals within these councils and committees. “They became our eyes for the philanthropic program, by encouraging people to become involved. They have really become an extended arm of the development department,” says Mr. Thompson.

Economic and political factors affect donors
Non-profit organizations, however, are not recession-proof and even donors with the deepest of pockets are influenced by economic and political factors. In 2009, following the dramatic economic downturn, philanthropic support of hospitals nationwide decreased by nearly $1 billion, according to the Association for Healthcare Philanthropy. With donors being more prudent during sensitive economical times, hospitals must fine-tune fundraising campaigns and work even harder to generate donations. “We are not exempt from the recession. Last year, even though we achieved our fiscal year goal, we had a decrease from the year before. But at no time did this take our attention off the need to raise an aggregate sum of money,” says Mr. Thompson. But all things considered, MGH is fairing well, despite the recession. Since the campaign began, it bolstered its philanthropic strength and expanded its donor base by 20 percent. The hospital is now supported by more than 40,000 individual donors each year.

Along with the unstable economy, President Obama’s healthcare reform plan has also stirred uncertainty among many donors, who may be reluctant about donating to hospitals when the future of healthcare seems unclear. But Mr. Thompson says MGH’s donor base is extremely sophisticated, and a healthy amount of uncertainty inspires many to consider ways in which they can extend philanthropic support. “They understand the challenges of an academic medical center. Investing in MGH is one of the wisest philanthropic decisions they can make,” says Mr. Thompson.  While MGH warmly embraces all donors — with gifts amounts ranging from $5 to nine-figure gifts — it’s a small percentage of donors that make the largest difference financially. “Three to five percent of donations comprise 90 percent of the philanthropic total,” says Mr. Thompson.  Peter and Paula Lunder, for instance, donated $35 million to the campaign, which resulted in the new patient care facility named in their honor, along with a new educational initiative. “But it’s important to keep in mind that the $1,000 or $100 gift we receive really carries enormous weight as well.”

The Campaign for the Third Century of MGH Medicine was officially launched Oct. 15, 2010, but there is still room to grow beyond $1.5 billion, according to Mr. Thompson. “When we announced the campaign, we knew we’d be tracking toward a minimum goal of $1.5 billion and possibly more. But as we approached Oct. 15, we knew that the more responsible figure for us to announce would be $1.5 billion.” MGH has the ability, within a year or 16 months, to possibly increase the goal as the campaign nears closure in 2013, but for now Mr. Thompson and the hospital’s volunteers are focusing on what needs to be done to succeed in this monumental philanthropic undertaking.

Learn more about MGH’s groundbreaking fundraising efforts.

Read more about Massachusetts General Hospital:

-Hospital Leader to Know: Dr. Peter Slavin, CEO of Massachusetts General Hospital

-30 Best Hospitals in America

-Mass General Hospital Raises $1B For New Building

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