Hospital Sponsorship Dollars: From Perennial Headache to a Platform for Purpose

Happy July! For about a third of U.S. hospitals and health systems, you’ve just closed the door on one fiscal year and started another. The organization is closing its books, and your head is spinning.

The perennial headache is back—your healthcare organization’s spending of sponsorship dollars. You are not alone. Like many in your position, as you look for a solution, you worry that:

  • Your hospital is giving away potentially significant sums of money, but the data is dispersed across many different departments
  • The community benefit reports your organization produces don’t reflect these sponsorships, even if the recipient organization falls within your priority areas
  • Every time a new request for support arrives, your organization is re-inventing the wheel
  • Different department chairs are supporting nonprofits in wildly different amounts
  • Your marketing team is overtaxed by the last-minute requests for event tribute ads, and even more bothered by the proliferation of rogue ads that don’t conform to brand standards

Learn how technology can streamline sponsorship processes.

This is more than frustrating—you are hamstrung in your ability to make meaningful, proactive change. And never has the need been clearer. Over the past 18 months, Covid laid bare disparities that always existed—and exacerbated them. The murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and other Black Americans caused widespread pain and increased the urgency of addressing systemic racism. States, journals, and professional associations declared racism a public health emergency. Organizations that provide food, housing, and other essential services faced sky-high demand. And Covid-related pressures strained an already under-sourced system for mental health and substance use disorder treatment.

Whether you are in a major urban center or a rural county, you have seen your community struggle. Now is not the time to return to business as usual.

On the surface, improving your organization’s approach to philanthropic sponsorships can seem like a small step to take in light of the problems outlined above. However, the practice of doing so can set the stage for larger community health interventions. It can also uncover enough budget to launch or expand a community benefit grants program.

Why Build a Philanthropic Sponsorship Program?

  • Opportunity to make larger investments addressing community needs
  • Improve request turnaround time for community partners
  • More equitable access to resources
  • Decrease the time spent by top executives tackling requests on a case-by-case basis
  • Improve ability to count expenditures, set a budget, and pull data
  • More consistent use of brand standards in tribute ads 

Seven Steps for Streamlined Sponsorships

A six-month project can yield years of benefit

While the morass of challenges may seem overwhelming, there are concrete steps you can take to create a more streamlined and sustainable approach to inbound philanthropy requests. These steps needn’t be sequential; in fact, there is a benefit to parallel-processing them. For a hospital or health system, there are great benefits to a more intentional approach.

  1. Explore the status quo. Which departments regularly sponsor outside nonprofits? A two-pronged approach is helpful here—working with finance to determine which cost centers are being used, and meeting with different department heads. Schedule half-hour meetings with those most likely to be regularly approached for philanthropic support. Ask them which organizations they support—and why!
  2. Convene stakeholders. Buy-in is essential to reforming the unruly sponsorship process. A few productive conversations with those regularly fielding requests—often marketing, development, and community benefit—will inform a process that is specific to your institution.
  3. Tap development expertise. Those raising funds for your organization are likely to also be intimately familiar with the organizations requesting funds from your organization. Additionally, development officers often field requests from the star clinicians they support. A strong partnership with development is essential to a successful sponsorship program.
  4. Assess current priorities. What are the organizations being supported? Do they map to your Community Health Needs Assessment?
  5. Create a philanthropic support policy. At a minimum, this should cover any restrictions on organization types being supported; the process for application and approval; and budgetary thresholds. This policy will serve you well for future grant programs.
  6. Communicate internally and externally. A good policy is necessary, but not sufficient. In the first year, conducting a small internal “road show” to share the process and answer questions will smooth the shift from free-for-all to more centralized process. Externally, making space for philanthropic requests on your organization’s website is key. While you may fear being flooded with requests, those queries are likely coming in anyway—you’re just not seeing them! Sharing the application process with the community also makes access to resources more equitable.
  7. Set a budget. If possible, take this step late in the process. As any budgeting guru will tell you, the first powerful step is getting an accurate sense of the current spend. Consistently tracking expenditure data will ease reporting pressures.

Practice grace with yourself and those in your organization. It typically takes at least one cycle of requests for those within your organization to get used to a centralized process. But with this system in place for smaller-scale requests, you are well-positioned to tackle larger projects such as community health investment grants.

Before you know it, you’ll be able to add sponsorship dollars to the community benefit team’s data on the money your hospital has invested in community health. The Vice President of Government Relations will know exactly how much support was given to organizations in a specific Congressional district. The CFO will be able to find budget for a much-needed community grant program. And, your CEO can share at the next board meeting the impact your organization has made on addressing health disparities.

What are you waiting for?