“I was just blown away by this concept,” Ms. Gattuso said. “Why haven’t we done it before, frankly?”
The answer then, as now, was money.
Hospitals have a commitment to deliver the necessary services to patients and Ontario has a reputation for providing high-quality care. But limited public funds and an onslaught of growing demands makes it impossible for every department in every hospital to have the newest and best equipment, staff the brightest minds in the field or provide cutting-edge, experimental therapies.
In Ms. Gattuso’s case, she and her husband, Allan Slaight, decided to donate a total of $13.9-million to fund Princess Margaret’s rapid diagnostic centre and personally led a fundraising drive to raise millions more. The Gattuso Rapid Diagnostic Centre has helped hundreds of patients and is continuing to expand.
The impact those donations are having on the lives of patients is at the heart of the pitch hospitals are making.
“The reality of why you’re seeing more and more fundraising is because we want our public institutions to be absolutely world class and there is a role for private philanthropy to play in that,” said Ted Garrard, president and CEO of the SickKids Foundation. “Were it not for philanthropy, we would not have the kind of worldwide reputation that we do.”
But being a world-class institution isn’t getting any cheaper. New equipment, innovative programs and recruitment of top medical minds is an expensive prospect that is driving Toronto’s multi-billion-dollar fundraising push. In many ways, the need for money is greater than ever. On the whole, patients are living longer and treatment costs have continued to escalate. And important advances in medicine, hospital design and treatment delivery are quickly dating many institutions. Public money will only take hospitals so far, especially in an era of austerity.
As a result, hospitals have had to adapt their approach. Campaigns have become more aggressive and the sheer number of money-raising walks, rides, tournaments and other activities has exploded.
Fundraisers have also become increasingly adept at targeting existing and potential donors by bringing them for visits to patient wards or laboratories where their money is put to work. They’ll even ask donors to introduce them to their social networks.
“I think, in general, the whole sector has become more sophisticated in that regard,” Mr. Hoscheit said.
Now foundation executives across the country are looking to crack the latest golden egg: social media.
Although it’s a great way to boost awareness or create engagement with the community, translating that communication into donations isn’t easy.
“I think we are all still challenged to find out how we can get people to use online giving and social media as a way to, if you will, invest in our organization,” Mr. Garrard said.
But what about the risks? Hospital fundraising campaigns have become an incessant year-long event with appeals coming in the mail, online, on the radio and TV. Yet, as the fundraising pitches become increasingly enormous in size and scope, so too grows the worry that potential donors are beginning to tune out.
Pushing the personal connection
Making the appeal personal is how many fundraisers are trying to cut through the noise of a saturated marketplace.
When Ed Clark, CEO of Toronto-Dominion Bank, makes a fundraising pitch, he does it as a businessman. Mr. Clark, the honorary chair of Women’s College Hospital’s $70-million capital campaign, doesn’t ask potential donors to write a blank cheque; he tells them about the new virtual ward that provides at-home care to patients who are at high risk of hospital readmission, which results in better health outcomes and major cost savings.
“It’s not hard to get people excited about that,” Mr. Clark said in a recent interview.
The stories of how philanthropy dollars can make a difference are the key to reaching fundraising goals, Mr. Clark said.
Overcoming so-called donor fatigue requires a similar pitch. As long as the city’s wealthy class is advocating for lower taxes or grumbling that governments shouldn’t be making cuts to reduce the deficit, there is no excuse for not giving money to make our public institutions better, argues Mr. Clark.