So much more than the money: re-imagining philanthropy to improve our health

Helen Bowcock, Chair of AAKSS, shares her reflections on the inaugural Institute of Fundraising Health Sector conference
 
I had the privilege of speaking earlier this week at the inaugural Institute of Fundraising Health Sector conference and of sharing the platform with our Medical Director, Dr Malcolm Russell. My theme was philanthropy, with the suggestion that we are doing far more of it within the air ambulance world than we give ourselves credit for, but that we could be doing much more.

There are differing views of what philanthropy means and too often (in my view) it appears as the exclusive domain of the very rich. But if we apply the straightforward interpretation that it is ‘voluntary giving for public good’ involving the gift not only of money but also of time, networks and other assets then it becomes both the prerogative and the right of everyone. 

We have some outstanding examples of philanthropy within the health sector. Dame Cicely Saunders applied her considerable knowledge and passion to start a movement to improve end of life care and established the first modern hospice. Communities around the country followed her lead and our hospices were created by local philanthropy and rely upon it today. 

In many ways we have a parallel story in the air ambulance world. Emergency doctors saw that patient outcomes could be dramatically improved and lives saved if only medical care could be taken to the patient and the patient transported to hospital as rapidly as possible. Again communities around the country rose to this challenge and individuals took action to raise money and to establish services. In Kent a local resident, Kate Chivers, played a pivotal role in establishing one of the very early air ambulance charities which today covers much of the south east.

So often these are stories about humble individuals who acted upon their convictions. And when we start to look more closely at our supporter base at AAKSS we can find many examples of people whose deep commitment to our cause has resulted in significant gifts of time as well as money. One of our own Trustees, Barney Burgess, was treated by a crew and airlifted to hospital having suffered a cardiac arrest whilst running the Tonbridge half marathon. Once recovered, he returned to the base and insisted on paying for the cost of the mission that saved his life and put the charity in touch with a grant making trust. When we ran an open process to diversify our Board and recruit new Trustees Barney applied. His application began with the words ‘this charity saved my life’.

An important theme of the IoF conference was patient gratitude, with the case for ‘Grateful Patient Fundraising’ powerfully conveyed by Betsy Chapin Taylor of Accordant Philanthropy. She presented substantial robust evidence to demonstrate that the philanthropic expression of gratitude for medical care is beneficial to patients, their relatives and also to those who provide care. However, there is often philosophical resistance within health charities to the idea that former patients or bereaved relatives should be encouraged in their desire to donate. 

Certainly the right governance needs to be in place to ensure appropriate policies and stewardship, with safeguards for patients – and also for crew members. Dr Malcolm Russell spoke eloquently about his experience as a doctor meeting former patients and also bereaved relatives and about the importance of clear communication and of setting expectations. As our Medical Director, his care for patients and for his colleagues is paramount.

One of our values at AAKSS is caring and, after all, our crews are treating the most seriously injured and sickest patients in our region. In light of evidence about patient gratitude, should we think more holistically about the relationship of care for patients and relatives, and about their desire to feel part of the charity which means so much to them? Should we extend our understanding of our duty of care to make every effort to enable them to get in touch and to develop a philanthropic relationship which is beneficial to their wellbeing?

A recent chance conversation with a member of our own staff revealed a first hand account of the benefits of philanthropy to a bereaved mother. Bridget Pepper is a member of our fundraising team and over twenty years ago her seven year old daughter, a patient at Great Ormond Street Hospital, died of kidney cancer. Soon after, Bridget made the decision to raise money for research to prevent the deaths of other children. She talked about how much this had helped her come to terms with her bereavement and over the years she has raised in the order of £150,000 from selling goods and organising events and maintaining a strong association as an ambassador for GOSH.

For health charities in particular there is clear evidence that supporters want to feel a sense of belonging, ‘to feel part of us’ as Gill Raikes, Director of Harefield and Brompton Hospital Trust, stated in her enlightening presentation at the IoF conference. We know at AAKSS that this is true not only of former patients and their relatives but also for members of the communities that we serve who care about the safety and cohesion of their local areas. 

Although the point has been made forcibly that philanthropy is not the exclusive preserve of the very wealthy we also need to ask why, in the UK, people in this wealth category are not giving more of their assets. A recent campaign launched by the Beacon Collaborative has revealed that of an estimated £1.7 trillion in assets controlled by those in the High Net Worth/Ultra High Net Worth wealth categories, only around 0.18% is given away. A minority give very significant amounts but the median amount given per annum is a mere £240. 

In Kent, Surrey and Sussex we have plenty of residents in this wealth category and, over the course of time, a few of them have supported our cause. One of the objectives of the Beacon Collaborative is to understand why so little is given by the very rich and perhaps we can play our part in that. If we assume that their motivations are no different to those of other supporters, that they are just as likely to have been touched by our cause and want to feel a sense of belonging we have, potentially, much to gain.

In conclusion, the health sector in particular has the opportunity to develop an inclusive, democratic model of philanthropy which honours the gratitude and desire ‘to be part of us’ felt by our supporters. Many are humble individuals who are motivated to give time as well as money and only want in return an active engagement with the charity, whatever form that may take. And while philanthropy is not the exclusive domain of the very wealthy, we should not neglect them either as they too need to be invited in.
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Date Posted: 24th May 2019