The Role of the CEO in Health Care Philanthropy

Foundation board members spearhead efforts to advance philanthropy for the supported health care organization. However, their charge is not to shoulder this responsibility alone. Instead, this mission is carried out in partnership with other organizational allies including the health care organization CEO. The CEO not only enunciates the organizational vision to engage and inspire donors but also marshals various forms of internal and cultural support. Foundation board members can strengthen their philanthropy efforts by understanding the growing role of the CEO in order to develop a productive and proactive working relationship.

Progressive CEOs recognize philanthropy as a core strategy and business strength to provide operational and capital dollars for organizational advancement. Having a high-performing philanthropy program has also become another valued sign of financial fitness; ratings agencies list the existence of a successful philanthropy program as an attribute of a sound health care organization. However, realizing philanthropy’s true potential relies upon the CEO not only recognizing the financial benefits but also in taking on a proactive role in areas where he is uniquely positioned to convey his vision for the future, to give donors confidence, to provide critical internal support, to drive a culture for philanthropy and to rally the meaningful engagement of key organizational advocates including physicians.

While much attention is focused on the CEO’s external roles in advancing philanthropy, the CEO’s donor-facing role is the proverbial “tip of the iceberg.” The CEO’s greatest potential value in advancing philanthropy is found within the walls of the health care organization. The symbolic and tactical importance of the CEO in prioritizing philanthropy within the organization cannot be overstated. No other organizational leader has the stature and relationships to single-handedly deploy the organization to advance philanthropy—or not. The CEO uses her verbal support, physical presence and active modeling to signal that philanthropy is important, to elevate it on the agenda, to set expectations, to unleash resources and to build momentum with advocates.

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