How to Take the Gamble Out of Doing Philanthropic Work [Part 1]

by Andrea Umbreit, MPA

charity MP910221024 resized 600I’ve found that all oral health professionals have the talent and desire to give back to their community. These teeth-loving heroes like to use their superpowers to change the lives of families in need in their backyard and beyond. However, there are so many nuances and potential liabilities in doing pro-bono or other charitable work that the potential risks often appear to outweigh the benefits.

“Playing the Charity Card” is a fantastic way to market your practice while giving back in a meaningful way. But don’t play Russian roulette with your giving. Eliminate the gamble in doing philanthropic work by making these safe bets.

By now you’ve heard of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).

CSR has dual roles: contributions and activities benefitting both business and society. The crux of CSR is that your charitable initiatives are meeting a relevant need in the community while your practice concurrently benefits from well-deserved recognition and marketing. Why should your business be concerned with being a socially-responsible corporate citizen? The one and only answer I will cover is this one: Your patients and community expect it from you. Not only do they expect you to give back, but they expect you to do so in a meaningful and significant way that humanizes your practice and connects them to something they believe in.  A steep task, no doubt.

Survey your patients and your staff.

What charities should your practice support? Survey your patients and your staff. If your patients don’t care about it, why do it? If your staff isn’t interested and motivated, who is going to manage the process? Collect data on what causes, initiatives and events in your community that your patients and staff find meaningful and use that as a starting point.

Should you do dental charity work? 

Of course.  You have a lot of options here.  For pro-bono orthodontic care, you can work with Smiles Change Lives, Smile for a Lifetime, Donated Orthodontic Services or you can check with your statewide programs and local foundations. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that Smiles Change Lives has a waiting list of 1,200 qualified program applicants awaiting care by a caring, talented orthodontist like you! You may also want to consider working with Give Kids A Smile, Oral Health America, TeamSmile, and other great community programs.  You are likely invited to participate in local health fairs, dental clinic screenings, school-based initiatives, and initiatives that connect you directly with families in need.

Whether you choose to select youth, education, dental, disease-prevention, or other causes, please be aware that charity work is not one-size-fits-all.  In philanthropic work there is a term called “donor fatigue” that is used to describe a phenomenon were donors simply get tired of supporting the same cause over and over again.  I highly recommend that you diversify your giving and charitable work to encompass several causes.  Go back to your survey results and find the issues which are most relevant to your patients, determine how much time and resources you are willing to allot to philanthropy and target your efforts accordingly.

Assuming you’re taking my advice, by now you’ve generated survey results, and selected a few causes/charities you’d like to incorporate into your practice.  How do you support them? Golf tournament? 5K run/walk? Office fundraiser? Free dental screening? Canned food drive? Raffle or auction? Buy a table at the gala? (As you can imagine this list of choices is endless.)

What's your office personality?

This is the point at which your practice needs to look internally and identify your office personality.  Are you a fun-loving group with a few runners on staff? Are you a more clean-cut bunch suited for a health fair? Does the doctor clown around the office? Is your staff inclined to put together a rap video? Ask the following questions of your staff:

  • How much staff time can you devote to charitable initiatives?
  • What tools do you have at your disposal for marketing?
  • How much can you do well in a year?
  • How much help can you enlist from business partners, staff and patient families?
  • Can you tie this into something you’re already doing?

I highly recommend you narrow and focus your efforts down to two to six initiatives and create an annual plan.  You know what will work best for your community and your market.  When in doubt, trust your instincts and play the hand you’ve been dealt. The next post I will cover are the “how-to’s” of marketing your charitable work to effectively play the charity card. “No more bets” when giving back!

About the Author

andreaUmbreitAndrea Umbreit is the Director of Marketing and Communications for Smiles Change Lives, a national nonprofit organization that connects caring orthodontists with children in need.  With more than a decade of experience working in nonprofit organizations ranging from education, to environment, to fundraising, Andrea presents a broad framework for incorporating various image-building philanthropic initiatives into your practice to support charity and impact your bottom line. With an undergraduate degree in molecular microbiology and Spanish literature, and a Master’s Degree in Public Administration, Andrea has absolutely no formal training in marketing and has been an important force in marketing SCL during its national expansion. If she can pull this off, so can you!

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