I hear it every day from the leaders in the not-for-profit hospice world: We’re losing ground. Caught between a rock – reduced federal dollars – and a hard place – the crushing proliferation of regulations – hospice leaders are adopting a bunker mentality, hunkering down to provide the basics to those in their care, while forced to let go of many of the extra services that bring comfort and meaning to their final days. It looks grim – yet I can’t help but feel like we’ve been here before.
There weren’t a lot of resources for us at the start of the hospice movement – and no Federal money for hospice – but there was enthusiasm, and partnership within the communities we served. We cobbled together alliances, trained volunteers, worked with what we had, and made life better for dying people and their loved ones.
When I look at where we are today, what occurs to me is this: What might we be able to accomplish, if we more actively engaged the communities we serve to participate in coming up with meaningful ways of caring for their loved ones at the end of life, rather than spending all of our time trying to figure out how to squeeze out another dime from the downsizing confusion of Medicare/Medicaid? We don’t need to shrink what we do; we need to expand the way we think, because that’s how hospice began in the first place; with people who donated time, energy, and enthusiasm along with their dollars, to make better end of life care a reality.
Philanthropic futurists tell us that donors’ mindsets are shifting away from wanting their names emblazoned on buildings to finding purpose and meaning in being an active part of something worthwhile. Not-for-profit hospices are uniquely positioned to speak to that need to connect; after all, death is an experience we’ll all have in common. How do you create the story – the staff story, the patient story, the family story – that’s told around the campfire; the story that will touch the heart of the person listening and transform their thinking about end of life care?
This is the new paradigm; emotional synergy. Corporations know it; they’re having two-way conversations with customers on social media, building those emotional ties that create unbreakable brand loyalty. Our customers – our donors – need to be fully engaged in this generosity circle. We have to approach donors as creative partners, to ask them, “What would be important to you as you face death? What engagement would be meaningful to you help people live their lives more fully until the end and how can we partner with you to make that happen?”
The ideas we share need to be fresh and optimistic; less hand-wringing and more blue sky, “what if…?” thinking.
What if you got local teens involved as big brothers or sisters with kids who are grieving? What if we partnered with a local artists and poets to help patients and families create something meaningful?
What if you could use virtual reality technology to take the dying to their favorite vacation spots, or to revisit home movies, family and friends?
These are ideas that will inspire donors and offer heart to heart connections. These are stories that need to be shared around that community campfire. Just as they have looked for meaning in life, the graying generation of baby boomers will look for meaning in the final chapters of their lives.
Who better to lead that movement than Hospice? This is what we do.