Boards Seeking To Give Back Should Consider Healthcare

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The industry is rife with opportunity for investment for boards aiming to expand their social venture footprints, but do so in a way that will leave an indelible mark and effect long-term change.

Corporate boards are often inundated with funding requests from compelling nonprofits from a variety of verticals. And with 85% of corporate decision-makers saying that reputation will be more important than revenue in just a few short years, boards will continue to look to expand their social venture footprints in the years ahead. But as with any initiative, corporate boards do not only want to allocate money to a cause for the sake of it, but leave an indelible mark that can in turn effect long-term change. This is particularly true when it comes to healthcare.

In 2021, corporate donations to nonprofits hit $21.8 billion – meaning corporations wield incredible might in terms of the possible change they can catalyze. And with public health continuing to be in one of the most precarious periods yet, it is understandable why so many corporations are beginning to view the healthcare industry as one of the foremost areas of need.

Through public health history, corporate gifts have made significant contributions in public health fights ranging from polio treatment to Covid-19 vaccination. However, while in-roads have been made to support already established efforts, the paradigm is shifting as corporations look to have a deeper impact in revolutionizing healthcare through their giving.

With that in mind, below are several ways in which corporate boards can rethink their corporate donations to drive game-changing healthcare results.

Understanding Patient Decision-Making

The success of any company relies on their understanding of consumer decision-making. Corporates understand that developing a good product is just one part of the equation. The other part is knowing how consumers make decisions in the real world that may not fit the rational paradigm, a necessary component of driving demand and uptake of a product or service.

A similar approach of understanding patient decision-making is largely absent. One may argue that healthcare decisions are even more difficult given the high degree of uncertainty and misinformation. Moreover, no two people evaluate any given data in exactly the same way. That said, there are distinct patterns to this “irrationality” that, while they may not address all of the nuances of decision-making for each individual, can help nurture a majority of given groups to take beneficial health actions. The problem is, that even though this process can lead to incredible healthcare outcomes, it requires patience and ongoing investment. Given that public health agencies have tight budgets and even less flexibility in their timelines, they routinely do not have the resources to support this kind of deep dive effort as well as they would like, which is where corporations can step in. By investing in ongoing applied behavioral science healthcare projects, corporations can become an incredible ally in building up the understanding of what drives healthcare decisions, which in turn can help inform public health engagement initiatives in the future.

Prioritize Long-term Research Funding

Corporations in general tend to have a longer term vision than do governments, which are driven largely by election cycles. We all saw how Walmart was more prepared than the federal government in dealing with Hurricane Katrina. In addition, corporations have done an incredible job in supplementing ongoing public health efforts. For example, over 1 billion Covid-19 vaccines have been donated so far.

But what about preventing the next pandemic? How might we regain public trust and credibility towards the health-care system? How do we address the harms of vast amounts of misinformation? To tackle these complex questions, corporations need to look at the most promising research available and invest in projects that help lay the foundations to tackle public health crises before they even happen. They can also use their experience and expertise in designing, implementing and synthesizing additional research needed to address any research gaps.  

Of course, providing ongoing support to handle the current crisis will continue to be pivotal. But to create the most comprehensive public health care approach, providing support towards longer term preventative measures is hugely important. And given that governments and other stakeholders are often inundated with coping with the immediate fallout of pandemics, corporations can take a more nimble and diverse approach to public health that straddles both providing immediate support and long-term research.

Invest in Rebuilding Innovation Pipelines

Dovetailing with the need for greater resources in research is the need to invest in innovation infrastructure. Many healthcare innovation departments still struggle to settle on priorities, strategies and pipeline building. By definition, innovation is a high risk endeavor with huge possibilities of failure. Governments are always cagey to fund such efforts using tax dollars.  Moreover, some companies lack ways to assess the progress of their innovation projects and thus either fund projects that aren’t viable to start with, or pull the plug on promising projects too quickly. True, Covid-19 vaccinations were produced in record time. However, given that finding a vaccine was virtually the sole priority of the healthcare sector for 12-18 months, and all attention was poured into this area as a result, significant questions, even within the healthcare industry, are being raised around whether this rapid success can be repeated under “everyday circumstances.” Thus, while often overlooked, funding healthcare innovation infrastructure projects stands to be perhaps one of the most impactful investments corporations can make.

Corporations funding can be a huge boon for the next generation of healthcare. And by looking at these often “under the radar” areas within the space, companies can become a prime mover in helping the healthcare sector reach the next level.