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How Community-Based Fundraising Can Relieve the Financial Burden of a Health Crisis

October 11, 2014

Headshot_david_bakelmanEven for people who have health insurance, a health crisis often can turn into a financial crisis. Traumatic injury or illness can lead to transplants, extensive rehabilitation, and/or a lifetime of expensive medications. Uninsured expenses add up over the long term and place a significant financial burden on families who are already facing tremendous challenges.

Many people don't realize how severe this financial burden can be. But, in point of fact, it's a major problem affecting thousands of Americans and their families every year. Annual costs for a C-6 quadriplegic, for example, can range up to $111,000. Transplant patients regularly have to cover $600-$1,000 per month in out-of-pocket medication co-pays. Many patients who find themselves paralyzed after a catastrophic injury may be unable to continue working and may need to make renovations to their homes or find new transportation options. Others may need lengthy stays at specialized treatment centers or to relocate for an extended period of time.

For many patients and their families it can be uncomfortable to ask relatives and friends for financial support. That's understandable. But members of the patient's local community are often eager to help and welcome guidance on the best ways to do so. Professional organizations like HelpHOPELive provide the support necessary to help community fundraising volunteers launch and sustain successful fundraising campaigns that can help patients and their families over many months or years as they face long-term challenges with uncovered medical expenses.

With that in mind, here are a few steps for organizing a successful community-based fundraising campaign to help meet the uninsured medical expenses of someone who has experienced a catastrophic illness or injury:

Identify a support network. A support network includes a patient's family members and friends, of course, but it should also include co-workers, neighbors, and members of local clubs, schools or community faith-based organizations. For example, HelpHOPELive held a transplant fundraiser in honor of Allen West ("Wes") Edgar at his church in Alabama. More than three hundred people came together for a benefit concert and silent auction that helped raised $15,000. The funds raised helped Wes get listed for a transplant, and he received a kidney in March 2013.

Develop a plan. A customized fundraising plan should incorporate tools and options that are a good fit for the patient's community. It's important to highlight how the funds raised will be used to help the person in need. Set a kick-off date for the campaign and schedule regular reporting sessions to monitor its progress. Having a mid-campaign event to build momentum for the second half of the campaign is also a good idea. There's a campaign in California that provides a great example of how to customize a plan for a specific community. Aaron Loy was a freshman lacrosse player at the University of California, Santa Barbara when he contracted an extremely aggressive strain of bacterial meningitis that led to complications and required doctors to amputate both his lower legs. To help with out-of-pocket costs, we targeted Aaron's local community and organized the Aaron Loy Lacrosse Shootout, an all-ages lacrosse festival that featured more than three hundred players and raised more than $18,000.

Execute a multidimensional fundraising effort. For many patients, traditional options like a charity dinner or a sporting event will work just fine. Over the last decade, however, there has been a significant increase in the number of patients and families who have found success with online fundraising tools. At HelpHOPELive, we have found that a three-pronged approach that includes online engagement, social media fundraising, and live events often works best. A campaign for Ethan Kadish – a teenager who suffered a brain injury when he was struck by lightning – is a good example of a multidimensional approach. Volunteers formed a group called Join Team Ethan and set up an online platform. From there we helped organize dozens of live events all over the country, including home run derbies and 5K run/walks. We also helped launch a Facebook page, which has more than 3,800 Likes, and a Twitter account where a volunteer social media coordinator regularly tweets to keep supporters informed about upcoming fundraisers and Ethan's progress. To date, more than 4,000 donations have been made in support of his recovery.

Too many people live one medical crisis away from financial ruin. Thousands of patients in the United States each year need a transplant or are living with a catastrophic injury or illness that can lead to significant financial hardship, even when they have insurance coverage. Community-based fundraising campaigns can help make sure patients have access to the full range of healthcare services they need, enabling them to focus on their treatment and recovery. In a 2012 HelpHOPELive Impact Study, respondents reported improvement in twenty-three quality-of-life categories, including health, hope and freedom from stress. This type of fundraising effort also provides family, friends, and neighbors with an opportunity to be involved and provides both hope and assistance to people in need in a meaningful and tangible way. A collective response to a health crisis can help families and entire communities heal and move forward.

David Bakelman is the CEO of HelpHOPELive.

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