Nurturing a Culture of Gratitude

By Kevin Crowe, Director, Dignity Health Grateful Patient and Family Fundraising


(May 2017) - Gratitude is good for you.

According to Dr. Robert Emmons, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis and the leading scientific expert on gratitude at the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley, individuals who practice gratitude have demonstrated physical, psychological and social benefits. These benefits include lower blood pressure, reduced stress, increased sleep and exercise and increased neurotransmitters, which result in as much as a 25 percent increase in positive emotions. Individuals who feel gratitude also exhibit more helpful, generous and altruistic behaviors.

But what is gratitude? Sometimes used interchangeable with thankfulness or recognition, gratitude has a nuance all its own. The dictionary definition being, “ready to show appreciation for and to return kindness,” Emmons says it is the affirmation of goodness and the recognition that the goodness comes from outside ourselves.

Those who reap the above mentioned health and wellness benefits are those who have found ways to regularly practice gratitude. This can happen in a multitude of ways including keeping a gratitude journal, learning prayers or reflections centered in gratitude, or in finding ways of giving back.

Aligning with our Dignity Health mission and with Hello, Humankindness, our philanthropic goal is to create a culture of gratitude within our organization and with all who we reach -- and to foster the resulting positive benefits, not the least of which is philanthropy to our hospitals and medical centers.

The shift to this culture of gratitude, like any culture shift, is a journey.

Across the country, in health care we have traditionally focused on creating relationships with the wealthiest individuals and families in our communities to create a culture of philanthropy within our hospitals. Often an event-driven model with transactional philanthropy – for example, selling tickets to a gala -- has been a large part of the work of hospital foundation staffs.

Today, health care organizations are shifting that focus to creating or enhancing relationships with patients and families that exhibit gratitude to their physicians, clinicians and staff who have significantly impacted their care and experience. These efforts are reinforced by a qualitative study of patient donors featured in the fall 2016 Healthcare Philanthropy journal siting “admiration for physicians resulting in a desire to be supportive” as one of five major themes identified by 95 percent of respondents in the study.

This work has been undertaken by multiple hospitals and health care systems across the country including several within our Dignity Health family.

Those who have invested resources in training, measuring and monitoring metrics and follow up to ensure consistency have seen increasingly positive results not only in their fundraising efforts, but also improved patient satisfaction scores, physician engagement scores and employee satisfaction.

As we continue to cultivate, strengthen and grow this culture of gratitude, look to future issues for more information on why this is a key time to focus and enhance this work and how partnerships with both clinical and non-clinical colleagues across the system can be beneficial for everyone’s goals and metrics.