Patient Partnerships Under Scrutiny

Jan 01, 2010
By Pharmaceutical Executive Editors

These are tenuous times for nonprofits that rely on strong relationships with pharmaceutical companies to help educate patients about disease prevention, diagnosis, and treatment. While pharma values giving and contributes millions annually to nonprofits, philanthropy is often the first item to be cut from the budget because of: 1) the limited ability to measure program success on patient outcomes; 2) the increasing and unfortunate scrutiny of patient advocacy partnerships by media and legislators; and 3) a lack of perceived strategic value of donations.

Companies are simply spending less on nonprofit partnerships, and many nonprofits are struggling to survive. Some, like Gilda's Club and The Wellness Community, Fertile Hope and Be Strong, have even merged resources or products and services to combat the recession and stay afloat.

No Way to Measure Advocacy

For pharmaceutical companies, quantifying or qualifying the impact of nonprofit partnerships is difficult. There are currently no established industry-wide measurement approaches for advocacy partnerships. In addition, many nonprofits will say that they are reluctant to take valuable program monies and earmark them for measurement when monies are so limited to begin with.

When industry provides "unrestricted" grants to nonprofits, it isn't ethically appropriate—based on the parameters of the grant—for a company to encourage the nonprofit to measure the program. But political and economic realities are changing perceptions, and measurable results are on the minds of policy leaders, nonprofits, and industry. Even the Obama administration, through its Social Innovation Initiative, is focused on elevating and supporting results-oriented, innovative nonprofits.

Despite having the political will to forge measurable partnerships, companies have been criticized by policymakers and the media for focusing on ROI, and for currying favor with nonprofits to achieve brand agendas. For instance, there is the recent scrutiny of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) for taking 75 percent of its funding from industry.

Michael Fitzpatrick, executive director of NAMI told The New York Times that his organization would advocate for access issues even without pharmaceutical funding, and that he will not take such a high percentage of industry funding in the future. But for nonprofits and industry alike, NAMI's challenges are a bellweather of future ties and an indicator of the need for greater transparency and diversification in funding.

Lack of Strategic Focus

Despite accusers who paint industry as having goals that are too aligned with marketing, most philanthropy falls on the opposite—less strategic and more "emotional"—side of the spectrum. Even beyond the healthcare industry there is a general lack of strategy around giving.

Of course, most donors will say that they give because of a personal relationship to a cause. This emotional giving prevents philanthropy from solving some of the world's biggest problems, notes Steven H. Goldberg, author of "Billions of Drops in Millions of Buckets." According to Goldberg, "Fundraising today is like an unending series of downpours in which there are hundreds of billions of raindrops—donated dollars—falling into nearly 2 million nonprofit buckets ... The allocation of rain into buckets isn't exactly random, but it's not entirely logical, either."

Goldberg's thesis is confirmed if one looks at the Web sites of the top pharmaceutical companies, where you see $500, $1,000, and $5,000 donations given to nonprofits for "annual fundraiser," "holiday magic fundraiser," "stars of hope walk," etc. Shouldn't industry be using its funds in more strategic ways? And shouldn't nonprofits look to industry for more powerful, lasting contributions?

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