Fundraising in France on the frontline against Covid-19

9th June by Rodolphe Gouin

Published on


Rodolphe Gouin is Development and Philanthropy Director of the Greater Paris University Hospitals (AP-HP) and CEO of AP-HP’s Foundation. AP-HP serves Paris and its surroundings and is the largest hospital system in Europe, as well as being one of the largest in the world. Here, in the first of a series of blogs chronicling the crisis, Rodolphe gives us the view from fundraising in France as Covid-19 hit. 

Paris image

When Mark Astarita suggested that I write a blog for AAW, my initial thought was that it wouldn’t be of much interest to British non-profit leaders or fundraising executives. Having worked over the past 10 years as a non-profit CEO and Development Director for French hospitals and universities, I have always thought of Britain as home to the fundraising premier league in Europe. So how could my experience in France possibly make sense to a British audience? Finally, I thought that since Mark is one of the most successful British fundraisers, then I should just trust him.

So what I propose to do is to share my experience in running a two month-long fundraising campaign throughout the coronavirus crisis in France, in a series of four blog posts. No tips, no advice, no guidance, merely a fundraiser’s testimony of the frontline overseas.

I am the Development and Philanthropy Director of the Greater Paris University Hospitals (AP-HP), and the CEO of AP-HP’s Research Foundation. AP-HP is the largest Academic Medical Centre in Europe, with 39 hospital sites. With a total capacity of 20,000 beds, nine million patients receive treatment each year from 25 emergency departments, 54 surgical units, etc. Its annual €7.5 bn publicly funded budget and 100,000 overall staff makes AP-HP a key player in healthcare at both a national level, totalling 10% of the public hospital sector in France and worldwide. AP-HP is an international leader in research and innovation.

As a healthcare institution, AP-HP is undoubtedly a giant. By contrast, as a fundraising organisation, it is still in its infancy. When I became the first CEO of the Research foundation in July 2016, only two hospitals among the 39 within AP-HP had a fundraiser… with no budget. In the French public healthcare sector globally, fundraising initiatives were few and far between and most of them had close ties with universities, since the French Higher Education institutions had embarked upon the fundraising adventure 10 years earlier.

By December 2019, AP-HP Foundation had recorded an influx of €20 million over three years (€18 million from fundraising; €2 million from the provision of services) and funding more than 200 research teams and projects, having built a staff of 42 people (including 34 research professionals working on those research projects). Given the success of the foundation, I was asked to develop the fundraising activities inside AP-HP and to build a culture of philanthropy within the organisation. Now, four fundraising offices manage local initiatives within the 39 hospitals.

These were good results and they are still unique among French public hospitals. Investing in fundraising, hiring seasoned professionals, allocating a specific budget to a campaign remains unusual in this sector. What may seem even more surprising is that hospitals have always received a handful of unsolicited donations and legacies each year. Therefore, it should have played as an incentive to build a strategy to increase the flow. In fact, it resulted in the opposite. Why? In my opinion, the first reason lies in the administration-centred state of mind of public hospital executives. As civil servants, virtually none of them have ever professionally experienced any other field where raising funds from people or companies is a necessity. The battlefield is limited to public administration. Government will continue to provide, as ever. Secondly, in hospitals, clinicians are those in contact with patients, the health industry, charities and foundations. Most of them are not inclined to share these profitable relationships, for fear of missing out on the grants and donations they already receive through other channels.  

So, this is what the context looked like before the Covid crisis hit us. On Sunday the 8th of March 2020, nine days before the lockdown began in France, AP-HP’s best clinicians and researchers involved in the fight against the spreading epidemic of Covid-19 met and designed a global AP-HP research strategy. Many teams would have to work together, whereas usually, competition is the normal way of life in an academic medical centre that counts around 9,000 scientific publications each year. This strategy needed two to three million euros immediately to get off the ground. Discovering new treatments could not rely on hypothetical extra public funding. Thus, on the 12th of March, AP-HP’s research Foundation created an Emergency Fund to accelerate research against Covid-19 and went public through a digital fundraising campaign. We also solicited our major donors and industrial partners, and within a few days, we had collected €1.5 million. The first clinical trials could proceed.

At the same time, the number of patients being treated in intensive care units was dangerously increasing and the statistical forecasts were alarming. Worrying messages about a lack of masks and ventilators and rumours about a potential “lockdown” were circulating. Within AP-HP, we knew that the crisis would last and that all our caregivers would be facing a deluge. What we were not expecting was that another was on its way, much more positive this time, on the fundraising frontline.

To be continued…