A New Way to Look at Fundraising

I raised over $17,000 for lung cancer research with the Bonnie J. Addario Lung Cancer Foundation in November 2018, during Lung Cancer Awareness Month. It was an unexpected experience for several reasons. One is that people were ready to open their wallets to donate. However, there were two common concerns prevented them to donate: 1) “How much of my donation would go to the cancer research?” 2) “How did we monitor the outcome of the research?” I noticed that people were not comfortable asking these two questions directly. Maybe it appeared as if they didn’t trust the fundraising organizations.

How much of my donation goes to cancer research?

People expect low overhead, ie, all of their donation would go to research, ideally. “Accidentally”, the fundraising organizations’ answers are not always straightforward. Indeed, the less money we spend on overhead, the more will be available for research. However, this ‘wishful thinking’ is true if the total amount of donation, imagining as a “pie”, is fixed. Actually, if more people realize that about 1 out of every 2 Americans (I assume similar statistics for Canada) will suffer from some type of cancer in their lives, more people will get involved in fundraising to find the cure to cancer. So the total amount of funds raised, i.e., the “pie”, increases exponentially and consequently the size of “pie” is not going to remain constant.

To grow the “pie”, it requires individuals to come up with innovative fundraising strategies and finance management. So why the fundraising organizations cannot have high overhead, especially overhead relates to organization growth? If it’s still not convincing, let me borrow an example from Dan Pallotta’s Ted Talk1 for a breast cancer fundraising: ‘Pallotta’s company had an initial investment of $350K. Within five years, they multiplied $350K by 554 times into $194M after all expenses. Now, what makes more sense: give the scientists $350K, or give the fundraising department $350K to multiply it into $194M?’ So, the argument for the fundraising organizations to have a low overhead is ill imposed, and prevents the organization’s growth. Regardless, the goal is the final amount of funds raised even if the overhead is a bit high.

How did we monitor the outcome of research?

The second question of how to monitor research funding is rarely addressed, at least to donors like myself. As a professor, when I applied for research funding from the government and industrial grant agencies, the rules for the use of funds were quite stringent. I did not have donations, but from my colleagues in medical research, I learned that the rules for using public donation funds were quite loose, and diligence was not always there. So I would like to know, and I have the right to know, how the grant holders manage our raised funds. We don’t expect that the research outcome is always positive, but we expect that our money is being used responsibly.

A new way to see fundraising

I just see that patients, like myself, are desperate for new medications, researchers have an urgent need for funds, and people are ready to donate to the cause. It is therefore imperative for people to shift their views on fundraising and for grant users to be transparent.

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