Cancer Fundraisers See Donations Decline
When the economy is tight, it can be a challenge to find funds for research and care
Any professional fundraiser will tell you that securing donations during an economic downturn is a major challenge—and cancer fundraisers are no exception. For the first time in more than a decade, the American Cancer Society (ACS) experienced flat revenues for its fiscal year that ended August 31, 2008.
“The public has supported us as much as they could,but it's still a challenge,”says Terry Music,chief mission delivery officer at the ACS in Atlanta, Georgia. “The good news is that the past 4 years have been good for us,so we're not unhappy with where we are. But I think we're in for another year to year-and-a-half of belt tightening.”
Fundraisers at major cancer centers around the country are concerned about a worsening economy. “We're putting our budget together for next year, and we're projecting growth,but if this continues and we truly go into a recession, that could change,” said Kathleen Kane, executive vice president of development and external affairs at City of Hope Cancer Center in Duarte, California.
Although Kane noted that City of Hope hasn't yet felt a major impact from the faltering economy, she makes it a point to remind donors that their help is needed in difficult times more than ever. “There's one thing you can't retrieve, and that's time,” she says. “People struggling with a cancer diagnosis want those discoveries and cures today—not tomorrow.”
At Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Florida, revenues for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2008, would have increased by about 1% over the previous year,were it not for a significant “impact gift” that raised that amount considerably, notes Larry Feder, vice president of the center's foundation.
Still, that growth rate has him concerned.“We like to have about a 10% to 20% revenue growth,” says Feder, adding that he's “cautiously optimistic” about fundraising coming into the new year.“Some donors have advised us they really need to wait,but we feel confident—it's just a question of them needing to watch what their investments do,” he says.
All 3 agree that during these uncertain times they'll continue to focus on communicating the importance of their organizations' missions as well as on the fundraising efforts that work best.
Successful Strategies in Tough Times
In ACS's case, that includes its signature activity,“The Relay for Life,”which continues to do well despite the economy,according to Music. The event—held in communities throughout the United States and in 19 other countries—raises about $400 million annually. .
“We won't do anything dramatically different—the major difference will be in our public relations,” Music says.“We need to tell our stories in a more compelling way and help people understand the scope of what we do for caregivers and patients.”
The money ACS raises for beginning researchers is increasingly crucial now, Music adds.“It's becoming harder and harder for new researchers to hang on long enough to qualify for government grants,” she says “What we really want is for the research community to be flush with funds, so we can actually find a cure.”
Meanwhile, Moffitt Cancer Center is focusing on enhancing patient satisfaction—from the leadership on down to the valet parking—because that ultimately impacts fundraising, notes Feder.“The institution is looking to us to create a stronger culture of philanthropy,” he says.“We are looking at how we can provide better service and satisfy our donors and how to continue educating people that Moffitt Cancer Center is an internationally known institution.”
In addition, Feder and his colleagues are focusing more on who to invite to 1 of Moffitt's major fundraisers, the Magnolia Ball. The event now includes a major gift component, which seems to be paying off.The dinner and silent auction raised $3.2 million in 2008 versus $2.6 million the previous year.
Although City of Hope, like ACS, reports a decline in direct mail donations, Kane says the center is on track with its fundraising goals. “We're fortunate because of the breadth of our donor base,”says Kane.
Bequests remain an important part of their contributions, and the center receives support from many industry groups across the country such as home furnishings and home improvement associations and the music and entertainment industry.
City of Hope, in fact, will be the beneficiary of advertising revenue and donations generated by The Pink Channel on XM Satellite Radio. The channel is the first ever to be solely dedicated to the fight against all cancers that affect women.
“We'll continue to diversify avenues to get our name out there,”Kane said.“I do remain extremely hopeful about this country and the philanthropic gene that seems imbedded in people.”