Nonprofit Insights with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital

Sep 08, 2021


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Welcome to part two of a three-part Q & A series featuring different organizations discussing how nonprofits are responding to crises, specifically COVID-19 recovery and addressing inequality, and how you can act now and in the future.


In part two, we speak with Richard C. Shadyac Jr., President and CEO of ALSAC, the fundraising and awareness organization for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. St. Jude is leading the way the world understands, treats, and defeats childhood cancer and other life-threatening diseases.


Q: Tell us about your organization. What is your organization's mission? 


A: The mission of St. Jude is simply put: Finding cures. Saving children.® Our founder, Danny Thomas, established St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital because he wanted children with cancer and other life-threatening diseases to receive treatment no matter their backgrounds. He wanted to drive much-needed investments in the critical research needed to discover cures.


The generosity of compassionate people from all walks of life ensures we keep a foundational promise made from the start. Families never receive a bill from St. Jude for treatment, travel, housing, or food because we fundamentally believe all a family should worry about is helping their child live.


In keeping with Danny’s mission, St. Jude shares the breakthroughs it makes, so doctors and scientists in communities across the country and worldwide can use that knowledge to advance treatments, thus saving thousands upon thousands more children.


Q: How does your organization define charitable impact?


A: There is no greater impact than this – when you help St. Jude save the life of a child, it makes a lifetime possible. Treatments invented at St. Jude have helped push the overall childhood cancer survival rate in the U.S. from 20%, when we opened in 1962, to more than 80% today.


Yet, cancer remains the leading cause of death by disease in U.S. kids – one in five children diagnosed with cancer in the U.S. still will not survive. Even more, only about 4% of the money the federal government spends on cancer research is spent on pediatric cancer specifically. Our fundraising and the work it supports are critical to advancing progress. And globally, especially in lower to middle-income countries, survival rates are much grimmer — often still around 20 percent. That is simply unacceptable to all of us at St. Jude, and why we continue to unite compassionate people from every corner of the country to bring cures to all children, no matter where they live.


The scientific advances supporters are helping fund also fuels St. Jude’s research into other areas of great need, like sickle cell disease, neurological diseases, and infectious diseases like influenza and malaria. 


Q: What barriers has your organization faced in fulfilling your mission during the COVID-19 pandemic?


A: It required unprecedented adjustments across St. Jude, from our healthcare professionals in the clinic to our scientists in the laboratories to our frontline fundraisers staying connected with supporters. Most importantly, we had to quickly take steps to ensure the health and safety of our patients, families, and employees, and do everything possible to keep our patients safe while working in hospitals actively treating kids with cancer.


St. Jude created a clinical testing program for patients, families, and staff. At its peak, 175 full-time employees were involved in monitoring, preparedness, screening, and surveillance. Many of our scientists with expertise in vaccine research and clinical trials also took on extra work by joining the international effort. 


We had to accelerate our innovations in the digital space on the fundraising side to ensure we continued to connect with our supporters. We canceled many of our most important in-person fundraising events — and we conduct or are beneficiaries of 31,000 of them a year — and moved many others to virtual or hybrid events. It was a priority for us and our mission to remind people that pediatric cancer doesn’t stop and that kids with some of the most difficult childhood diseases were relying on St. Jude to provide continued hope and healing. 



Q: Now, that we are more than a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, how has your organization evolved?


A: St. Jude leaders envisioned this new six-year strategic plan to grow and drive our impact even amid the pandemic. The plan expands and accelerates research into the most deadly forms of childhood cancers — the ones still to be solved despite decades of progress. While aggressively expanding work in other key areas, including blood disorders, pediatric neurological diseases, and infectious diseases. It triples our global investment to impact more of the 400,000 kids with cancer around the world each year. These are kids who rely on the emerging collaboration and investments of St. Jude and a coalition of international partners as their only lifeline. 


Through this strategic plan, our supporters ensure that we can increase the number of patients on St. Jude-led protocols by 30%. By adding dedicated doctors, scientists, nurses, and support staff, St. Jude can continue to lead the way the world understands, treats, and defeats these awful diseases.


Q: Have you noticed a change in donor behavior?


A: With more worthwhile causes seeking support and more ways to give than ever before, donors appreciate opportunities to engage with our mission in whatever ways are most meaningful to them. We see much more digital engagement. For some of our younger supporters, that may mean joining a favorite gamer or streaming celebrity through St. Jude PLAY LIVE. For some longtime donors, it may mean becoming a part of our legacy and giving communities like our Danny Thomas – St. Jude Society for those including St. Jude in their estate plans. Our new Give To Live Society allows supporters to join other donors to pool their charitable giving. 


Particularly given the attention to social justice in recent years, we increasingly see supporters drawn to St. Jude because of our long history of advocating and championing equity and inclusion. When we opened in 1962, St. Jude was the first fully integrated children’s hospital in the South. From the beginning, St. Jude treated patients regardless of race, religion, or family’s ability to pay. It was core to our founder’s vision and remains core to our work today.


Q: How have donor-advised funds (DAFs) addressed your organization’s needs?  To what extent have your donors incorporated DAFs into their giving? 


A: Our optimism and faith in people’s generosity played out yet again, with donor-advised funds increasing support for our lifesaving mission. By putting their charitable dollars to work, investing in advanced care, and cutting-edge research at St. Jude, DAF holders are helping bring more cures to more kids in more places. 

We’ve been especially encouraged by those creating recurring grants through their DAFs. We recently learned about a couple directing grants twice yearly, including St. Jude, because the wife has a niece St. Jude helped save. She was overjoyed to learn St. Jude had just broken ground on a new housing facility to accommodate the increasing number of patients.

We have been very intentional in efforts to make it easier for DAF holders to direct grants. One example involved a triathlete raising money through his network by including the DAF option on his fundraising page. Moving forward, we are working to enable and align additional DAF features along with more giving paths, so all DAF account holders can more easily put their generous funds into action to help charitable institutions like St. Jude.


Q: How have you seen philanthropy change in the past year? How do you see philanthropy changing in the next five years?


A: The past year has accelerated many trends already in motion. Nothing will have a more profound impact on society than the desire I see from people for a greater sense of purpose. More donors find great meaning in making smart charitable investments and engaging directly with charities to see the impact. We’ve been blown away by the responses of people taking the new virtual tour of St. Jude, and of course, we look forward to the day when we can again bring visitors to campus.  


We’ve been fortunate at St. Jude to meet so many people who know a proven path to fulfillment by finding a sense of purpose. I think of our friend Nancy from a small town in Missouri who dedicated her 80th birthday to raise $2,000 for St. Jude. I loved the way she put it: “80 years of livin’, 50 years of givin’.”


Q: What do you think will be a temporary change? What do you think is permanent?


A: Even as supporters seek a deeper connection with causes they support, we see more donations to charities coming through third parties, including on social media, at the cash register, and through DAF sponsors like Vanguard Charitable. So, we are grateful for the donations, but we must find ways to reach out to these donors to engage them more closely in the mission. We are hopeful in the coming years, these donations will continue, and charities can find appropriate ways to establish longer-lasting relationships. For St. Jude, it means showing impact, delivering purpose, and providing meaningful experiences, so we earn the donors’ loyalty and show them the impact made by increasing their generosity.


Q: Is there anything else you would like to tell us about?


A: I tell this to people all the time: If not St. Jude, then who? Who will tackle the multi-trillion-dollar problem of childhood cancer? Who will fund the decades-long research that builds upon other research to make lasting advances in finding cures — other than our amazing, generous donors? That’s why partnerships with Vanguard Charitable and DAF donors can provide the resources that allow us to treat these kids without regard to economic circumstances and try to change healthcare outcomes for kids everywhere. For that opportunity, we are truly grateful.

Ready to support a charity that you believe in? 
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We look for opportunities to present perspectives from nonprofit partners to give our donors valuable insight at they pursue strategic philanthropy. As a cause-neutral organization, we do not endorse any specific charities.

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