Big Money, Small Money and
Really Small Money, But Not Blood Money


Leonard Zwelling

         On August 26, Stripes, a group of convenience stores
headquartered in Corpus Christi, launched a campaign to raise funds for the MD
Anderson Children’s Cancer Hospital during September, Childhood Cancer
Awareness month. This money came from small donations of coins and such at the
check out counters of these stores plus a large matching gift:’s-cancer-hospital

         On October 14, the check from this drive was presented at
the Pedi-Dome at MD Anderson to support the educational programs of the
Children’s Cancer Hospital (Pediatrics runs a certified school for kids with
cancer so they do not miss education time during their therapy) as well as
several research programs.

         Now $1.4M (total funds raised were $2.8M with match) may not
seem like a lot when compared with the $150M received from the Zayed family of
the UAE, but then again, it was a lot cleaner money. How “unclean” is the Zayed
money? This largest donation in MD Anderson’s history came from the ruling
family of a country that managed to jail an innocent, elderly pediatric
oncologist from South Africa named Cyril Karabus in August of 2012. The jailing
occurred as the doctor was returning from a family wedding in Canada to South
Africa via a stop in the UAE. He was jailed because he had been tried in
absentia and without his knowledge after the death of a leukemia patient who he
had cared for during his previous work in the UAE as a locums. The girl’s
family wanted its blood money. It took 9 months to get Dr. Karabus back home to
South Africa. Several past and present MD Anderson physicians participated in
the effort to free him.

         The Zayed Center had previously been cited for virulent


the “uncleanliness” of this money goes all the way to a donation to the Harvard
School of Divinity that eventually was returned.


         These are the people from whom MD Anderson took money. It
must be the amount that pushed the leadership to take this donation for a
building and high profile academic chairs given Anderson’s history of avoiding
small money.

(See new book on Karabus
case called “Blood Money”:

take-home message is not that some money is better than other money, although money
from a source associated with hate should never be taken by an honorable
academic institution regardless of the amount. This is especially true of a
state institution like MD Anderson. (Consider a building on a state
university’s campus named after the leader of a foreign nation with
anti-Semitic roots).

it comes to philanthropy for a good cause, and from a reputable source, all
money is valued. But, for the entire 30 years with which I have known the inner
workings of MD Anderson, the institution has eschewed small donations at
commercial venues while St. Jude and Texas Children’s Hospital were more than
happy to take the money and run. (That a Tennessee hospital should be able to
raise money in Houston is shameful).

         The MD Anderson Development Office’s somewhat cynical explanation
was always that allowing the wealthy to get away cheaply with small-scale
events and contributions would erode large giving from the high rollers. The
Stripes campaign and its huge success tends to squelch that idea. More
importantly, small giving by many at check out counters is a way to have
everyone in a community take pride in the mission of a place like MD Anderson.
It also begins to rid Anderson of the image of being for the privileged of
Houston plus the off-shore sheikhs and potentates able to navigate their 747s
up Holcombe to the front door of 1515 from places like the UAE.

         There is another lesson as well. Kids raise money. Marlo
Thomas has certainly shown this to be the case every year at the movies between
Thanksgiving and Christmas as she gets her famous friends to pitch St. Jude to
the popcorn munching masses assembled for the latest Hollywood holiday fare.

money was always out there for MD Anderson to raise. Now, it has. Let’s hope
the Development Office has learned finally that big money is good, small money
is too and really small money can be the best of all.

         And those folks who are still around the institution who
took the Zayed money, read the book Blood Money by Suzanne Belling about who
your donors really are. It’s in paper back and available on, so you
can afford it.

Leonard Zwelling