Have You Been Asked To Donate? Me, Neither. Why Not?

Have You Been Asked To Donate?

Me Neither. Why Not?


Leonard Zwelling

I don’t know about you, but I am inundated by requests from charities and other non-profits for donations from text messages to emails to snail mail appeals. And I give to many from the Jewish Federation to Planned Parenthood to Doctors Without Borders to the Houston Holocaust Museum, etc. There is no shortage of good causes to which you can contribute money. Of all the various worthy causes to which we donate, none is more important to us than the two institutions of higher learning from which we graduated Duke University and its medical school and Washington University in St. Louis. In these cases we have worked with the development offices at Duke Medical School and Washington University to establish scholarships for students and to create physical spaces for study for all students.

We have friends who believe that America’s institutions of higher education are over-endowed and instead choose to give money to politicians with whom they agree. They believe that institutions of higher learning have more than enough money. I have shied away from political donations ever since I worked on Capitol Hill and saw what is done with these dollars. I will only make a political contribution to someone I know and who has looked me in the eye and asked for the money. Institutions of higher learning may be profligate in some instances, but by working with their development offices, you can target your giving to the causes with which you most agree.

A third kind of institution seeking funds is one that cares for sick people. Surely, the most notable of these is St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis which raises millions every year, much of it from people with no connection to St. Jude at all. Marlo Thomas, daughter of St. Jude founder Danny Thomas, has been a most effective spokesperson for the hospital and is everywhere on television and in movie theaters especially between Thanksgiving and Christmas. So, why hasn’t MD Anderson, a place where I worked for 29 years and where the BW still works, contacted me for a donation? I have no idea.

To be fair, many years ago Dr. LeMaistre’s very effective fund-raiser and head of the Development Office, Pat Mulvey, did approach me about establishing gift giving. I was a pretty junior faculty member then trying to raise a family. But that was the last time anyone from Anderson ever asked. I think I know why and it has nothing to do with this blog. I simply am not a big enough fish.

During my time at Anderson, especially when I was a vice president, I was invited to many events sponsored by or for the Board of Visitors, the putative advisory group established by Dr. LeMaistre that I always considered the MD Anderson boosters. We were always in fear of offending the Board of Visitors and fawned over them. Why? They were the really big donors. You know—the Mays Clinic, the Love Clinic, the Pickens Tower, you get my drift. I was always going to be small potatoes and MD Anderson has historically sought the “big donation.”

My only knowledge of an exception to this was in pediatrics where the Children’s Art Project was a self-sustaining business that raised money for pediatrics for years. In addition, when the BW was Division Head she initiated her own advisory board of the Children’s Cancer Hospital, which she too invented, and began to seek smaller donations including change at check-out counters.

I have always been impressed with St. Jude’s ability to raise millions in small money and MD Anderson’s historical resistance to small money asks. But surely, one source of giving for MD Anderson ought to be its retirees. After all, MD Anderson is very good to its retirees and it would not be unreasonable to seek some support from them. Does the Development Office do that?

If anyone has been approached by the Development Office, please let me know for it seems a strategy worthy of pursuit. I am sure they will ignore me as a donor if they read the blog, but they would be wrong. If there was a way that I could be guaranteed a gift would support the faculty or trainees, I would make that gift. In fact, I do—to the Graduate School where I can channel money to students and trainees.

Does MD Anderson ask its graduates for support as Duke Medical School and Washington University do? If not, why not?

2 thoughts on “Have You Been Asked To Donate? Me, Neither. Why Not?”

  1. I get mailings from MDACC, but no in-person requests.
    Maybe it is because they know I remember the shakedown by T. Boone Pickens with his “$500 million donation” where he actually donated $50 million and made MDACC raise the other $450 million. Most of that was raised out of clinical dollars that then did not go to bonuses, improve services, improve equipment, improve IT, etc., etc.
    The faculty members I knew were livid. And we were promised that it would be a faculty committee that would do the grant reviewing for those funds. That never happened. I doubt it happened after I left.
    So consider my donation in that $450 million.
    At least we did not get that RJ Reynolds Professor of Medicine from Duke as our President.

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