A successful new donor program raises awareness of the Seattle Children’s Research Institute’s work and provides a gateway for community support.

Hendricks 220x130Seattle Children’s has a long history of breakthrough research, ranging from developing new therapies for cystic fibrosis to identifying fetal alcohol syndrome and establishing preventive measures.

We started a new program two years ago to engage our community in the lifesaving work of the Seattle Children’s Research Institute – and provide an outlet for their philanthropic interests.

Research Champions provide vital support for initiatives to develop lifesaving cures and clinical advances for children in the Pacific Northwest and around the world. In 2011, our 611 Research Champions gave a total of $25 million to support this important work,” says Dr. Jim Hendricks, president of the institute.

Number of donors double

Research Champions offers special events featuring Children’s scientists, opportunities for informal conversations with researchers, and newsletters that profile our scientists and report their findings. “People are excited to go behind the scenes, talk to our researchers and see their work up close,” says Brenda Majercin, the Seattle Children’s Hospital Foundation development officer who created the program. “It’s a great way to keep people involved in the program and they feel recognized for their support.”

With its focus on science and the future of medicine, Research Champions is particularly attractive to our region’s large population of young, tech-savvy professionals. The giving threshold for membership was purposefully set at very attainable levels: An annual gift of $1,000 or more entitles individuals and family foundations to become Research Champions; organizations and corporations become members with an annual gift of $2,500 or more. Research Champs
This threshold makes it easy for people to join, and the hope is that their giving will grow as their careers progress and as they gain a greater affinity for research through their participation in the program.

Membership in Research Champions has nearly doubled from approximately 300 donors who would have qualified in 2009 (the year before the program officially began) to 611 members in the program’s second year. During 2011, members collectively contributed nearly $25 million to the institute. “We had high hopes when we started Research Champions, but we were unsure what to expect. But we definitely struck a chord,” Hendricks says. “People are clearly responding to the power of philanthropy to transform medical research and transform lives.”

Gifts provide vital support

Many Research Champion donors direct their gifts to a specific research area or project – sometimes as a memorial, but also because their child or a child they know would benefit from scientific advances in that area.

Undirected gifts go to the Research Discovery Fund that provides seed money for the early stage studies that provide the findings needed to obtain grants from outside funders, such as the government, nonprofit organizations and private foundations. Then undirected funds also help purchase equipment and respond to other needs that may arise.

Recently, a team from the Center for Childhood Infections and Prematurity Research used money from the Research Discovery Fund to help purchase an advanced piece of equipment that measures the growth, shape and function of cells. The equipment is critical to the team’s research into life-threatening infections acquired by infants while still in the womb.

Program builds a pipeline

Axelrod The hospital foundation, guild association and research institute are spreading the word about Research Champions via events, newsletters, social media and partnerships with groups that support research. “We try to make people aware of the research institute and the Research Champions program through a variety of channels,” says Stephanie Axelrod, vice president of Community Relations. “Asking current Research Champions to invite guests to events has been an especially good way to interest more people in joining.”

Axelrod expects support for Research Champions to snowball. “The program is still in its infancy,” she says, “but our goal is to build a pipeline of donors who will become loyal and increasingly generous supporters of research for the rest of their lives.”

“We had high hopes when we started Research Champions, but we were unsure what to expect. We definitely struck a chord. People are clearly responding to the power of philanthropy to transform medical research and transform lives.” ~ Dr. Jim Hendricks