News and analysis
March 26, 2015

Dana-Farber Holds Competition to Spur Fundraising Ideas

Dana-Farber Cancer Institute

In the 2013 competition, a group of high school cheerleaders won a "cheer clinic" led by New England Patriots cheerleaders.

Taking a cue from the ubiquitous television reality shows, the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute is holding a competition for new fundraising ideas with the potential to yield at least $100,000 annually.

"We need to look at raising money from new constituents in addition to repeat business," says Sue Paresky, Dana-Farber’s senior vice president of development. "We also wanted to highlight nationally known local business and community leaders who have supported Dana-Farber as board members or donors. And we wanted publicity for the Jimmy Fund."

This year’s event will be the second "Jimmy Fund Big Ideas Contest," which is named after the institute’s fundraising arm. The event was first held in 2013; Ms. Paresky says holding it every two years instead of annually allows enough time to test winning ideas and make sure they work.

After officials assess dozens of submissions, which are due next month, five finalists will be invited to present their ideas in June to a panel of 13 local business leaders. Each finalist has 15 minutes to present a fundraising idea and five minutes to answer questions from the judges.

The finalists are assessed on five broad criteria: Each fundraising idea should be workable, creative, able to produce increasing returns over time, profitable, and something that can be repeated year after year. This year’s winner will be allowed to select a grand prize from among several offered, such as a $500 Stop & Shop gift card or throwing the first pitch at a Boston Red Sox game, along with eight corporate box tickets.

In the first Jimmy Fund contest, five finalists competed for the grand prize of a seven-night Caribbean trip. Sung Park, an Asian entrepreneur, won with his "Coins to Cure Cancer" idea: Give airport passengers who temporarily empty their pockets of change at security checkpoints the chance to donate those coins to Dana-Farber.

The idea had to be scrapped because airport officials balked at the idea of choosing a single charity to receive coins. Such problems are one reason why Dana-Farber selects multiple finalists, says Ms. Paresky. If an idea doesn’t work out, Dana-Farber has other options. In 2013 it pursued "Cheer for Dana-Farber," a program in which high-school cheerleading squads compete to see which one can raise the most money for Dana-Farber.

The idea was seen as having growth potential and staying power. Although cheerleaders have turnover at school, their coaches can continue the program.

For each $1,000 a squad raises from August through November, it receives a ticket entered into a raffle. The squad with the winning raffle ticket gets to attend a "cheer clinic" led by New England Patriots cheerleaders, followed by a pregame performance at a Patriots home game in Gillette Stadium.

While the cheering competition has not yet yielded $100,000 in a single year after being held twice, Dana-Farber fundraisers say it has strong potential. In 2013, the effort raised nearly $70,000, which grew to more than $80,000 last year. Costs of holding the event mostly involved staff time to reach out to high schools and create a logo, flyers, a website, and other materials in the first year. Those costs were greatly reduced last year as fundraisers recycled what they’d created in 2013.

In addition to raising money, the cheerleading competition has given fundraisers new ideas: "We could maybe move into higher-education cheerleading," Ms. Paresky says. "And we are looking at soccer teams to see if they would also be good constituents. We have been in touch with a professional soccer team interested in partnering with us."

Send an e-mail to Holly Hall.