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February 24, 2012

How St. Jude built a 'fundraising machine'

Daily Briefing

    The Chronicle of Philanthropy this month examined St. Jude Children's Research Hospital's "cradle-to-grave fundraising" strategy, which helps the organization raise more money than any other U.S. hospital.

    When St Jude's chief fundraiser David McKee joined the hospital's fundraising staff in 1977, the renowned research organization—which provides no-cost cancer treatment to children—raised $13 million per year. Thanks to investments in fundraising and innovative strategies, annual fundraising increased by 350% in the past 20 years alone. Last year, St. Jude raised more than $698 million.

    Fundraising strategy targets all ages and socioeconomic levels
    Before the 50-year-old hospital even opened, St. Jude founder Danny Thomas, who was honored this year with his own Forever stamp, created a separate fundraising arm so medical staff could focus on treatment and research. He encouraged a fundraising philosophy that prefers one million $1 contributions to one $1 million contribution.

    Since then, the hospital has expanded and diversified its fundraising approach while maintaining Thomas' basic fundraising philosophy. According to McKee, the strategy calls for "cradle-to-grave fundraising" that encourages people of all socioeconomic levels to donate to the hospital at every stage of their lives. For example, the hospital holds fundraising events that target all ages, such as tricycle races for toddlers, golf tournaments, all-night dance parties, and Greek events on college campuses.

      The Advisory Board's Cynthia Schaal offers strategies for fundraising amid economic uncertainty. Watch now.

    The strategy also has emphasized long-term planning. "If we had just been thinking one year at a time, we never would have achieved what we did," says Marilyn Elledge, one of St. Jude's top fundraisers who retired in 2010 after 30 years.

    Altogether, the fundraising staff has developed successful direct mail, telethon, and radiothon strategies, as well as attracted lucrative business marketing deals, big gifts and bequests, and corporate grants. For example, direct-mail returns tripled from 2001 to 2010 to reach $300 million thanks to various strategic changes, such as mailings that provide more in-depth information on the hospital's work to people who already have donated at least $250.

    In addition, the hospital strives to create a positive work environment that attracts and retains top fundraising talent. The hospital's fundraising arm now comprises more than 1,000 staffers, rivaling the medical staff, which is made up of 1,483 researchers, physicians, and nurses.

    Lessons for hospital fundraisers
    Based on St. Jude's success, McKee outlines several strategies for effective hospital fundraising campaigns:

    • Select the right people to solicit donations;
    • Adapt fundraising events to the times;
    • Determine which fundraising efforts should be operated by a central fundraising office and which should be operated by regional offices;
    • Improve communication among fundraisers; and
    • Seek out new opportunities for fundraising (Hall [1], Chronicle of Philanthropy, 2/19; Hall [2], Chronicle of Philanthropy, 2/19; Hall [3], Chronicle of Philanthropy, 2/19).
    More from today's Daily Briefing
    1. Current ArticleHow St. Jude built a 'fundraising machine'

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