Working Together

Steve Jobs observed that great things in business are never done by one person, but only by a group of people. If great things are to happen for children’s cancer research, the same truth will apply.

As the steward of a family foundation, the question that arises from my circle of influence is how can we get more foundations not just talking about collaboration, but also actually working together?
One answer is Four Pennies.

Four Pennies is a model for how foundations can raise money together to fund important children’s cancer research. Competition for limited donors is an obstacle for collaboration among foundations. We all want to improve outcomes for kids and at the same time grow the capacity of our own organization. Four Pennies reconciles those competing tensions. Through a creative use of technology that is easily replicable, Four Pennies leverages our collective voice while protecting our private purposes.

Four Pennies is a brand with an important message that can be used by anyone advocating for children’s cancer research. The National Cancer Institute (NCI), the largest source of cancer research funding, invests only four pennies of every available research dollar on children’s cancer research. Why is such a tiny fraction of our public dollars spent on improving cancer outcomes for children?

Although it is certainly true more adults are diagnosed with cancer than children, there are 70 potential life years lost on average when a child dies of cancer compared to 15 potential life years lost for adults. In addition, the span of the years lost for a child is among the most creative and productive of the human journey. When a child dies, society has lost a future scientist, teacher or entrepreneur. The lack of public investment in children’s cancer research is a justice issue that not only impacts families who lose children, but also impacts the common good. How can we imagine that four pennies is enough?

Since 1980, only three drugs have been developed specifically for pediatric cancer. In the past thirty years, survival rates of children diagnosed with brain cancer have pretty much flat lined. We must do better.

Prostate cancer, with an average age at diagnosis of sixty-six, receives more research funding from the NCI than all childhood cancers combined. I don’t want to die from prostate cancer, but if I do, I will have spent over four decades in the workforce, raised a family, been a leader in my community and church and have had the privilege of seven or more decades of life.

The average age a child is diagnosed with cancer is eight. Should the child succumb to the disease, chances are they will not even have completed grade school. Should they be fortunate to survive the cancer, the debilitating life-long side effects of the treatment will compromise their cognition, growth and fertility. Joining the workforce, raising a family and being a leader in the community may forever be out of reach for the child who survives.

Sick children have almost no voice in the public dialogue. They have no influential associations or high paid lobbyists working on behalf of their interests. If great things are to happen, it will require many of us working together to give them a voice.

Four Pennies is a concrete strategy for both raising private dollars and for joining our voices to advocate for more public dollars. Individual and collective fundraising campaigns can include #hike4pennies, #run4pennies, #shave4pennies, #bowl4pennies. The possibilities are endless and the model advances our collective cause while honoring the identity and independence of our own foundations.

Doing great things to advance pediatric cancer research may be out of reach for any one foundation. What is definitely within reach for all of us is creating more ways to work together to increase the length of years and quality of life for children diagnosed with cancer.

Together great things can happen.

Al Gustafson
Swifty Foundation


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