Here’s how two Chief Executive Officers, Snowdome Foundation’s Miriam Dexter and Nicky Long from Maddie Riewoldt’s Vision, successfully collaborated for research and fundraising. Lise Taylor reports.
Did you know the third most common cancer taking Australian lives is blood cancer? Leukaemia, lymphoma and myeloma are indiscriminate diseases that affect over 12,000 Australians every year. Snowdome Foundation raises funds for vital blood cancer medical research and clinical trials of new treatments for Australian patients.
“Formed in 2010 by three passionate individuals, the fundraising work of the Snowdome Foundation fills a gap, rather than overlapping or replicating activities performed by other charitable organisations supporting blood cancer patients,” explains Chief Executive Officer Miriam Dexter. “Our ultimate focus is to ‘unlock’ new treatments by channelling philanthropic investments into early phase human clinical trials of next-generation treatments.”
In 2015, the foundation strategically partnered with Maddie Riewoldt’s Vision, a newly formed charity aiming to find a cure for bone marrow failure syndrome, which is closely related to blood cancers.
“In collaboration with Snowdome Foundation, Maddie Riewoldt’s Vision aims to raise funds to research new treatments for bone marrow failure with an ultimate mission to find a cure for the syndromes that affect younger Australians each year,” explains Dexter. “Given the increasing financial pressures in the nonprofit sector, our collaboration sets new benchmarks in managing scarce resources along with leveraging synergies for life-threatening blood cancers and diseases.”
Nicky Long, Chief Executive Officer of Maddie Riewoldt’s Vision, concurs. “Our organisations are stronger together in so many ways. We share a passion for medical research into new treatments and are often collaborating with the same centres. Bone marrow is the factory for blood cells so our organisations are very linked. Indeed, 30% of people who have aplastic anaemia, a type of bone marrow failure, will develop blood cancers such as myelodysplasia or leukaemia.”
In August 2016, Snowdome Foundation and Maddie Riewoldt’s Vision’s collaboration was named the winner of the inaugural Charity category at the National Telstra Business Awards.
A passion to change outcomes
Snowdome Foundation’s three co-founders, blood cancer specialist and researcher Professor Miles Prince, creative and brand consultant Grant Rutherford, and Rob Tandy, who is Managing Director of Captain’s Choice, have all been touched by blood cancers in some way. Rutherford’s daughter, Chloe, who loved snowdomes, is the inspiration behind Snowdome’s name. Diagnosed with leukaemia in 2007, Chloe lost her life two years later at the age of nine. The founders came together with a passion to change outcomes for people living with blood cancers.
Maddie Riewoldt’s Vision was initiated by the Riewoldt family in June 2015 after their beloved daughter and sister, 26-year-old Maddie, lost her battle with a bone marrow failure syndrome. Maddie’s legacy was to ensure nobody else goes through what she went through. Maddie found it unacceptable that a young person, in the prime of his or her life, had to endure countless blood transfusions, bone marrow transplants and ongoing ill-tolerated treatments.
Rather than duplicate the efforts of existing nonprofits, the two organisations aim to identify gaps in funding between basic research (government funded) and large trials (pharmaceutical company funded).
The collaboration’s strategy is to support early phase clinical trials to accelerate next-generation treatments. They focus on fast-tracking clinical trials by providing multi-year infrastructure funding for fellowships, nurses, trial coordinators and so on to get these trials activated. No other organisation is solely focused on this research opportunity for Australian patients.
Three key fundraising targets
Snowdome’s initial fundraising strategy was to concentrate on three main targets:
Philanthropic Australians Snowdome Foundation works with philanthropic donors who want to make a significant, multi-year donation for blood cancer research. It provides these philanthropic investors with a personalised donation experience, delivering active dialogue and transparency on how its funding is utilised and the impact achieved.
Government matching funds In addition to working with the government to identify common blood cancer research funding priorities, Snowdome also works with the government to fund urgent research. This partnership approach creates value for both the government and its philanthropic donors.
Corporate events Dexter says the current environment for corporate fundraising is very tight. “In addition, the nonprofit category is cluttered with numerous types of similar fundraising opportunities. Rather than duplicating efforts, we created a unique and virtual fundraising event called the Snowdome Foundation Great Shake-up.
The event had three main goals: to raise funds, to raise awareness for blood cancers and to attract future donors,” she explains.
The Great Shake-up was a live and interactive one-hour education/entertainment event web-streamed into office boardrooms during a weekday lunch time, so people didn’t have to leave their offices to attend. It offered a thought- provoking and educational program about blood cancers, the research that is currently being undertaken and the need for advanced research projects to accelerate next-generation treatments for Australian blood cancer patients.
“The event received some important and generous pro bono support from AFL Media, Cisco, Village Roadshow, Viocorp and b2cloud. It commenced in 2013 and ran annually until 2015. Collectively, our first three virtual events raised over $2.5 million with an 8% expenses to revenue ratio,” says Dexter.
To date, Snowdome Foundation has raised more than $17 million for medical research projects, enabled 14 different clinical trials of new treatments and given hope to 245 blood cancer patients across the country.
What about Maddie Riewoldt’s Vision?
In a complementary manner to Snowdome Foundation’s strategy, Maddie Riewoldt’s Vision has different approaches to its fundraising. With the support of Snowdome Foundation’s infrastructure, the nonprofit launched in rapid time and it has raised over $1 million since its inception in mid 2015. These fundraising results are from:
• high-profile, public sporting events such as AFL games (Maddie’s Match between St Kilda and Richmond, and Nick Riewoldt’s 300th game), which include a percentage of match ticket sales, merchandise sales, auctions and private donations
• brand and corporate partnerships/sponsorships with iconic names like Converse
• school-based programs, including Maddie’s Marrowthon, and gold coin sports days
• strong social media presence
• support from a wide variety of engaged supporters who focus on grassroots community sporting clubs and peer groups.
How fundraising strategies have evolved
While Snowdome Foundation’s fundraising strategy has remained consistent, its tactics have been adapted to the changing environment. Through Maddie Riewoldt’s Vision, Snowdome has significantly raised its profile and successfully expanded its
Snowdome and Maddie Riewoldt’s Vision have streamlined donation processing and increased operational efficiency. They now have several online donation facilities that provide greater ease of donating, workplace giving and peer-to-peer fundraising.
Snowdome Foundation has increased its focus on retention of major donors through personalised updates on its specific research achievements. It also holds engagement events to interact with researchers and other major donors and stakeholders.
Since its inception, Snowdome Foundation has strived to keep costs low and currently operates well under a 20% expenses to revenue ratio. By engaging generous pro bono partners and expert volunteers on an ongoing basis, it has ensured as many funds as possible go towards fast tracking patient treatments.
“We are so appreciative of our generous pro bono partners, including Arnold Bloch Leibler, King & Wood Mallesons, Watermark Intellectual Property, Hall & Wilcox, Grant Thornton, Deasil Management Group, The Pratt Foundation, Gandel Philanthropy and many other wonderful organisations that provide legal, auditing, rental, CEO salary and other services pro bono,” says Dexter.
When Snowdome’s requirements can no longer be met by pro bono partners/volunteers, the nonprofit takes significant organisational resources to identify and engage suitable partners/volunteers to take up these ‘gaps’. Dexter explains, “We strive to engage and retain these valuable resources. For example, as Snowdome Foundation grew, the legal requirement became too large for one pro bono partner. By segmenting our legal requirements into identifiable areas, we were able to engage several law firms to assist in a meaningful but manageable way.”
Dexter says nonprofits are invariably well meaning organisations but generally fail because they don’t have a clear vision and strategy: “Snowdome Foundation was launched with a strong vision, governance and strategic planning. To contain costs, especially in our foundation years, we purposefully chose not to be public facing. This strategic guidance has proved incredibly valuable. As a nonprofit, it is easy to get enticed by a short-term gain that may be
Maddie Riewoldt’s Vision is equally grateful for early pro bono supporters such as the One Small Step Collective, which has produced and continues to support the branding and marketing collateral. Long explains, “Our sustainability is dependent on the expertise and extraordinary professional people power of those who joined us from inception. We simply can’t support the research plans if our vital dollars are expended on paying many employees. Our pro bono partners are our bloodline to meeting our vision.”
Image: Professor Mark Dawson (left), Head of Haematology Cancer Therapeutics Program, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre. Image courtesy of Peter Mac.