The keys to St. Jude's $2B fundraising effort? A digital shift + mission to space 

Memphis, Tenn.-based St. Jude Children's Research Hospital raised $2 billion in donations in the 2021 fiscal year, a record for an independent charity in a year when donors had an unending number of causes to put their money toward, Time Magazine reported Aug. 10. 

In a recent interview with TIME, Richard Shadyac, president and CEO of the American Lebanese Syrian Associated Charities — St. Jude's fundraising organization — shared how the organization was able to pull off the record year for donations: a switch in fundraising strategies, including a collaboration with the first orbital space mission crewed by civilians, Inspiration4, which is scheduled for October. 

Four insights from Mr. Shadyac, according to the report: 

1. St. Jude partnered with billionaire tech entrepreneur Jared Isaacman on Inspiration4; for the collaboration, Mr. Isaacman charted a rocket and spacecraft from SpaceX and raffled off one of the seats with the goal of raising at least $200 million for St. Jude. He gave one of the other four seats to Hayley Arceneaux, a physician assistant at the Memphis-based hospital and a pediatric cancer survivor. 

2. Mr. Isaacman's partnership brought in $100 million and an additional $16 million through initiatives such as a sweepstakes to win a chance at joining the Inspiration4 crew. The collaboration has helped both St. Jude's revenue and awareness strategies, Mr. Shadyac said. 

"For us, it’s both a revenue strategy, and an awareness strategy. It has allowed us to get in front of different audiences," he said. "We know that many of the people who participated in this drawing tended to be on the younger side. So it brought some of those people who may not have gravitated toward our mission." 

3. When the pandemic first hit in early 2020, St. Jude knew it had to pivot from in-person events to a larger focus on its digital fundraising capabilities, which it had been building up. Mr. Shadyac said his team had to come up with ways to reach supporters where they were, which was at home. 

"So we employed every method that we could possibly employ to reach them at home, to get our message across, to see if they wanted to support our mission," he said. "Those terrible kind of estimates that we were making for revenue [at the start of the pandemic] actually turned out to be false, and we did incredibly well." 

4. St. Jude also struck up other unconventional partnerships to support fundraising efforts. The organization teamed up with video game livestreaming service Twitch and exercise-tracking social network Strava.

"I actually am looking for different audiences that could support our mission," Mr. Shadyac said. "Up to 68% of our revenue comes from households with incomes of $75,000 or less. That would include young people and gamers. Our typical donation is in the neighborhood of about $43 to $45. We have 11 million donors. This wasn’t the first year that we had been working with influencers and gamers. Their audiences trust them."


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