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How St. Jude Connected with the Next Generation of Donors for a Record Fundraising Year

By Rob Acker April 13, 2021

By Rob Acker, CEO of and Rick Shadyac, CEO of ALSAC

Founded in 1957, the American Lebanese Syrian Associated Charities (ALSAC) was established as the fundraising and awareness organization for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Grounded in the belief that all children should have access to quality healthcare, ALSAC and St. Jude, since the beginning, have provided care for children regardless of race, religion, nationality, or socioeconomic standing. Families whose children are treated at St. Jude never receive a bill from St. Jude for treatment, travel, housing, or food.

As one of the most trusted health nonprofits in the world, ALSAC raises upwards of $1.7 billion a year, this year approaching $2 billion. Between St. Jude’s status as the global leaders in understanding, treating, and defeating childhood cancer, and its commitment to ensuring no family ever receives a bill, it’s not hard to see why effective fundraising is critical to St. Jude’s mission. So critical, in fact, that it’s responsible for raising about 80% of the hospital’s funds each year.

One of the visionaries behind the widely successful fundraising campaigns is ALSAC’s CEO, Rick Shadyac. When the COVID-19 pandemic reached the United States last spring, Rick and his team at ALSAC responded by continuing to lean into a digital focus to maximize the organization’s donor outreach strategy. Some examples are the use of Service Cloud to manage inbound calls, Commerce Cloud to sell virtual items that donors can “sponsor”, and Marketing Cloud for some external communications. ALSAC not only kept the organization afloat during a trying year, but achieved unprecedented growth.

Man running with arms raised

ALSAC responded to the pandemic by focusing on virtual events to maximize the organization’s donor outreach strategy.

I recently had the privilege of talking with Rick about his team’s continued digital transformation that led to a record year of fundraising. Here’s what he had to share.

Rob Acker: What is the biggest challenge you faced as an organization in 2020?

Rick Shadyac: The COVID-19 pandemic has been particularly catastrophic for the nonprofit sector, and ALSAC wasn’t immune to that reality. Early on in the pandemic, we had to recalibrate and make a complete strategic shift.

We took employees who would be running events and gave them other opportunities. We asked, what do you think about doing portfolio work with donors? Do you want to work on your digital skills? We provided education and experiences and focused more on livestreaming. How do you feel about learning about TikTok or Twitch or Strava?

We had to find innovative new ways to form those connections with donors to keep them engaged in the mission—all while our team was working remotely.

RA: The research shows that organizations with a strong digital infrastructure before the pandemic were not only better equipped to survive 2020, but thrive in the years ahead. Why do you think some nonprofits have been slower to buy into a digital transformation?

RS: It takes money to raise money. We have to be courageous and we have to say it. Historically many of our sibling charities have not invested sufficiently in technology and digital. There might be a period of time where you have to take a step back to take a step forward.

It’s a change of thinking for some nonprofit boards, but you can’t budget cut your way out of a pandemic. You have to take your savings and invest those expense dollars that would’ve gone elsewhere to advance your mission and come out of the pandemic on the other side as a stronger organization.

RA: How did this tech-focused approach impact your fundraising?

RS: The pandemic forced us to reinvent our fundraising strategy in order to meet people where they were now—in their homes. How do we get good at TikTok or Twitch or livestreaming? This world of new possibilities energized our workforce.

The result was a record year of fundraising. We raised $3 million over the course of a 10-hour livestream in our first virtual event, and another $2 million in our second one. In total, we raised more money in 2020 than we had in previous years by bringing patient families and stories to the forefront in a new way.

St. Jude campus

The St. Jude campus in Memphis, where families never receive a bill from St. Jude for treatment, travel, housing, or food.

RA: What are your top goals and priorities for 2021?

RS: We just started a strategic planning process. Our goal is to become an audience-led organization. We want to meet people where they are. We are keenly focused on the idea that in the next 8-10 years, there will be generational shifts. Our next 11 million donors will look completely different from our current 11 million donors.

How we reach the new ones will be totally different from how we reach our current ones—how do we adapt to reach them? We have some really cool ideas about meeting people where they are and providing opportunities for them to engage with our mission.

Pediatric cancer has not rested during this pandemic, and we have a lot of work to do. We’ll continue to invest in fundraising in order to sustain our mission for the long-term.

Register to attend Nonprofit Summit on April 21 where you’ll hear from ALSAC and many other nonprofits doing important, life-changing work.

About the Authors

Rob Acker

Rob leads, a social impact center at Salesforce. focuses on delivering world-class technology to nonprofits and higher education customers.

Rick Shadyac, CEO of ALSAC

Rick was named the President and Chief Executive Officer of ALSAC in September 2009. He serves as ALSAC’s sixth CEO since the organization’s founding in 1957. Shadyac has led ALSAC to record-breaking achievements, guiding strategic efforts that have more than doubled fundraising revenue since the start of his tenure, and have elevated St. Jude as an iconic brand. ALSAC also earned the recognition of the No. 1 Best Workplaces for Innovators from Fast Company magazine in 2020 as a result of Shadyac’s vision and leadership./p>