Imagine a World Without Cancer

Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center at Vanderbilt University Medical Center

Challenge: Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center had been named a prestigious “NCI-Designated Comprehensive Cancer Center” by the National Cancer Institute. With fundamental research and clinical care programs in place, the cancer center was positioned to build on its strengths. To inspire a major campaign, the Center’s Board chairman challenged the VICC’s leadership with a unique opportunity: “If money were no object, how would you envision and create a world without cancer?” In response, the VICC set out to plan and conduct a $150 million capital campaign to fund promising new basic and translational research programs and expand the facility to house them.

Approach: As Executive Director of Development, Susan Holt led a small team of cancer-center development officers in planning a strategic, two-phase campaign. The campaign harnessed ongoing communication to donors and prospects about the research discoveries made possible by campaign accomplishments, while continuing to leverage new gifts.  By engaging a local, regional and national network of campaign volunteers and telling compelling, personal stories of urgent need, the team cultivated and secured a new pipeline of major donors.

The “Imagine a World Without Cancer” Campaign was founded on the VICC’s strategic plan. Phase I addressed infrastructure to support research program growth, clinical trials, community outreach programs and seed funds for pilot projects. To generate the funds to seed those projects, we created donor-centric Discovery Grants. These popular, innovative grants linked a donor's interest with cutting-edge research projects and introduced donors to scientists, providing a platform for discussing research outcomes and the return on philanthropic investments.

Phase II supported the creative expansion of an existing building to provide new office and dry lab research space for additional faculty and new outpatient services. The center was actively growing its programs in epidemiology, proteomics, as well as new clinical programs including pain and symptom management, and needed the funds and space to support the growth. Throughout both phases, personal stories told by patients, survivors and family members about their experiences and philanthropic investments aimed to differentiate this great cancer center from the many other fine programs around the world.

Outcome: After naming the cancer center and launching the campaign with a $56 million lead gift, this award-winning campaign concluded just four years later with more than $180 million in outright and planned gifts and pledges. As a result, pioneering new fields of research advanced, new clinical and patient support programs were created, laboratories and new chairs were endowed, and the Frances Williams Preston Building was built to house new faculty offices and research programs.  The center continues its quest for discovery and healing.