Why did you choose philanthropy as a career?
I had no plans to be in this profession. But many years ago, a mentor asked me to help with fundraising at the University of Pennsylvania. She was very patient and taught me how to raise money for good causes.
Is it hard asking people to donate?
At first, I thought: “There is no way I can ask people for money.” But it feels great to offer opportunities to people who really want to make an impact. In some ways it’s like being a matchmaker: I put together the right donor with the right project, like research or a clinical trial. When that happens, I know it feels meaningful for donors, which makes me feel good.
Why is philanthropy so important to MSK?
The financial support is crucial for our research, patient care, and education efforts, of course. But it goes beyond that. Our scientists and doctors develop a real partnership with donors and their families. Regardless of the size of the gift, our donors are members of the MSK community, which is important. The relationship motivates both sides to work harder to see results, whether it’s research or fellowships or programs like health equity. That’s powerful.
These are unsettled times, financially. What do you tell people about supporting MSK?
It goes back to the relationships we have with our donors. We recognize that personally and financially, it’s been a difficult year. If a person is able to donate, we really appreciate it. If they can’t, we understand that too. We know cancer isn’t going to take a break, so we can’t relax in supporting innovations that save lives. We’ll keep having these conversations.
Are there ways to support MSK besides donating money?
We have three programs that raise money for cancer research at MSK: Cycle for Survival, Fred’s Team, and Kids Walk for MSK Kids. While they have been impacted by the pandemic, we have exciting virtual events that people can be part of. And there’s a group in our department devoted to helping people find ways to get involved and make a difference. You can go to giving.mskcc.org to learn more.
Do you have a pet project that makes you think “this is why I do this job”?
In May, we give awards to extraordinary nurses at MSK. I was talking about it with Cliff Robbins, who is a member of the MSK Board of Governing Trustees and Trustees and Chair of its Finance Committee. He told me how much it meant to him that MSK nurses took such wonderful care of his father. Within five minutes of talking, he decided to make a generous gift to our nurses.
What have you learned about generosity outside MSK?
I spent ten years raising money for the American University in Cairo, which taught me that pretty much everyone has the same core values and wants to make a difference.
What’s something that surprises people about you?
On 9/11, I was on a plane inbound to JFK from overseas, and it was one of those diverted to Gander, Canada. I spent ten days sleeping on a gym floor. The hospitality and generosity of the local people was amazing, and I’ll always remember it.