“He looked terrible,“ Dismuke recalls. His walk on the St. Jude campus took the weary dad to the Danny Thomas Pavilion,2 a building dedicated to the hospital founder that includes the history of donors to the institution.
“All these people have been doing this, giving money for all these years, not knowing that they’re going to benefit my son,“ he says. “It’s an overwhelming feeling of immense gratitude, and I think everybody walking through the hospital feels it.“
Dismuke still feels it, no matter where he happens to be. Today, Ingram is healthy and thriving.4 And his dad credits St. Jude donors for it all: the years of research that made Ingram’s treatment possible, the world-class care his son received, and that Dismuke and his wife were able to focus on caring for their family during the trauma of childhood cancer knowing they would never receive a bill from St. Jude.
“I don’t know of an earthly institution that I believe in more,“ he says. “It doesn’t just save the child’s life, but also, in many ways, saves the family’s life.“
It has happened almost entirely through donors. Giving can perform miracles—and those miracles also enrich the lives of those who give and the financial advisors who help facilitate planned giving. Mary Lago, executive vice president for Ferguson Wellman Capital Management, says giving often has a dramatic effect on clients.
“It’s very rewarding to be able to work with clients when they say, ’Gosh, all of a sudden now I know why I made all this money. It’s always been nice. But now it has meaning for me,’“ she says.
Through planned giving, many high-net-income families find their life’s great purpose. Often, it’s their financial advisor who helps them discover it.
Since Ingram’s time at St. Jude, the patient population has grown. Now St. Jude sees more than 8,500 patients each year. The generosity of donors has helped lead to thousands of success stories like Ingram’s. Before St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital5 opened in 1962, the overall childhood cancer survival rate was only 20%. Today, treatments invented at St. Jude have helped increase that to more than 80%. Specific advancements have been even more dramatic: The survival rate for the most common form of childhood cancer, acute lymphoblastic leukemia, has increased from 4% in 1962 to more than 94% at St. Jude today.
Underpinning the hospital’s work is a unique business model. The hospital’s level of care and ongoing research requires serious investment: The annual cost of operations in 2018 exceeded $1 billion—including more than $410 million for research and more than $457 million for patient care. Nearly 80% of the funds necessary each year to sustain and grow St. Jude6 must be covered by public contributions.
“It’s about the children, and it’s about the mission,“ says Steve McNaughton, regional vice president of JW Korth & Co., who has worked with ALSAC,8 the fundraising and awareness organization for St. Jude, to help facilitate a client’s legacy gift. “If you take children and mission—let’s just say those are two sides of an equal-sided triangle. You need a base. That donor base becomes that third side of the triangle.“
The average donation to St. Jude is $43.25, but the portion of support from planned giving has grown from 20% to 25% of revenue, as costs of research and treatment have increased. Maintaining a diverse portfolio of both small and major gifts is crucial to achieving the organization’s goal of curing children of cancer regardless of their families’ ability to pay. Families describe St. Jude as a joyous place because of the kind staff, the thrill of celebrity visits and the level of care. But their greatest joy comes from being supported, medically and financially, so they can support each other.
Financial advisors can feel the ripple effects of that joy when helping connect clients to causes that resonate with their values. Lago says witnessing the peace of mind and a sense of fulfillment clients feel when they give to causes that matter to them makes her feel proud to be a part of the process.
“It creates an amazing feeling,“ she says. “It gives me a tremendous sense of satisfaction.“
Dismuke says one of the many things that make St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital so special is the time and focus providers are able to spend with each family—something donors make possible. “They’re able to spend time with the families because people give,“ Dismuke says. “They don’t have to turn over a certain number of patients every day in order to make a profit. They’re able to meet you where you are and provide you with the resources you need.“ How do ordinary donors become such forces for good? Here are some questions financial advisors may have about connecting their clients to organizations like St. Jude.