Welcome to the Executive Director’s Corner. This blog is an outlet to help me keep you up to date on the happenings at the Foundation. For my first post, I wanted to give the community an update on the 2008 research grant appeal and our new grant recipients. Thanks to the efforts and convictions of the meso community the appeal was very successful.
As mesothelioma patient June Breit described in her appeal letter, we faced an unprecedented challenge in 2008. Growing from our prior seven years of consistent support, global interest in mesothelioma research was at an all-time high. We received 59 applications from brilliant researchers world-wide for exciting mesothelioma projects – a 50% increase over last year, and desperately wanted to fund as many as possible.
At the same time, the global economic melt-down in 2008 created a crisis for the whole nonprofit sector. A number of large, well-established nonprofits were entirely wiped out, and the Meso Foundation was not exempt from the difficulties. In November when we began the annual appeal, giving for the year was down substantially. Our reserve account – which according to prudent financial practice should equal approximately one year’s budget – was down to six months’. During the year we had incurred substantial expenses for critically important activities: the Symposium, maintaining our Nurse Practitioner Mary Hesdorffer full-time to individually help patients and families, the medical travel assistance program, our newsletter and website to provide needed information, our other patient education and support activities, advocacy to finally ban asbestos and gain federal investment in life-saving meso research, Meso Awareness Day and other awareness-raising activities, new research endeavors including initiating a national mesothelioma patient registry and providing the initial funding to create a new mesothelioma staging system. On top of all this, we had ten ongoing projects from 2007 to maintain, at an additional expense of half a million dollars.
So, while we set a very ambitious goal in November to try to fund as many as fifteen of the top new projects, the reality was that undertaking any new projects in such a difficult year would require a very generous outpouring of support.
I am very grateful to report that many generous donors provided us exactly that. Despite the very difficult financial times, donors gave $245,000 in response to the appeal. As a result, on top of renewing the funding for the ten projects started in 2007, the annual appeal proceeds enabled us to award first-year funding to five stellar new projects starting in 2008. This is three quarters of a million dollars the Meso Foundation invested in life-saving meso research grants in 2008, and we could not have done it without the generosity of caring donors like you.
The five new projects span some of the most exciting areas in cancer research today, applying recent Nobel-prize winning research to mesothelioma, developing nanoparticles – thought to be the wave of future biomedical research – to image and destroy malignant cells, and developing or combining targeted agents which have less systemic effects and act as smart bullets targeting aberrant cells. We look forward to updating and providing you more detail as these projects advance.
We also look forward to accomplishing great things in 2009 and using the challenge of a very difficult financial climate as an opportunity to grow stronger, more focused and more efficient. We begin 2009 with a financial reserve which is not ample, but it is sufficient to bridge the tough times. We are developing a more robust fundraising plan, with more frequent and more targeted appeals than the only-once-per-year general research appeal we use now. We have adopted a very strict 2009 budget. We have eliminated our government affairs and publicity/press outside contractors. We have pared our staff to six very committed and effective members, redefining job descriptions and strategic objectives to focus on the most essential tasks. We are increasing our Board of Directors, to gain even better direction and more access to potential sources of giving. And we are expanding our volunteer opportunities to increase involvement from the community and help the Foundation accomplish its mission of funding life-saving research, helping patients and families, and advocating that the federal government meet its responsibility to address the tragedy of mesothelioma.
In the next couple of weeks we will be posting on our website more detailed information about the five promising research projects that were awarded at the end of 2008. I also encourage you to read the upcoming issues of our newsletter “Breath of Hope” for updates about all Foundation-funded research projects and activities.
Yours in the fight,
Christopher E. Hahn, Executive Director