I wish u knew… Importance of funding cancer research

Tim Hampshire

Anybody who’s walked through the pearly gates of the Perelman Center can see that Penn Medicine takes a hefty chunk of change to stay functional. Anybody who’s seen the swank wood paneling in the Roberts Proton Therapy Center (or thought about what it takes to conduct proton therapy) will agree.

How does the hospital stay replenished? How do the higher-ups make sure there’s enough cash to fund new buildings, improve patient care, and facilitate research?

They send philanthropists to Tricia Bruning.

Tricia is a Senior Executive Director and Principal Gifts Officer for the department of radiation oncology. If you’re wondering, Principal Gifts Officers at Penn do not perform the same tasks as better-known Principal Gifts Officers like Santa Claus. They work much more than one night a year. They also don’t care if you’ve been naughty or nice; they try to make sure everybody at Penn gets the right facilities. And they do it by fundraising.

“Fundraising” carries a negative tune for Tricia. “Asking friends for money, asking for money in general…it’s uncomfortable. And it’s equally uncomfortable for people in development,” she told me. Luckily, she doesn’t have to do that much. “I don’t do a lot of asking for money,” she said. “I do a lot of facilitating for people who want to donate and make a difference. That’s the difference.”

When someone wants to give money to the cancer center, they can’t simply drop it off at the door. There are appropriate channels of bureaucracy. Receiving, handling, and directing these donations are a few of the things she does. But that’s not everything.

“This is a business of relationships and trust. That takes precedence over what is deposited in anyone’s bank account,” she said. “We want to inspire the people who are interested in supporting our work and make them feel good about what they’re doing to fight cancer.” So that’s another one of her secrets; it’s not all just collections work. She also has to pump the bellows a little, making sure that people remain excited about helping the cause.

She sees it as just one way to keep the war on cancer tipped in our favor. Having lost her father to cancer at age 19, Tricia has a kind of personal vendetta against the disease that shows itself in a thirst for righteousness. “Community hospitals aren’t diving into curing pancreatic cancer, so somebody has to do it…we have to offer hope…it’s our role.” She has realized that there are a lot of possible angles from which to approach the battle. “I’m not a scientist, so this is something I can do to help the cause.”

And as a fundraising expert, she knows that every penny counts. The big fish–Perelman, Gates, Maloney–are the hospital’s large sources of money, but partners “at every level,” according to Tricia, will be what makes sure we all get to the cure. That day is an exciting one. For her it represents a victory, a time when “cancer isn’t taking our loved ones.”

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