We all know charitable giving and philanthropy are important for any company. Equally important is to understand the real life impact of the company’s charitable giving, not only for its recipients but also for the company.
That’s why this month we do a deep dive with our charitable partner Children’s National Health System in Washington D.C. We sat down with Joel Birner, EVP BMS Mid-Atlantic Region, and Bethany Metzroth, Director of Development, Children’s National Health System, to discuss our partnership.
What are your roles in your organizations with respect to charitable giving?
It has been my goal since beginning my career at BMS to instill a culture of giving from the top of the company and down. This is why I launched the BMS Giving Back program several years ago. The program formally aligns BMS with its charity partners and promotes giving back not only financially, but also through giving of time, labor and resources.
As a Director of Development, I am responsible for supporting the funding priorities for the Cancer Program at Children’s National. In my role, I partner with donors like BMS to increase the impact of events such as our signature event for the cancer program – the Heroes Gala – which raised over $600,000 last year. One of the most important aspects of my job is to ensure our donors know how we use the funds raised.
On the BMS side, why is it important that the company give back to the community?
BMS works in the community and profits from the community. BMS and the community have a mutually beneficial relationship. So I feel it’s an obligation to give back to the community in which we work and live, and to contribute to the common good.
How does BMS select which charities to support?
There are a number of decisions and programs for which I’m solely responsible and do not delegate. BMS Giving Back is one of those programs. My goal is to align our charitable giving with organizations that are important to my staff and our clients. In our region alone we have over 1,200 employees and thousands of clients with families and children, most of who reside in the community. This is one reason we focus much of our charity on local organizations that help our children in various ways, such as Children’s National.
How has the expectation of social responsibility shifted in the past decade?
As non-profits we are noticing how individuals, foundations and corporations, like BMS, want to have a more fulfilling, long term relationship with our organization. With this, it is more important than ever for us to communicate back to our donors the value of the relationship. This includes doing what we say we will do, full transparency, and accurate reporting of fund spending.
Corporate Social Responsibility is no longer considered just a nicety for businesses, it is now a must. Not only is it the right thing to do, but increasingly a company’s social responsibility efforts are influencing decision making and buying choices. Good social responsibility attracts better employees and gives them a sense of pride. Great companies want to do business with vendors having strong social responsibility.
Is just writing a check enough? What other methods of charitable giving are impactful?
There is no doubt that the financial component is absolutely crucial, but we don’t view our donor relationships as a transaction. Through a shared passion and a friendship there becomes an ongoing dialogue that you can’t accomplish through a transaction. It’s this dialogue that sparks new ideas, strengthens existing relationships and creates many new ones.
While money is extremely important, not everyone has the means to give financially. The community has many needs. Volunteering of your time or contribution of materials, products and services is equally as important. A great way to get involved is to volunteer in community driven and organized events. Easy examples include coaching, visiting patients in the hospital, volunteering at a senior center, or volunteering at your child’s school. In many cases, time is as important as money.
How has BMS contributed to Children’s National and what impact has it had to the organization and to you personally?
Children’s National is a consistent beneficiary of NIH research funding, which is incredibly competitive. However, less than 4% of the NIH budget is dedicated to pediatric cancer. The funding provided by BMS and others through activities such as galas, golf tournaments and individual giving is crucial. The money is spent on projects such as clinic improvements, personnel, and study and trial funding. Seed funding for a pilot study can run upwards of $500,000 and the studies can run for several years.
Seed funding from the Heroes Gala helped launch the Supportive Personalized Pharmacogenomics in Oncology Research and Treatment (SuPPORT) trial, for example. The study uses genetic testing to personalize chemotherapies, with the goal of reducing side effects and symptoms. We have enrolled more than 100 patients to date and identified several “actionable genetic mutations” that influenced treatment decisions.
Having over 1,200 employees in my region, the odds favor a BMS employee having a child diagnosed with cancer. As a parent, it is difficult to imagine having a child diagnosed with cancer. A cancer diagnosis at age two is much different than one as an adult, both physically and mentally. While we are making progress, more is needed. We are now at an almost 90% cure rate overall for childhood cancer. However, 60% of those cured will struggle with late effects from treatment like heart disease, infertility and secondary cancers. We have to invest in more personalized approaches to reduce the toxicities of treatment.
Think about the way cancer is cured. Toxic drugs flood the body. We need to support research to improve treatment protocols; a methodology that reduces the amount of toxins and promotes a quality life with minimal residual effect moving forward. Existing cancer treatments are big business for pharmaceutical companies. So organizations like Children’s National with a track record for innovative and personalized research approaches will most likely drive research for a cure. This is why BMS and me personally have committed to our partnership with Children’s National.
Aside from the obvious benefits to the charities, what ancillary benefits of charitable giving do you see?
It’s hard to comprehend the many complexities and nuances involved with pediatric cancer care. Children and their families are impacted in unimaginable ways, from the ability to maintain basic needs such as groceries, transportation, and mental health care, to ensuring the child continues their education during treatment. In addition to medical care, Children’s National provides additional services in these areas to help ease the tremendous burden on families.
Last year Children’s National raised over $100 million through charitable donations from companies like BMS, as well as through individuals and family foundations. In addition to funding projects that directly improve treatment, these funds allow us to better support many of these crucial ancillary services.
Charitable giving is a great reminder to be thankful for what you have. It also may create the desire to give back outside of just business. At BMS, giving creates a sense of accomplishment and unity within our staff teams. This is especially true when the team volunteers their time as a group doing something meaningful.
On an individual level, giving back provides the knowledge you are positively impacting someone’s life. By focusing on others instead of yourself, you’re promoting positive feelings like joy, care and compassion. You’re helping to foster empathy which is a skill that everyone needs to improve.
To learn more about Children’s National Health Systems click here.
To learn more about BMS Giving Back and our partner charities click here.