The success of Kickstarter has proven the crowd-funding model for everything from iPod docks to indie music albums. Likewise, charities have long understood the benefit of hitting major events to solicit donations. But is there a crowdfunding model that doesn't rely on cash?
The Love Hope Strength Foundation is the rare cause that shows up at a massive gathering and, rather than simply asking for money, provides a practical way for attendees to pitch in on the spot. When 200,000-plus music fans descend on Chicago for this weekend’s Lollapalooza, LHS hopes they’ll take a moment between acts to join in a life-saving project: By getting their cheek swabbed, they can sign up for the DKMS national bone marrow donor registry, and potentially save a life.
Over the past four years, Love Hope Strength has taken cotton swabs to countless festivals, concerts, and sporting events nationwide, adding 25,000 new bone marrow donors to the current DKMS database. From that pool of LHS registrants, they’ve already found nearly 300 matches. The initial plan in attending live music events was the usual money- and/or awareness-raising model, but according to executive director Shannon Foley, they soon realized one major problem: "The money people had in their pocket, they wanted to use it for a t-shirt or a beer, and rightfully so," she says. "And when we spoke to someone about building a cancer center in a third world country, nine times out of ten we heard the exact same thing: ‘It’s great that you’re doing something for people in Africa, but what are you doing for my mom? Or my brother? Or for me?’"
Long story short, as Foley puts it, one day she got a phone call from a nine year old boy. "Little Patrick was going through cancer treatment for leukemia, and although he didn’t need a bone marrow transplant, a lot of his friends did," she says. "And they were having trouble finding matches, because there just weren’t enough people in the bone marrow registry. So Patrick decided that when he was between his chemo treatments, he was going to ride around with his grandparents and find bone marrow donors. His goal was to locate 2007 new donors in 2007. He surpassed his goal, and located about 6000 bone marrow donors, and he called me up and said, ‘Will you vote for me as the CNN Hero of the Year?’" Foley did that, and then did one better: She invited Patrick and his grandparents to join the LHS team at a crawfish boil and music festival in Alabama, where they sat in a booth and swabbed cheeks for two days. "The whole idea was literally born that day," Foley says. "We looked around and said, ‘We could do this at every single concert we’re invited to.’"
As an added bonus, donors who match with a needy cancer patient these days don’t necessarily face a painful pelvic marrow extraction. The rise of peripheral stem-cell blood transplants means the process is only slightly more labor-intensive than giving blood. "People are starting to finally overcome the stigma that this is a horribly invasive procedure and you only do it when a family member or friend is in need of a transplant," reports Foley. "This is something mainstream that everyone should do, and what we’ve seen is an absolute switch, people coming up to the booth and saying, ‘Oh my gosh, I’ve been looking for an opportunity to do this, thank you so much for being here.’" They’re likely bringing around 1,000 swabs to Lollapalooza, and if they run out, Foley says, it will mark their most successful drive yet.
Love Hope Strength calls itself the world’s leading rock n’ roll cancer foundation; launched in 2007 by Mike Peters of The Alarm and insurance CEO James Chippendale (both leukemia survivors), it began by hosting music-based fundraisers and mountaineering adventures in extreme locations around the globe, from Mount Everest to Machu Picchu. Thanks to the generosity in time and spirit of artists like Jason Mraz, Brett Dennen, and G. Love, these LHS "Rocks" events have raised enough money to provide Nepal with its first mammography machine and build the first dedicated children’s cancer center in Tanzania, among other projects.
They’re currently helping expand saliva-based bone marrow donor registration into the U.K., and prepping for another Everest climb in November, during which they hope to raise enough money to send two more doctors to Tanzania. "We don’t hand checks over to countries," Foley says. "We can build a cancer center, but if we don’t have the manpower to run it properly, then it’s all for naught. We have to be committed to the long-term picture of what we’re doing. Our mission has expanded, but it all comes back to one very simple statement: We save lives, one concert at a time."
Can’t make a music festival or concert this summer? You can still register to be a donor via the Love Hope Strength website, and DKMS will mail cheek swabs directly to your house. This reporter did it last week, and it took less than five minutes. Learn more about the process at this website.