Since its founding, in 1957, by entertainer Danny Thomas, the American Lebanese Syrian Associated Charities (ALSAC) has raised money to fund St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, helping to drive the survival rate of childhood cancer patients from 20% to 80%. A few years ago, a young developer at ALSAC named Zach Whitten suggested tapping into the gaming industry to raise money. Backed by ALSAC president and CEO Richard Shadyac, Whitten created a fundraiser that brought in $500,000 its first year. Since 2014, the annual Play Live program has raised more than $26 million by inviting competitive gamers from around the world to raise small donations from followers during live-stream events. “I think you would be hard-pressed to find a more generous and caring community than gamers,” says Whitten, now an ALSAC director of innovation.
The organization has an Innovation Department (ALSAC staff have used virtual reality to create a St. Jude Hall of Heroes display and augmented reality to enhance storytelling around St. Jude patient journeys) and a Digital and Innovation Advisory Council, consisting of executives from top companies, including PayPal, Facebook, and Hulu.
“My colleagues and I go to Google, to Facebook, to Salesforce, to Amazon, and immerse ourselves in their culture,” Shadyac says. Top companies might want to begin scheduling their own field trips to Memphis to study ALSAC’s bottoms-up success with innovation.