Philanthropy to The Jackson Laboratory reached record levels in 2015.

The Jackson Laboratory (JAX), a nonprofit biomedical research institute headquartered in Bar Harbor, Maine, raised a record amount of philanthropic support—over $11.5 million—for its mission in 2015, more than in any single year in its 86-year history. 

The 2015 total represented an increase of 34 percent over the previous record of $8.6 million, set in 2014.  Donations to JAX play a vital role in advancing research and educational initiatives focused on genetics, genomics and human health. 

Gifts to JAX in 2015 came from more than 1,600 individual donors, organizations, corporations and private foundations. In 2015, the Laboratory received four gifts of $1 million or more, a significant increase over prior years. At the same time, the number of new donors increased by 49 percent, and JAX doubled the number of donors making gifts under $100. The Laboratory also had 100 percent participation by members of its Board of Trustees, and many faculty and staff across the organization’s three campuses made charitable contributions to support JAX’s mission.

“Every gift at every level makes a difference in our mission to transform human health through genomics and precision medicine,” said Edison Liu, M.D., JAX president and CEO. “Philanthropy at JAX makes a direct impact on accelerating the work of our scientists. Every dollar is used to drive innovation and to support faculty creativity.”

The power of philanthropy to drive science forward and to inspire others is clear in the story of Kara Cronin, the Sims family, JAX scientist Greg Cox, Ph.D., and a rare and devastating disease, spinal muscular atrophy with respiratory distress, or SMARD. Kara—at the time a college student determined to do something to advance research into a disease affecting the children of a favorite professor—discovered that JAX was one of only a few places worldwide conducting any research on SMARD. She organized a fundraising effort to support this research by running a half marathon and raising donations to JAX. Inspired by Kara’s efforts and by what they learned about JAX research, members of the Sims family made a transformative $1.5 million gift to support Dr. Cox’s research into this rare disorder.

Among the many projects that donors funded in 2015 were two new endowed faculty chairs.  Professor Carol Bult, Ph.D., who uses computational tools to study cancer, was appointed to the Knowlton Family Chair, an endowed professorship established by Winthrop Knowlton, chairman emeritus of the Laboratory’s Board of Trustees. Professor George Weinstock, Ph.D., one of the world’s leading experts in the microbiome, was appointed to the newly established Evnin Family Chair.

These and other endowment gifts will help to sustain the Laboratory’s work for years to come. A planned gift from another JAX trustee will establish an endowed fund for cancer and immunology research. Planned gifts include will provisions and beneficiary designations, charitable annuities and other forms of deferred giving.

Other gifts were directed to areas including disease-specific research, educational programs and postdoctoral training, and support for innovative technologies, promising new therapies and other pilot projects.

“The breadth and depth of philanthropic support for all aspects of the Laboratory’s mission demonstrates our donors’ confidence in JAX’s ability to lead and accelerate discovery,” said Kristen Rozansky, vice president for development and communications. “Thanks to the generosity of our supporters, The Jackson Laboratory is building ever-greater momentum in the search for more precise, powerful, and personalized treatments and, ultimately, cures.” 

The Laboratory has set a fundraising goal of $13 million in 2016 and has already made significant progress toward that goal. The organization is one of a small percentage of charities recognized with a four-star rating (the highest possible) from Charity Navigator for its efficiency, stewardship and good governance. Because the Laboratory does not use philanthropic support to pay for operational expenses, every dollar donated to JAX goes to accelerate research and discovery that will save lives, improve health and reduce suffering from disease.

“Giving to JAX means fast-forwarding research not only in specific diseases, but in how to understand—and ultimately treat and prevent—all diseases,” Rozansky says. “We encourage people to consider gifts to JAX of any size to help us in this extraordinary effort.”

Commenting on what has enabled JAX to build its philanthropy at such a rapid pace over the past several years, Rozansky pointed to a variety of factors, including setting strategic, ambitious goals and building effective plans and procedures to achieve them; the recruitment of experienced advancement professionals to fill key positions; and attention to teamwork and collaboration, both within the development team and with colleagues in communications. The ongoing integration of development with strategic and digital communications has been instrumental in enabling JAX to reach new audiences, connect with new donors, and raise the overall profile of the Laboratory as a leader in biomedical research. In addition, the JAX development team has put in place more robust behind-the-scenes processes to support fundraising, from the development of communications materials to a more comprehensive approach to donor engagement and stewardship.

The Laboratory’s executive leadership and board of trustees have played a vital role in supporting the growth of JAX’s advancement initiatives. The enthusiastic participation of faculty scientists in development communications projects, donor cultivation events and meetings with individual prospects also contributed greatly to the Laboratory’s success in achieving its fundraising goals. All of these factors have combined to enable the Laboratory to remarkably strengthen its philanthropy programs in the space of a few years.