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Foundation Leader Takes On Ambitious Goal


(Sioux Falls, SD) – The new president of the Edith Sanford Breast Cancer Foundation has a history of leading national organizations and an ambitious long-term goal ahead of her: raise $100 million a year for breast cancer research.

“There’s really a spirit here of ‘if we can dream it up, we can do it well’,” said Kimberly Simpson Earle, who began leading the foundation in January. “As I’ve gotten to know Sanford Health, I think it’s the most phenomenal organization I’ve ever had the privilege to get to know.”

Earle comes to Sioux Falls from Texas where she served as CEO of Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Before leading MADD, she was chief operating officer for the network of more than 120 Susan G. Komen for the Cure affiliates across the United States.

“The role is to build national support for the Edith Sanford breast cancer work that is going on across the Sanford Health system and to really spark national interest in what we’re doing here,” she said. “We’re doing groundbreaking genomics work to better understand breast cancer and provide better treatments and ultimately provide a cure.”

The Edith Sanford Breast Center was established in 2011 with a $100 million gift from businessman, philanthropist and health system namesake T. Denny Sanford. The goal is to accelerate research and eradicate the disease. The center is named in honor of Sanford’s mother, who died of breast cancer when he was 4.

“We have a Silicon Valley mentality about doing things in a very bold and different way, and that’s what’s so exciting to me,” Simpson Earle said.

Sanford Health found Simpson Earle through a referral from one of her former colleagues, said Brian Mortenson, president of the Sanford Health Foundation.

“We really wanted the national capacity and national experience and marketing expertise, the corporate relationships and, finally, somebody who really has an inside understanding of the national breast cancer scene was very, very important to us, and we found all of those qualities,” Mortenson said. “She’s light years ahead of people who simply haven’t had experience in the national arena or the breast cancer-specific arena.”

The $100 million annual goal is one the Edith Sanford foundation would like to reach in the next decade, Mortenson said. Sanford Health set the goal after partnering with fundraising experts to study other organizations that do broad-based national fundraising.

Compared with current giving levels, it’s a mammoth increase. Donations for more traditional Sanford-related programs, such as the Children’s Miracle Network, hospice care and other patient services, total $10 million annually in Sioux Falls, Mortenson said. In addition, Sanford’s global initiatives, which include establishing international children’s clinics, are projected to raise $2 million to $5 million annually in the near future, and the total is expected to increase.

“Even though $100 million as a goal sounds almost too extraordinary to be true, we are recognizing that tens of thousands of small gifts will be significant components in reaching that mark, and through a grassroots national effort we believe that is attainable,” Mortenson said.

Health care organizations that reach such a total are operating in “rarified air,” said Bill McGinly, president and CEO of the Virginia-based Association for Healthcare Philanthropy.

“It’s transformational giving,” McGinly said. “That puts them very much up at the top relative to the money that they’re proposing to raise. And they are probably very, very right to be very specific relative to what they’re going to do with the dollars and how they have it focused on breast cancer. When I look at other hospitals, there are a few that are raising $100 million a year, but they’re very established.”

Overall health care fundraising took a hit in the past few years, McGinly said. He estimated it dropped 11 percent in 2009, started coming back in 2010, and preliminary numbers show improvement in 2011.

“We’re coming back slowly,” he said. “I think with major donors, in particular, there’s a pent-up interest and a resurgence in their ability to support things and give back. But it’s still very slow.”

Sanford’s task will be to show donors the impact of its breast cancer research, McGinly said.

“When you’re talking about breast cancer, it will appeal to the people who have had issues with that particular type of cancer, and if it’s designed to build on research and partnerships, then it’s going to be a good, healthy thing for the community,” he said. “People who are interested in this will also be interested in supporting cancer at other foundations or at other levels.”

Sanford’s research is unique in that it will include a so-called bio bank, which will collect genetic information not just from cancer patients but from those without the disease. The depth of information and the resources that are planned to be dedicated to the initiative should accelerate research and treatment, Simpson Earle said.

“We’re on the frontier of breast cancer,” she said.

In her first few weeks, Simpson Earle has been “burning up some phone lines” talking to potential donors, launching a website and organizing a national direct mail campaign.

She said more opportunities to involve the public will be announced in the coming months.

“It’s important for people to realize how big the endeavor is, and it’s important we support the development of the research,” she said. “It’s a big, bold goal, but we also have a big, bold plan to end breast cancer.”

Written by Jodi Schwan