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Science

SpaceX Flight Gives St. Jude Hospital a Cosmic Funding Boost

February 3, 2021

NEW YORK — SpaceX's first all-civilian space flight set for late this year will provide an out-of-this-world fundraising opportunity for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, which says it expects to generate $200 million for cancer research and other causes.

It's off to a fast start: $1 million in donations in the first day since the flight's announcement.

Jared Isaacman, the billionaire businessman who will finance and pilot the multi-day mission for himself and three others, will drive the publicity push, with the help of a Super Bowl commercial next weekend. Of the $200 million that St. Jude hopes to raise this year, $100 million is to come from Isaacman, with the rest from donations generated by raffling off one seat on the flight.

Richard C. Shadyac Jr., CEO of ALSAC, the fundraising organization for St. Jude, said the money raised will go toward the Memphis hospital's $1 billion annual operating cost, as well as its global partnership with the World Health Organization. The overarching idea is to raise childhood cancer survival rates around the world from 20% to 60% by 2030.

"We have this, big audacious goal trying to help kids all around the globe," Shadyac said. "This big, audacious campaign is going to help fuel that."

Until the end of February, anyone 18 or older can go to St. Jude's website to enter for a chance to win a seat on the Inspiration4 and go into space later this year. There's no need to donate to enter the raffle. But those who do will receive special packages — from 100 entries for anyone giving $10 to a flight in a MiG-29, an authentic flight suit and VIP passes to the launch, as well as 10,000 entries, for those who donate $100,000. The winner will be chosen by random drawing March 1.

"He and SpaceX want space to be accessible — that's why we're going to do the sweepstakes," Shadyac said.

St. Jude's strategy of teaming up with Elon Musk's SpaceX and with Isaacman, the co-founder and CEO of Shift4Payments, a payment processor, is a shrewd way for a nonprofit to capitalize on a potential publicity bonanza, experts say.

Deborah Small, a professor of marketing and psychology at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, said the windfall for St. Jude's involvement with Inspiration4 would go well beyond the $200 million fundraising goal itself. St. Jude, which specializes in researching and treating pediatric diseases, also stands to increase awareness of its mission. Her research on why people support charitable causes shows that donors generally favor causes that seem genuine and impactful.

What's more, she suggested, St. Jude's involvement helps cast Inspiration4's mission as a public-spirited one.

"It serves to benefit it by making this more of a societal, beneficial sort of mission," Small said. "It's not just a vanity trip for these millionaires or whoever. There's a bigger justification for it."

The idea of partnering with Isaacman came through Ross Martin, president of the marketing agency Known and a member of St. Jude's digital and innovation advisory council. Shadyac said he was struck by the similarity of their world views.

"He cares deeply about making a difference in the world, about helping sick kids," Shadyac said of Isaacman. "He was talking to me about inspiring and creating possibilities and I said, 'At St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, we take what seems like it's impossible and we try to make it possible.' "

The third slot on the flight will go to a business owner who uses Shift4 Payments. The fourth seat will go to a frontline healthcare worker at St. Jude's hospital to inspire hope about its mission.

Inspiration4 should live up to its name for children at St. Jude's hospital, Shadyac said.

"I want them to know that strangers from all around the world could potentially come together to help them," he said. "I'm confident that they're going to feel that hope and it'll inspire them on their journey to battle childhood cancer or other catastrophic diseases."

Shadyac pointed to his wall, with photos of four patients who lost their battles with their illnesses at the hospital.

"I'm hoping and praying that the money that's going to be raised around this and Jared's generous gift is going to generate research so that the kids like these beautiful kids stay on this planet and are able to go into space with Jared," he said. "I want kids all around the world to be inspired by this and ultimately realize their dreams."

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