Alternative funding: Sponsor my science

Alternative funding: Sponsor my science

Jan 18

Philanthropists will sometimes give large sums of money to support science — but researchers have to learn how to sell themselves first.

“Asking someone to give you a million dollars is not easy. In 1995, Bruce Walker was seeking philanthropic support to expand his HIV research programme at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. He had identified a possible donor: a venture capitalist and the brother of one of his patients. He had teamed up with a personal coach in fund-raising and rehearsed his pitch over and over. But during lunch with the prospective donor, he still nearly choked. “I couldn’t quite get it out to say, ‘Would you give us a million dollars?’,” Walker recounts.


Eventually he spat out his request — and was astonished when the venture capitalist agreed to the entire sum. “At that point, I fell off my chair,” Walker says. He then raised another US$100 million from philanthropists Terry and Susan Ragon to launch the Ragon Institute of MGH, MIT and Harvard in Charlestown, Massachusetts, in 2009. He and his colleagues are now planning a formal seminar series on raising philanthropic support. His success at fund-raising, he says, “is not because there’s something special about me. It’s because I got a little bit of training and I put in a lot of effort.”


Read more in Nature magazine