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Reimagining a Non-Profit Model: Inspiring Innovation at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital with Ken Zakalik

More than 70 years ago, Danny Thomas dreamed the idea of a hospital that would operate in segregated South, where patients of all races would be treated together by physicians of all races. Thanks to that history of radical inclusion and innovation, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital has moved the childhood cancer survival rate from 20% to more than 80% today. 

Many organizations have perfected their large annual giving events—usually fundraising galas—that contribute as much as 60% of their annual revenue. St. Jude has proved to be a stunning producer of such events in the spirit of the children they serve. The hospital is funded in large part by its donors who have ensured that no family should ever pay for travel, treatment, housing, or food; that all they should worry about is helping their child live. But when COVID-19 hit and large in-person gatherings became impossible, organizations who were not able to quickly innovate faced major setbacks in recovering from this loss. Stories of stresses on these organizations are legion. 

Given the St. Jude legacy of innovation and good work, it should come as no surprise that the institution was named Fast Company’s #1 Best Workplace for Innovators in 2020. Despite the challenges of this year—and years past—St. Jude continues to raise more than $1 billion per year. In full disclosure Mission Partners has been a proud partner and donor to St. Jude for many years.

If there’s one thing that 2020 has taught us, it’s that dual transformation is key to sustaining organizations in 2021 and beyond. This week, Ken Zakalik, Director of Innovation at ALSAC/St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, joins us to share how his team looks into the future in the spirit of constant innovation in three core areas—culture, strategy, and opportunities. Listen in and learn more about what has worked for St. Jude to continue service through crisis and discover how innovation has become imperative to driving business into the future.

Links & Notes

  • 00:00 – Welcome to Mission Forward
  • 02:44 – The Passion for Innovation
  • 10:04 – Mission Partners Virtual Visioneering Sessions
  • 10:50 – The disruption of COVID-19
  • 16:02 – How do you learn to devine the trends?
  • 20:24 – Funding St. Jude
  • 26:37 – The Silver Linings
This season, we are taking you on a journey to meet ten people influencing and shaping how we communicate at scale for social change. From advertising executives to coalition directors, news editors, campaign managers, and authors, they’re all people who are shaping and challenging the deep power of communication. If you’re working to become a more inclusive and thoughtful communicator, there’s nothing holding you back—except you.
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