September marks the fifth World Alzheimer’s Month, part of an international effort to raise awareness and inspire support for the fight against the disease.

One of the scientists we’ve had the opportunity to interview is not only one of the leading researchers in the area of Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases, but a highly successful fundraiser. This scientist’s approach to inspiring philanthropic support offers valuable lessons to researchers working in any discipline—and the development professionals who support them.

Be a Champion for the Science

Take every opportunity to share the story of your work with everyone everywhere.

I am a scientist, but I seek opportunities to communicate with the public, and as a result people contact me, and they do it with an idea in mind: ‘What can I do to help you advance the cause for Alzheimer’s?’ Word has gotten out, and people approach me.

I sit on a plane tomorrow going to Las Vegas for a meeting on how to prevent Alzheimer’s disease, and I’m certain someone will sit next to me and say, ‘Are you going to gamble?’ And I’ll say, ‘No, I’m going to a conference on Alzheimer’s disease.’ Then I know I’ve got a partner to discuss Alzheimer’s disease with the whole trip. People are inevitably curious. And because I don’t speak techno-speak, they can follow the story.

I think a part of every scientist’s responsibility is to tell the public about their research and its importance. I have a laboratory to run, but when I’m asked to speak in public, I do that. I make myself available. And that does pay off. Some of the people in the audience know someone or are someone who wants to support the cause.

Explain the Science so the Listener Can Relate

You may have noticed this scientist said, “I don’t speak techno-speak.” This is one of the attributes of scientists who are highly successful at raising philanthropic funds: They are able to articulate their research in such a way that it is easily understood.

For example, this scientist explains “protein misfolding” in Alzheimer’s disease:

This piece of paper in my hand is my agenda for the day; think of this as a protein. We’re all a bag of proteins and water. We have blonde hair or blue eyes, light skin or dark skin, smart or not so smart, depending on the mixture of the genes and the proteins that are our identity. So it’s all about proteins in terms of disease or health.

If the proteins become misfolded, they’re no longer able to convey the messages that proteins do. So this piece of paper has a message on it. And I can read the message.” Crumpling the paper, he continues, “If I go like that, it’s misfolded. You can’t read it. It has lost function. In the diseases I’m talking about, there is the relentless misfolding of specific disease proteins. We lose memory; we lose motor capabilities and so forth.

So what we are trying to do is block this folding process.

Take It Down to the Individual Level

It may be tempting to cite lots of statistics about the societal impact of a particular disease or condition. Instead, recognize that people respond better when you take it down to a personal level.

For example, in our interview, this scientist could have said, “Alzheimer’s affects 50 percent of people by age 85.” Instead, he told us, “There are four of us in this room. Two of us will have Alzheimer’s by the time we reach 85.” Now that makes it relevant to the listener.

Help the Listener See the Impact

What will the world look like if you achieve the goal of your research? How will it impact society? How will it impact people? Helping the listener envision the impact your research will make on society and on people can be truly inspiring.

This scientist paints a vivid picture:

We are in the midst of a longevity revolution, which means more people are living to the age of the most common onset of Alzheimer’s.

We’re all going to die, but I think we all would like to be functional on all levels, physical and cognitive, until the very last moment. If we could delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease by five years, predictions are that we would reduce the prevalence of the disease in society by 50 percent and the cost by 50 percent. People would die of what they’re going to die from — heart attack or heart failure or whatever — but they would be cognitively intact and wouldn’t incur the horrific costs that are brought about by Alzheimer’s disease. They would not only be surrounded by their loved ones in their last days, but know that their loved ones are there.

Like other researchers we’ve interviewed, this scientist finds that sharing the story and engaging with donors is a truly rewarding experience: “When I interact with a donor who obviously could spend his money in a number of different ways, including selfishly, but is impressed with the importance of the problem I’m dealing with and wants to do something…. I’ve found that very uplifting.”


Click here to learn more about Philanthropy for Medical Science Research