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$1 million gift will help us identify the genes that influence how difficult it is to quit smoking

Thanks to the efforts of Kim Azar-Anderson (Major Gifts team - pictured above) and Chris Thomas (Principal Gifts team) as well as members of our Epidemiology Research Program, we secured a $1,025,000 commitment from a donor in Naples, FL, to fund a new research project that will use Cancer Prevention Study-3 data and blood samples to identify the genes that influence how difficult it is to quit smoking.

Led by cancer epidemiologist Vicky Stevens, PhD, our strategic director of laboratory services, this research will provide important new insights into the biology that makes it especially difficult for many people to quit smoking. This in turn may lead to the development of new medications or other targeted smoking cessation aids based on information about a smoker's genes, and help to reduce death rates from smoking-related cancers and other diseases.

This gift to support our own internal research efforts represents a great example of multiple teams in the new ACS working together to advance our mission.

It all began when Kim was researching foundations in GuideStar. "Last November I stumbled upon a foundation in Naples that I was not familiar with, and after a review of their giving and who they give to, I decided to call them," she said.

In December 2016, Kim and the potential donor, who wishes to remain anonymous, had a two-hour lunch, and over the next few months Kim shared with her the details of several pay-if projects – research that has been approved but is awaiting funding. Kim knew, though, that the woman had the assets to fund much bigger projects.

Life events – surgeries and a wedding – slowed the conversation a bit, but during lunch at the woman's house in May of 2017, Kim learned that the woman's father, a smoker, had died of non-small cell lung cancer. She also learned that the woman and her husband had been smokers, and all of them had different experiences when trying to quit.

"It was the meeting in May at her home at the kitchen table (with some baklava [pictured in the smaller image!]) that she shared that. I immediately redirected her interest to that of the smoking cessation program and said let's find out more, and I'll set up a call with our Intramural Research team - how about tomorrow?  I then circled back with Chris Thomas who got Susan Gapstur, MPH, PhD, our VP of Epidemiology, involved, along with Vicky Stevens and Alpa Patel, PhD, strategic director of CPS-3," Kim explained.

Prior to the call, Kim shared with the donor Susan, Vicky, and Alpa's bios – along with photos of them. "I think photos with bios are a must . . . smiling faces mean a lot, especially when we are on the phone and not in person," Kim said.

The call went well, with Chris Thomas sharing his personal background, and the researchers sharing theirs. The donor "asked many questions regarding the work and other clinical questions that would have been difficult for me to answer, and Susan and her team gave compelling answers," Kim said.

Then the wait began. "Days went by and I tried to think of things I could do to get her to call me – should I make more baklava, no – or should I send her any more detail – no. I knew I just had a wait a few days. I asked about her time frame in my follow-up call to her and she said she would get with her brother and let me know in the next few days. Finally, on Friday of the following week, I left a message on her phone, and she called back that afternoon and said YES – they wanted to go ahead with the work!"

Kim credits this great success with basic sales skills – building trust, likability, and matching donor needs with our needs. 

Congratulations to all staff involved in this big win!


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