“Before he died of osteosarcoma in 2005 at the age of 19, Willie Tichenor told his parents that he never wanted anyone else to go through what he went through, which was exhausting every available treatment option without any success,” says Bret Alexander, who was a close friend of Willie’s and a founding member of the Osteosarcoma Institute (OSI) and its Strategic Advisory Board.
The OSI was established in 2017 with the goal of improving the outcomes of patients with osteosarcoma. It was envisioned by the What Would Willie Want (QuadW) Foundation, which was created in 2005 to honor Willie’s memory. QuadW convened a conference to challenge experts in osteosarcoma research to discover new treatments and ultimately find a cure. This meeting led to the formation of the OSI.
As we begin our 5th year as an organization, we continue to advance our mission and raise funds to dramatically increase treatment options and survival rates in osteosarcoma patients through identifying and funding the most promising and breakthrough osteosarcoma clinical trials and science.
“The OSI is concentrating on a cure, and over 90% of every donation goes directly to identifying new therapies for osteosarcoma patients and helping families and patients through OSI Connect,” says Bret, who is Chair of the Development Committee at OSI.
Nonprofit watchdogs, such as Charity Navigator, generally give their highest rankings to organizations that spend less than 15% of their annual budget on administrative costs. Part of what sets us apart, and enables us to keep our expenses low and our impact high, is that OSI is a virtual institute.
Finding the Resources for Sustainability
In the beginning, OSI received a generous, multi-year grant from the QuadW Foundation that allowed the organization to get off the ground. But Bret and the other Development Committee members knew that those funds would eventually run out.
“In order to be capable of defining the agenda of osteosarcoma research and progressing the field forward, we needed to learn how to raise money,” he says. “We knew early on that we couldn’t just fundraise part-time. We needed to advance our cause.”
So, the Strategic Advisory Board invested in building a professional development team within OSI. Vanessa Peterson is one of those team members, joining OSI as the Development Manager and spearheading the Development Committee’s initiatives. Together with Amy Lobner, Scientific Project Manager, they tackle the challenges of fundraising at the local, regional and national levels.
“A lot of what we do is relationship-based,” says Vanessa. “Amy and I have been fundraising together for six years for medical research in the Dallas area, fostering connections and raising awareness about OSI’s mission.”
In the short time they have been at OSI, Amy and Vanessa have established key partnerships in the medical space, leveraging OSI’s Development Committee and board members to help make vital introductions that can further their cause.
The OSI is the largest philanthropic funder that is solely focused on osteosarcoma research.
“I think that really sets us apart,” says Vanessa. “There are a lot of other organizations out there that are focused on childhood cancer and other diseases, but we are really laser-focused on osteosarcoma research.”
“Our focus is on setting the agenda for research,” says Bret, “and identifying the most innovative and productive questions to be asking in this space.”
A Growth Mindset
According to Bret, OSI would not be successful without the dedication and passion of the Development Committee, including Mary Katherine Clarke, Dr. Sung Poblete, and Lisa and Mac Tichenor. They are raising awareness and support from all over the country. Simply put, the committee thrives because of the people behind it.
Like Vanessa and Amy, who joined OSI in late 2021 and immediately hit the ground running. They have big goals to double what was raised in 2021 for funding cancer research.
“Last year we doubled what we raised from 2020 to 2021,” says Vanessa. “We’re planning to do the same, if not more, from 2021 to 2022. We want to increase our fundraising goal again to $2 million dollars each year by 2024. It’s pretty ambitious, but we are confident that we can get there with the support of the Development Committee.”
There are plans to grow the OSI’s Development Committee, as well.
“My goal is to get out of the way and make sure that the team can do what they’re charged to do and to achieve the very aggressive goals that we have set out to achieve,” says Bret. “At the end of the day, we’re trying to bring all the expertise and skills that we have available to us to concentrate on the cure. I think that’s what it’s all about.”
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