Over the past two years, you have heard us talking a lot about Within Our Reach: Finding a Cure for Rheumatoid Arthritis, the Research and Education Foundation (REF) campaign to raise and award funds for investigator-initiated research to find a cure for rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
So why has the REF embarked on this major campaign, which is unprecedented for a medical foundation to do? The simple, yet complex, answer is: because it was time.
The issue of declining funds for rheumatology research was brought to our attention by the ACR Committee on Research. Because funds from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) were—and still are—tight, and Arthritis Foundation (AF) research funding was—and still is—declining, it was vitally important that we assess the situation. Therefore, in March 2003, a task force was convened to look at the numbers and to see what should be done.
For two years, task forces led by ACR and REF leadership painstakingly studied and evaluated grant program models to identify the model that would be most successful. Then the Scientific Forum in 2005 brought together the world’s leading RA researchers to identify opportunities to move RA research forward. The recommendations from the forum were translated into the Within Our Reach grants program.
Of course, it is far easier for the REF to propose a research grant program than to raise the major funding needed to achieve our goals. We had virtually no experience and little staff in place to realistically succeed. Recognizing our need to go outside our own organization for expertise, we hired a consultant to develop a feasibility study and a fundraising plan, and from that we determined that a major gifts campaign to raise $30 million over 40 months was achievable.
With the help of our onsite counsel, Within Our Reach (the fundraising campaign) came to life. We learned that momentum was essential and, to that end, the first gift to the campaign was from the ACR. We also received early and important gifts from industry partners committed to independent, academically based science, which helped us maintain that momentum.
A completely unique aspect of the fundraising campaign is how we engage the ACR and ARHP membership to work with us in raising these very important funds. For example, a committed group of rheumatologists, known as the Within Our Reach Leadership Council, has helped us raise over $1.5 million in first-time gifts from the lay community. At the time of this writing, we have raised a total of $23 million, which is not far from our goal of $30 million.
Read my full Web column on the new Within Our Reach Web site www.WithinOurReach.info to learn more about the genesis of the Within Our Reach research grant program.
To get to $30 million will require continued dedication from everyone involved in the rheumatology community, and a great place to start is by volunteering for the Leadership Council. If you are interested in volunteering, please e-mail me at lcrofford@ rheumatology.org.