Purple Community hits $1M fundraising milestone


Dr. Julie Turner, assistant dean of the Van Andel Graduate School, speaks to participants in the VAI’s leadership academy. Courtesy Van Andel Institute

In five years, a Grand Rapids-based fundraising program has engaged community members to raise more than $1 million supporting the fight against cancer and neurodegenerative diseases through personalized hosted events.

Purple Community, the cancer and neurodegenerative disease community engagement program developed by Van Andel Institute, recently celebrated raising more than $1 million in support of biomedical research and science education programs at VAI during the second annual Purple Community Leadership Academy event Oct. 7 in downtown Grand Rapids.

Carol Van Andel, executive director of the David and Carol Van Andel Foundation, said the program allows thousands of committed individuals and organizations to step forward to support VAI’s research in cancer and neurodegenerative diseases through personal expression and philanthropy.

“What Purple Community has done in five short years since its inception is nothing less than remarkable and a testament to the generous hearts that comprise our national community,” said Van Andel in the release. “It’s about really caring and rolling up our sleeves to truly make a difference in the lives of so many across the globe who are suffering every day. Given the enthusiasm spurring its contagious growth, the national impact of Purple Community has only just begun.”

Established in 2009, Purple Community allows individuals and organizations to create fundraising events to support biomedical research and science education at VAI. Leveraging an endowment from Jay and Betty Van Andel to cover overhead and operating costs, 100 percent of funds raised are directly allocated for more than 20 diseases, including leukemia, colon cancer, breast cancer, tuberous sclerosis complex, Parkinson’s disease, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, heart disease, Huntington disease and pancreatic cancer.

In five years more than 300 community events that have sold more than 53,000 T-shirts, 100,000 purple beads and 250,000 purple bracelets. The Purple Community has had more than 100 schools involved and the support of more than 50 businesses and 180 organizations over the years during its fundraising initiatives.

Love Collins III, vice president of development, communications and marketing at VAI, said the significance of the fundraising milestone is that, in a short time, the community has rallied behind a terrific vehicle for personal expression and a cause connected with cancer and degenerative diseases.

“To have our community — our generous community — get behind this at all age levels is just fantastic, and I think the other thing we are doing is building a stronger community for the future by doing this,” said Collins.

“We are very thankful of having that endowment so not only are people able to do this great work but also able to commit and promise to those who are giving of their time and their resources that 100 percent will go exactly to the cause, particularly at a time when our nation is holding nonprofits to greater standards of social return on investment and accountability.”

The announcement of the $1 million fundraising mark was delivered during lunch at the annual leadership event that invites students, teachers and community members to learn leadership skills in business and philanthropy. Participants attend breakout sessions and best-practice workshops, network and engage in a panel discussion with VAI scientists.

Some of the topics covered during the event included time management, social media, persistence and risks, creating memorable customer experiences, volunteer management, how to measure success, crowdfunding, and marketing techniques and ethics.

With Purple Community well on its way to $2 million in fundraising, Collins said it wanted to share the $1 million milestone with all of those involved.

“We thought this would be a great opportunity to share that tremendous accomplishment with our leadership element in Purple Community, and the people that are here today are responsible for all those events we have done across the state of Michigan,” he said.

Purple Community is focusing on growing three metrics as it moves forward, according to Collins: increasing the number of people involved with Purple Community events; growing the amount of events held across Michigan and the nation; and growing the philanthropic component or funds raised.

“It is very expensive today to operate a laboratory on cancer research and it not a shallow investment proposition,” said Collins. “That whole process takes years and it requires significant funding. It is also a statement from the community saying we are also responsible for trying to find the resources to fight diseases that impact all of us. It doesn’t discriminate.”

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