Friends Start a Nonprofit to Fight Leukemia

By combining their efforts, this trio can also maintain their full-time jobs.

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Childhood friends Judd Schneider, Tony MacDonald and Mike Richton, now in their early 30s, are the founders of StopLeukemia.org, a nonprofit dedicated to providing financial assistance to families affected by the disease as well as to raising awareness about the bone marrow donor registry. They also want to connect people who have been affected by leukemia, as each of them have been: Schneider's father and MacDonald's friend died from the disease and Richton's mother is a survivor.

Unlike Lindsay Hyde and Ian Perrotta, the young nonprofit founders I profiled earlier this week, Schneider, MacDonald and Richton juggle full-time jobs in sales and consulting along with their nonprofit management. I spoke with Schneider, MacDonald and Richton about why they started their nonprofit and how they are managing it along with their jobs. Excerpts:

[For more, read: "Why Young People Are Starting Nonprofits."]

Why did you decide to start StopLeukemia.org?

Richton: all three of us have been affected by leukemia in different ways, and we have all been heavily involved in different activities to raise money for leukemia research. We came together and said, 'If we put all of our energy and resources into one place, we'll be much more successful.'

We're different from most [existing leukemia] charities. We want money going to help families directly. There are a lot of great organizations focusing on research. All the money we're raising will go to families, to help cover the cost of parking, travel, and other treatment-related expenses, so they can just focus on fighting the disease.

How do you identify the families that will receive the money?

Schneider: That was one of the challenges that we faced at the outset. How do we target the funds? Is it need-based? It was difficult for us to identify the specific families that were receiving funds. When we spoke to our legal counsel, he said it was a tricky area if we were going to identify families, so we decided, since we're at this early stage of the nonprofit, to work with hospitals, and specifically the offices of patient and family assistance, so they can direct the funds as needed.

Why did you choose to organize into a nonprofit?

MacDonald: The three of us have always talked about starting some sort of business together, and because of the efforts we've been putting in with charity events and seeing other nonprofits get started, it made a lot of sense. It made sense to go this route; the money aspect means nothing to us. It's about the passion that we have about fighting this disease.

Richton: The reason for starting a nonprofit versus hosting fundraiser or a one-off event is that we're dedicated to this for the long term. We're looking to do this for the next 30 to 40 years. We want to see this grow.

[For more, read: "Recent College Grad Boosts Detroit Community."]

How are you raising money?

Richton: Once we got our website up and running, we started accepting online donations and selling T-shirts online. We've seen a trickle of activity since we announced our kick-off event on July 30th. It's at a bar that can hold 240 people, a band donated its services, and we'll have a variety of speeches that explains our mission. My mother will be speaking and someone will speak from the hospital's office of family assistance. We'll also be raising money through silent auctions and drawings.

Schneider: The ultimate goal of this first event is to make the first in a flow of significant donations and to continue to expand our member base. Since the event was announced, we've heard from folks reaching out to us who we didn't even know about. Just today, we received a touching note from a family in Massachusetts who lost their daughter to leukemia. She said how touched she was to see folks out there willing to spend time on this cause.

How do you balance managing the nonprofit with your full-time jobs?

Richton: We're all at a high stress point because of the event coming up and the time constraints have gotten higher in the last few weeks. It's a juggling act; we try to have most of our conversations during off-hours.

MacDonald: I think what makes it easier for us is the reward we get like the E-mail this morning from this family. That gives me more energy to find the time to do this, even if it's all of my spare time. The three of us have been able to find time that we didn't even think existed before.