Based in community, fundraising the bar

MONEY MATTERS: HMRI  relies on the support of community and philanthropy to raise funds for its medical research activities.
MONEY MATTERS: HMRI relies on the support of community and philanthropy to raise funds for its medical research activities.

HMRI is deeply embedded in the community which has driven fund-raising efforts over the last 20 years.

Since inception, life for the HMRI fundraising team has involved a constant cycle of daily meetings with potential donors, cheque presentations with generous community groups followed by late night fundraising events.

The HMRI Foundation is the volunteer fundraising arm of HMRI and made up of community leaders from across all fields of business, industry and community endeavour who drive fund raising. Essentially it is local business people sharing their knowledge and tapping their networks. 

“The Foundation gives us access to influential decision maker across the region from the grass roots to the highest level,” current HMRI Foundation chair Scott Walkom said. “We try to encourage the community to engage and donate seed funding for projects that are identified as worth targeting and from there it grows hopefully into government grants.

“Fundraising ranges from club donations, to community balls to major acts of philanthropy. For the city it’s a bit like having your own rugby league team, only it’s our own research facility kicking goals at the highest levels and really adding to the city.”

As HMRI’s state, national and international reputation grew, so too did the idea of extending the HMRI Foundation fundraising activities outside its regional border – thus the HMRI Sydney Foundation was born. 

“With a motto of “Head in Sydney, Heart in the Hunter”, we have developed a Sydney based steering committee with representation from areas including media, public affairs, law, finance, business and other key sectors,” said former 2HD and New FM promotions manager Kristie Atkins, who serves as chair.

“The group is charged with driving introductions and referrals to new potential supporters of and donors for HMRI research programs, direct fundraising through events and supporting the HMRI marketing team’s drive to build greater awareness outside the Hunter through increased presence in national and international media,” Ms Atkins said.

While HMRI today is a true leader in its space and its research has application around the world, it is the emotive connection for Ms Atkins that remains the most important thing. 

“I have seen first-hand the extraordinary quality of the people and research for which the organisation is responsible,” she said.  “My dad was very sick with cancer.  If  not for HMRI, me and many thousands of others, would not have their loved one in the fit and healthy state he is now in.”

Philanthropy also plays a significant role in the fundraising activities of HMRI.

Thanks to an unexpected bequest from a Victorian woman, the Hunter Children’s Research Foundation (HCRF),  an affiliate fundraiser  for HMRI, recently announced its first Early-Career Fellowship.

The three-year funding for a $450,000 Early Career Research Fellowship came from the late Peggy Lang, a person unknown to HCRF at the time, who was unmarried but wanted to support paediatric research. She gifted HCRF its largest ever donation, comprising an estate that included shares and a parcel of land on remote French Island in Victoria.

Ms Lang is not alone. Many Hunter families and businesses  have also made generous donations including  winemaking legends Brian and Fay McGuigan – together with the University of Newcastle – who have jointly funded an unprecedented 10-year fellowship dedicated to ovarian cancer research.

This community-embedded model differentiated HMRI in the early days but is now recognised as a highly inclusive and effective means of shaping research driven by community needs and ideal for delivering the personalised medicine and out of hospital care research outcomes being created here and witnessing all around the globe.

“The community response to HMRI has been astounding,”  said Glenn Turner, who was  chair of the HMRI Foundation from 2007 until 2012 and chair of HMRI from 2013 to 2016. “The substantial sums of money raised through the HMRI Foundation, the embrace of the organisation by the region, reflected by voluntary effort and the success of many other associated organisations puts HMRI inside the hearts of us all. It is that broad community support that the researchers feel every day; it puts the wind at their backs and breathes hope into us all.”

For Mr Turner, HMRI now defines the Hunter and he can think of no other organisation that touches as many people as its celebrated researchers and staff, patients, medical professionals including nursing staff, volunteers, fund raisers and attendees at events, national and international research collaborators, regional state and federal representatives and departments and all the families thereof.