Infrastructure is essential, and in the case of medical research, scientists need to work in facilities fitted out much differently (and expensively) to our standard office buildings. For some donors and governments, it’s satisfying to see the fruit of your labor erected from the ground relatively quickly: two years ago there wasn’t a building, now there is. In comparison to medical research projects, where a discovery may take decades before leading to a solution that reaches the hands of patients, supporting a capital campaign enables you to see the difference you’ve made in relatively no time.
The focus on quick results, especially in the case of medical research, has some ramifications. Whilst new facilities may lure some leading scientists in the short term, unless there is a supporting sustainability plan in place that ensures ongoing funding for maintenance, research support, equipment and salaries, researchers may not be able to achieve their very best and the buildings will not be used to their full potential. A home is only a home if it houses a family (or people); a lab is only a lab if it houses researchers.
With the current opportunities for government to review its investments in medical research through the Medical Research Future Fund, so, too, is an opportunity for philanthropy to assess where it can make the greatest difference. For some, capital campaigns will be a clear preference. Others may decide to support something different such as scholarships, community education campaigns, equipment, research projects, collaborations and advancement of innovations to name a few. We need such donors – all types of donors – if everyone was to turn around and provide the exact same support, it would be a very unbalanced sector.
Similarly to infrastructure, research requires other skills and resources to enable translation and the benefits of research to be realised. A lack of support for translation and commercialisation can limit the ripening of the fruits from our research efforts. Without the resources to harvest the crop it may die on the vine, discouraging the planting of future crops.
We’ve often heard that philanthropy goes where others fear to tread, and that is ultimately why philanthropy can be so powerful. It helps seed groundbreaking ideas, fails projects fast to avoid wasting ongoing resources, fast-tracks projects and fills the gaps not being addressed by other bodies and stakeholders. In a space where the careers of many researchers are dependent upon grants, is the best use for scarce philanthropic support capital campaigns? If so, how do we ensure that new developments are sustainable in the long term?