Volume 13, Issue 29 ~ July 21 - 27, 2005

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Feature Stories
This year’s honorary chairman for the 24th annual Cancer Gala Terry Murray and his wife Dawn.
Big Money
How one August night in Calvert County bankrolls the fight against cancer
by Sandra Olivetti Martin

How much would you pay to feast like a king? To fill plate after plate with lobster, oysters, crab, shrimp, clams, mussels and fresh fish — before digging into filet mignon, roast pig, steamship round, barbecue ribs and grilled chicken? To sip champagne, martinis, margaritas or beer from bottomless glasses? To sweeten the deal with a cake walk before the clock strikes 10pm?

Set the feast against the background of Chesapeake Bay. Add song and spirited fellowship. And do all that for a good cause, combating cancer with research and service — right in your own backyard.

Would you pay $100 to join that party?

Seventeen hundred of your Southern Maryland neighbors gladly will, as the Calvert County Cancer Crusade Celebration of Life Gala returns to Rod ’n’ Reel for the 24th year on August 4.

How much more would you pay for the privilege of tucking into the feast an hour early in the company of other high-dollar donors?

Would you pay $3,000 to join that select company — and bring along five friends?

Add the luxury of a reserved parking space for door-to-door convenience and invite not five but nine guests. Would $5,000 be too much to pay for all that?

If you’re thinking that deal sounds sweet, then you’re the kind of person who makes Calvert’s Cancer Gala, as it’s called for short, among the nation’s top events funding the fight against cancer. All those $100 tickets just hold the line against expenses. It’s the big-dollar donors, explains founder Gerald Donovan, who make it pay.

And pay it does. In 24 years, the annual event has contributed $2 million to fighting cancer. Each year, the take gets bigger. Last year, it soared to $308,442. This year, the goal is $350,000.

That’s big money. To raise it each year, Donovan and his honorary chairs must make a $3,000, $5,000 or even $25,000 ticket sound like a deal too sweet to pass up.

How do they do it?
“You have to ask,” explains Maryland Senate President Mike Miller, of Calvert County, whose previous chairmanship helped put the gala in the big money. Miller learned that lesson back in college when he lost his first — and maybe only — election, for a seat on his fraternity board. Assessing his loss, he learned that his own roommate hadn’t voted for him. Why? Miller hadn’t asked.

Ask and you may receive is the first rule of charitable giving. Asking in the name of a good cause, the experts say, is often enough to open the faucet.

“Cancer is something every family knows something about. As a result, raising money for cancer research is easier as education isn’t necessary,” said Congressman Steny Hoyer, whose Fifth Congressional District includes Calvert County. Another past chairman who raised the Cancer Gala’s ante, Hoyer lost his wife Judy to cancer.

This year’s chairman, Terry Murray, proves Hoyer’s point. “Because we’ve all lost loved ones to cancer, this year my brother Denny contributed $25,000, as did my wife Dawn and I, and Gerald Donovan,” he said.

Murray, who is also president of Hospice Cup for the second year, has been a mortgage banker almost 40 years and is a partner in Patuxent Mortgage of Upper Marlboro where, he says, “we’ve had a great four or five years.”

His brother Dennis Murray is a developer whose projects include Victoria Station and Chesapeake Station, both at Chesapeake Beach. Donovan, of the Rod ’n’ Reel hospitality empire, created the Cancer Gala together with his own brother Fred and continues to sponsor and host the event.

In those choices, you’ll find two other secrets to raising big money. You ask people you know and, in Chairman Murray’s words, “people blessed in what they do.”

Connections are the open sesame of fund-raising.

“People give to people,” explains Jenny McGill, director of campaigns for South Atlantic Division of the American Cancer Society. “So having a prominent honorary chair in a community where people who know the chair and want to support them is a leveraging tool.”

This year, Murray expects to leverage his connections into $600,000 for Hospice Cup as well as $350,000 for Cancer Gala.

“I’ll turn to some of the same people,” he says. “In Calvert, I don’t ask for both, and I make people there aware of that. But I lived in Severna Park for 30 years and have lots of friends there.”

“You’ve got to ask people who have the capacity,” agrees Hoyer, who is also a dependable fundraiser for Democrats throughout the state and nation.

“There’s no point in asking people who can give $100 to give $500,” Hoyer says. “But there’s every point in asking those who can give $5,000 to do so.”

Thus Hoyer’s strategy is “to set a level of expectation and give them a reason.

“You go in with knowledge and ask them for what is a reasonable amount but more than they otherwise would have given,” Hoyer says. “You don’t want to start too small. You can always come down. It’s the rare individual who’ll say I’d like to give more than that.”

Murray, on the other hand, says, “I personally do not put expectations on people. I present them the opportunity. And I’m as thankful for $100 as for $25,000.”

Big money or small, it’s the personal connection, the experts agree, that coaxes people to part with their money.

“The most effective fundraiser is one the donor knows, respects, likes and has worked with before,” says Hoyer.

That’s why, when it comes time to raise money, whether for politics or charity, Hoyer dials the phone. “You have to do it yourself,” he says.

“It’s all about personal relationships,” McGill says. “Folks giving us the biggest amounts have affinity to our cause, based on building relationships over time. They believe in the work we do, and we make them feel valued and appreciated for the investment they’re making.”

On behalf of a good cause, how much would you pay for that?

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Out of Season, But Not Out of Mind
Native oysters on Congress’ summer plate
by M.L. Faunce

This time of year, crabs get top billing. But on Capitol Hill, expert witnesses will add heat to another shellfish issue that can’t wait for cooler weather.

This week the House Committee on Resources will hold a hearing on whether the Eastern oyster should be listed as an endangered species.

I called Resources Committee member and Maryland congressman Wayne Gilchrest for background, expecting a reply from one of his aides. When the congressman himself called back within minutes, I knew he was serious about oysters regardless of the season.

What prompted the hearing, says Gilchrest, was his initial request to look at the science of the Eastern oyster in the subcommittee he chairs on Fisheries Conservation, Wildlife and Oceans. Then, says Gilchrest, “the chairman decided to bring the issue to the full committee.

“What happens in Washington,” Gilchrest explains, “is you can hold a hearing dealing with Bay restoration and native oysters, but unless you keep this up and constantly pay attention, it fades out of public view and out of the decision makers’ view. The public does not have a great understanding of these issues. Nor do scientists, I think, converse enough on these issues.”

Gilchrest planned the subcommittee hearing, he said, “to show the condition of Virginica in the Chesapeake Bay and around the country and to show how degraded the Chesapeake Bay is.”

Awareness, he said, could “enhance the idea for more sanctuaries in the Chesapeake.”

The hearings could also give our oysters more political clout.

“Many scientists who deal with these issues come from public or natural resource agencies. Unless leadership tells them we need to do more, more is not done. Unless the leadership — that’s me, the governor, senators, state officials — pushes on this to be more innovative, then there is very little innovation that takes place. Unless there is a constant exchange of information, there are fewer ideas. So I think it’s important to ask the right questions and raise the issues.”

One result Gilchrest does not expect is for the Eastern oyster to make the endangered species list. Listing would bring it under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife and give it special protections.

“It’s not likely it will be listed,” Gilchrest said, “because it’s not endangered in some areas.”

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