High school students share tips on how they broke through today’s challenging charity landscape

Recent studies show that charitable donations are declining. In fact, according to a recent survey conducted by Dunham+Company and outlined in Chronicle of Philanthropy (A Fourth of Donors Plan to Give Less in 2023. Here’s How to Keep Them in the Fold), nearly a quarter of those surveyed who had previously given $20 or more said they plan to give less in the future.

While the statistics can be discouraging, three unstoppable students are proving that anything is possible with hard work and dedication, especially with a lifesaving mission in mind.

Each year, thousands of relentless high school students across the U.S. commit to ending blood cancer by participating in The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s (LLS) philanthropic competition, Student Visionaries of the Year.

The 2023 National Student Visionaries of the Year winning team, “Chipping Away at Cancer,” broke a new fundraising record, raising over $1.1 million to help LLS in funding lifesaving research, support services for patients, and critical advocacy efforts. The winning team is composed of co-candidates, 16-year-old Mary Stewart Efird, 16-year-old Danny Horgan, and 16-year-old Evan Coverdale of the Charlotte, North Carolina, metro area.

Knowing firsthand the devastation a cancer diagnosis brings upon a family, the team “Chipping Away at Cancer” knew they wanted to do something to support others impacted by this terrible disease diagnosed every 180 seconds across the U.S.

Efird nearly lost her beloved cousin, Lila, to acute myeloid leukemia two years ago. She is now cancer-free because of an LLS-funded clinical trial. Similarly, Horgan’s grandfather is a survivor of blood cancer and participated in his honor.

From hosting innovative community events to working around the clock to develop creative pitch decks, it’s safe to say their relentless efforts to raise funds for LLS paid off.

All three million-dollar fundraising superstars were asked what their biggest piece of advice is for anyone determined to raise funds for a cause close to their heart. Here’s what they had to say:

“As a young person, fundraising can seem extremely intimidating and challenging. I have found that you just have to commit to the first step — making an ask. A personal ask can transform your fundraising efforts as you share your story with those willing to listen.

“Whatever the result, this personal ask opens the door to a meaningful connection that strengthens your community and grows your cause!” — Mary Stewart Efird

“I found that the best way to fundraise was to ask as many people as possible to donate, no matter who they may be. The amount of times I was told yes were significantly more than no. Especially in cancer fundraising, almost everyone you talk to has somehow been affected, either personally, in the family, or a friend; even I saw cancer firsthand through my grandfather.

“With this being said, I believe that people were attracted to donate to the cause because they know how much cancer has impacted the world. Although this might not be the same in other types of fundraising, I would still say that to have the most impact, don’t be afraid to ask.” — Danny Horgan

“Throughout this campaign, I faced a lot of adversity. The main one I faced was nervousness and anxiety. Before this campaign, I was not much of a social person and would become uncomfortable when in the spotlight. That being said, my main piece of advice would be don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone because you can accomplish amazing things.

“I thought doing these meetings and asking important people for donations would be a large leap out of my comfort zone but I quickly realized I was only making a small step instead. My first few meetings, the people I met with were so kind and generous and were more than happy to donate to this incredible cause so my worry soon faded into ambitiousness.

“So, I urge you, if you are anything like me, go out and just try to make a difference and you will see the amazing things you can do as well as your comfort zone expanding.” — Evan Coverdale

LLS’s signature fundraisers have helped invest more than $1.6 billion in cutting-edge research worldwide, fueling nearly every critical advancement in blood cancer treatment that spans the most promising cancer research.

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