Knight Cancer Challenge racks up millions more, thanks to ad campaigns and doughnut sales

With the help of good old-fashioned print advertising and an enterprising nine-year-old with a good handle on selling sweets, Oregon Health & Science University’s Knight Cancer Challenge continues to climb toward its $500 million goal.

The efforts have raised $19 million in the past two months alone, for a total of $105 million from private donors.

Combined with a $200 million commitment from the Oregon Legislature, the Challenge is now up to $305 million, or almost two thirds of the way to its $500 million goal. Nike co-founder Phil Knight and his wife Penny have pledged $500 million for cancer research if the university can raise an equal sum by Feb. 4, 2016.

Two-page newspaper ads that ran on May 7 prompted a flurry of interest and online donations, with a 50 percent increase in visits to the campaign's site, said Steve Stadum, the Knight Cancer Institute’s chief operating officer.

The two-page spreads, designed pro bono by Portland-based advertising giant Wieden+Kennedy, ran in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Seattle Times and San Francisco Chronicle. A similar version ran on Mother’s Day.

The left side of the page shows a pair of scissors and an orange ribbon with one end snipped off. The right side has this message: “Cancer doesn’t need another ribbon. It needs another cure.” It goes on to explain how OHSU revolutionized the treatment of chronic myeloid leukemia with Gleevec (developed by Knight Cancer Institute Director Dr. Brian Druker).

“That’s one cancer down. We are going after cancer as aggressively as it goes after us. ... Help us make cancer the victim.”

The ads are intended to raise awareness in outside the scientific community, Stadum said.

“It’s a conversation starter, a way to get people’s attention,” he said. “If you’re going to do this and you’re not well known and you have a story to tell, you need to make it effective.”

He said several million has been budgeted for ads and social media over the course of the campaign.

“We expect to receive multiple returns on investment,” he said.

Seven months into the Challenge, the university has raised more gift for the school and cancer research than during any comparable period in the history of the institution, Stadum said.

He said the size of recent donations has been all over the map, from $1 million donations to several hundred dollars collected from a doughnut sale organized by a 9-year-old girl. Another $68,868 came from OHSU employees in just a 24-hour period and matching gifts from companies.

Donations have poured in from 47 states and from out of the country.

“We’re reaching out beyond Oregon’s borders now,” Stadum said. “We wanted to make sure, as we go around the country, we have a good start and a good level of support from Oregon.”

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