Fighting Cancer, One Lemonade at a Time

A community foundation helped grow one child’s idea of selling lemonade on her front lawn to an internationally acclaimed cancer fundraising effort. The success of Alex’s Lemonade Stand shows how community foundations are excellent resources for people with highly creative charitable ideas.

Just before her first birthday, Alexandra “Alex” Scott was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, a pediatric cancer. At age four, suffering deteriorating health, she decided to open a lemonade stand on her front lawn and donate the money to her doctors to help find a cure for pediatric cancers. When Alex’s Lemonade Stand blossomed into a substantial charitable endeavor, first through publicity from neighbors and friends, then from a flood of exposure in the media, her parents turned to The Philadelphia Foundation for assistance. The success of their partnership reflects the fact that community foundations are adept at helping people with highly creative charitable ideas achieve their philanthropic goals.

A Partner for Success

Alex’s simple but moving idea quickly gained attention in Philadelphia, where the family had relocated so that she could participate in experimental treatment. Through gifts from people and businesses, the charity raised an astounding $15,000, but Alex had an even bigger dream: to donate $1 million to cancer research. Through a family friend, Alex’s parents Jay and Liz Scott reached out to their local community foundation, The Philadelphia Foundation, to help run the fundraising effort and provide immediate charitable status, saving them the time and trouble of setting up their own 501(c)(3).

The foundation allowed the Scotts to hit the ground running, capitalizing on the momentum of Alex's efforts and supporting the campaign in the following key ways:

• Providing financial, administrative, and technical expertise to manage the growth of the fund
• Lending immediate credibility by being a respected organization with a proven track record and deep roots in the community
• Having the infrastructure in place to process donations and make grants

“Without The Philadelphia Foundation, Alex’s Lemonade Stand Foundation wouldn’t be where it is today,” says Jay Scott. “They provided an invaluable service to us, and we couldn’t have done it without them.”

Strengths of Community Foundations

In choosing a community foundation, the Scotts also avoided a number of hidden hassles inherent in a stand-alone charitable effort. “There are a lot of administrative costs that go along with setting up your own charity, such as regular audits,” says David Ashenfarb, a New York-based CPA who specializes in not-for-profit organizations. He added that community foundations are particularly good at mining their local contacts to find partners with expertise.

“You can use community foundations to provide funds and actual manpower—for example, the use of challenge grants,” Ashenfarb says. “If, as a donor, I put up $100,000 to a community foundation and they can also raise additional money, I'll match those gifts dollar for dollar. If somebody says they’re going to match the money you raise, that's very effective.”

Overwhelming Public Interest
As publicity grew with newspaper articles and television stories, so did public interest in Alex’s cause. Lemonade stands similar to Alex’s sprouted up all over the country. A class of third graders mailed in a check for $20. Another group of kids sold cookies and raised $150. A New York couple made wedding centerpieces out of lemons and donated the money they saved on flowers. Handwritten letters poured in by the hundreds, and media calls from all over the world, sometimes dozens a day, requiring immediate attention.

“It was the simplicity of the campaign and Alex’s dedication and charm that inspired everybody,” says Phil Arkow, marketing and communications officer for The Philadelphia Foundation. “Alex wanted to help, one cup of lemonade at a time. We offered her family the administrative services, the web linkages and the credibility.”

Honoring a Legacy
Per the family’s wishes, grants were made to hospitals treating children with cancer, as recommended by Jay and Liz Scott. The foundation received 10,000 donations totaling $2,019,813, and awarded 36 grants totaling $1,782,603, including one to start the Hugs for Jamall Fund, in memory of a seven-year old boy who also died of neuroblastoma.

Today, foundation officials use the knowledge they gained about pediatric cancer to help other charities in their own fundraising efforts for similar causes. The campaign has loomed so large in the public memory that foundation officials still refer to it when introducing themselves and explaining what they do. Alex’s Lemonade Stand has also paved the way for new donations to The Philadelphia Foundation to start new funds.

Alex died two years ago at age 8, and her family has honored her legacy by continuing to grow her charity. Today, they run their own foundation ( and have raised more than $6 million toward a cure for childhood cancers. “It would have been nearly impossible for us without The Philadelphia Foundation,” Jay Scott says.

Credibility and Expertise
Community foundations provide innovative fundraising ideas, brand-name credibility and instant charitable status to people with creative ideas. They draw upon their experience to provide best-practice advice, and help connect philanthropists with creative ideas to people with the skills and resources to help make them happen. Alex’s Lemonade Stand is a great example of the ability of community foundations to manage growth, support important causes, and lend substantial expertise and experience to charitable endeavors.

H. Maria Singer is a freelance writer based in New York City.

Copyright 2006, Council on Foundations and Community Foundations of America
Used with permission

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Posted at 11:33 AM, Oct 31, 2006 in Aging | Emergency Preparedness | Performance Measurement | Philanthropic Strategy | Permalink | Comment