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  • Writer's pictureDrew Schneider

BrightFocus Foundation: January Cause of the Month

Elon Packin, Chariot’s Head of Partnerships, chose to support BrightFocus Foundation this month because of the hope they bring after a recent loss.

The thought of losing something so essential to human life like memory or sight, is incredibly distressing and overwhelming. Anyone that has experienced a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, Macular Degeneration or Glaucoma in their family knows it all too well.

Elon Packin, Chariot’s Head of Partnerships, has lost two grandparents to debilitating cognitive decline and saw first-hand the distress it caused for his entire family.

"It's so hard to watch your loved ones struggle with these diseases, especially when it feels like there’s so little we know about treating and curing them."

Elon and his wife with his late grandmother, Safta Hana

That’s exactly why BrightFocus Foundation was founded 50 years - to fund early stage research to combat these debilitating diseases and increase public awareness of the risks and treatments available. It’s clear how deeply the team at BrightFocus feels the impact and importance of their mission with many members of this close-knit work family having been with the nonprofit for multiple decades. 

“I’ve been here for over 25 years because it’s just a great organization with amazing people that are incredibly proud of the work we’re able to achieve together,” shares Lisa Morgan, the organization’s Senior Director of Annual Giving. 

BrightFocus deploys research grants at the earliest stages to make sure new ideas are getting explored and reaching a viable point of funding by the federal government so promising discoveries can be properly scaled. “We’re at the start line of really launching new ideas,” explains Lisa.

"We want to launch novel & bold ideas that could make a difference and be a game changer because so many scientists struggle to get that initial funding."

It’s not just funding that the organization provides these scientists either - they have a holistic program to make sure researchers are set up for future funding success. “We also help researchers fill out their grant forms, put together presentations, connect with mentors, etc. to make sure there’s downstream success for the initial research we’re backing,” added Jennifer Kerchaert, Director of Direct Response Marketing.

This model of early “bets” and broad-based support has proven incredibly successful: for every dollar that BrightFocus invests, there’s an average 10x as much money invested in future research by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and other, larger grantmakers. 

For the fundraising and communications team in particular, they know that a big part of their role is keeping hope alive among their donors, their researchers and their staff internally that are all working toward a daunting goal of eradicating these incredibly complex diseases. 

“Knowledge is power,” says Jennifer.

“People feel empowered when they have more information and understand more of what’s happening. So we do our best to keep everyone informed on all the research we fund every year - how much we’re funding, what we’re funding and how it is going to work.” 

Many of the supporters of BrightFocus that have been personally affected by Alzheimers, Macular Degeneration or Glaucoma know that a total cure is likely not going to happen in their lifetime, but they’re motivated to donate and help find a cure that will benefit their children or grandchildren. And they can hold on to this belief because of the progress BrightFocus has made already and how many promising breakthroughs are right over the horizon.

That’s certainly how Elon and his family feel after their loss, he shared that “while there was so little we could do to help my grandparents at the end of their lives, the fact that there are groups like BrightFocus making sure future generations might avoid the same fate is incredibly inspiring.” 

Elon's grandmother, Safta Hana

“When I started 25 years ago, I didn’t even know what Macular Degeneration was and there was no treatment available,” recalls Lisa. “And it’s incredible to see how much progress we’ve helped lead - both in introducing treatments and greatly increasing awareness for who’s at risk, how to get tested and how to cope with a new diagnosis.” 

There’s a clear feeling of excitement in the industry as technological advances allow the pace of research and innovation to grow exponentially in recent years. Jennifer is particularly blown away at how advances in AI, big data, and crowdsourcing have led to collaborative discoveries not even imaginable a few years ago.

“We’ve seen disparate groups from around the globe providing data inputs for Alzheimer's research - like a school teacher having their science class do a test on capillaries in the brain - that would’ve taken an individual scientist years and years to compile on their own.”

BrightFocus is also excited to tap into more support from Donor Advised Funds for their critical work. After recently enabling DAFpay on their main donation form, they received their first DAF gift from an existing donor that they never knew had a DAF. This is a very common experience when enabling DAFpay because most donors with a DAF still use their credit card for most of their online donations because it’s so much easier. 

That’s the power of giving all donors an easy embedded option to use DAFs - you never know who will reveal themselves as a high potential donor with a DAF and an organization like BrightFocus can properly steward them. 

Please consider joining Elon and the whole team at Chariot in supporting BrightFocus with your DAF this month - it couldn’t be any easier. 


Chariot’s Cause of the Month is an initiative where a member of our team gets to select a nonprofit organization close to their hearts to support with funds from our company Donor-Advised Fund. We also spend the month encouraging our networks to support the Cause of the Month with us, especially if they have a DAF. Chariot’s DAF payment option makes it possible to support great organizations like BrightFocus Foundation directly in their own donation form in under 10 seconds.


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