I read “Love is the Cure” by Elton John. I bought it for my husband, knowing what a fan he is. But quickly became engaged by how Sir Elton moved from curiosity to creating an important foundation. At 200 pages, it is a quick and moving read.
Rather than a recap of his life thus far, this book tells the extraordinary journey he took from meeting Ryan White to running his foundation and his dream of ending AIDS. His passion and urgency clearly come through in his writing.
Best of all (for fundraisers) it is a classic story of engagement – Identification, Information, Interest, Involvement, Investment.
Identification - The books begins when Sir Elton reads the story of Ryan White, a school boy with hemophilia who contracts AIDS through blood products used to care for his disease. “It must have been 1985 when I first learned about Ryan… I picked up a magazine from a stack in the waiting room . I was mindlessly flipping through the pages when I came across an article that would change my life.”
Information – Ryan’s story moves Sir Elton and he reaches out to his family, offering help and friendship. Elton learns more about AIDS and HIV. Sir Elton is at Ryan’s bedside when he dies. He writes, ”But the fact is that I was a gay man in the ’80s who didn’t march. I didn’t give the time or effort that I easily could have, and should have, to fight AIDS and support those who had.” He enters rehab, sorts out his life, and relocates to Atlanta.
Interest – Working in fundraising, we have seen a donor become passionate about a cause; he or she starts with small steps and turns into an amazing champion – and the evolution of Sir Elton is practically text-book. Sir Elton and his partner Hugh attend their first AIDS walk in 1990. Then they volunteer at Open Hand, delivering home-cooked meals to AIDS patients. Other volunteer opportunities and experiences follow.
Involvement – Then a peer, Elizabeth Taylor, asks Hugh and Sir Elton to become more involved… in this case to join in a benefit concert to raise money for HIV/AIDS. “It was the final catalyst,” he writes,” for one of the most important decisions I have ever made in my life – the decision to start a foundation devoted to fighting AIDS.”
Investment – “Several things in the lead-up to the benefit concert and then it its aftermath had struck me. First, it was clear that you could leverage fame and celebrity not only to raise a considerable amount of money but to raise awareness, too, something that was critical to breaking down the stigma that had grown up viciously around the AIDS epidemic. But second, as effective and important as individual benefit concerts were, the process felt piecemeal to me. When someone like Elizabeth Taylor mobilized the troops, we were, of course, happy to answer the call. And the money raised at such events went directly to fighting the disease. But there was something missing: a general lack of coordination. A single place where the money could be pooled and spent strategically would be more efficient and more effective. That way, I thought, we could maximize the bang for our proverbial buck.”
As a fundraiser, I enjoyed how much this book delves into issues facing grant making foundations. It is true that Sir Elton is famous, his connections are global and profoundly useful (Elizabeth Taylor, Bill Clinton, Ted Kennedy). But much of it covers what I consider the best in missions, staying on message, leveraging support, and ecumenical in outreach.
In the book, he discusses the importance of governments, religious organizations, the corporate community (especially drug companies) and private individuals working together. He talks about how his grant-making foundation, the Elton John AIDS Foundation (EJAF), works in many countries, with a variety of organizations. Sir Elton is opinionated about people, groups and leaders who obstruct, lie and instill fear about AIDS and HIV.
“Without nonprofits, critical work like this would go undone. Charitable organizations have a tremendous role to play in fighting AIDS and a tremendous responsibility as well, just like every other institution I’ve discussed here. Because the work of nonprofits is essential, the way they undergo their work is essential, too. Nonprofits must act appropriately with the same accountability that we demand of governments and corporations and religious institutions.
“Whether you’re operating a grant-making foundation like the EJAF, or a small on-the-ground organization like the many we fund, the strength of the operation determines the reach of its impact. And that matters a great deal. …Resources are so precious that we can’t be wasteful; otherwise we’re harming the cause.”
Whether you are working in the area of AIDS/HIV, are interested in hearing how a prospect can move to a charitable investor, or wish insights on setting up and running a foundation, this is a great book – and of course a must if you are a fan of Elton John.