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Shifting gears – Clientele growing

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By Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — As a high school student in Omaha, Neb., Anne Marie McDermott babysat for a neighbor with multiple sclerosis, a chronic and often disabling disease of the central nervous system.

Her experience with the disease – which typically is diagnosed among adults 20 to 40 years old, lasts a lifetime and affects twice as many women as men – shaped her choice of a career.

On graduating from the University of Kansas, she got a job with the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, first raising money for the Mid-America chapter in Kansas City and later managing the national cycling campaign at the New York-based charity’s Denver training center.

Now president of the Charlotte-based Mid-Atlantic chapter, McDermott aims to strengthen its financial footing and help the growing number of people diagnosed with the disease understand and cope with it.

Paying for programs and medical research can be challenging for a group that depends on special outdoor events for fundraising.

Last year, local walks raised $31 million, and local bicycle tours raised $30 million.

The Mid-Atlantic chapter — serving 7,000 people with multiple sclerosis and their families in 33 North Carolina counties, all of South Carolina and 22 counties in East Tennessee — netted just over $1 million last fall from its 150-mile bike tour to Myrtle Beach, S.C., and an estimated $767,000 from its walk last spring.

But weather can be fickle, with hurricanes in recent years reducing turnout at the bike tour.

To help offset weather-related threats to fundraising, the chapter wants to increase cash reserves and major gifts, including planned gifts made through wills and estate plans.

With an annual budget of $3.2 million, the chapter has a reserve of about $380,000 – which it wants to raise to about $600,000 in three years.

“Our goal is to get through the lean months, but we want to make sure our money is spent,” McDermott says.

The national organization, founded in 1946, also has launched the first-ever assessment of its entire structure, including ties with its 68 chapters.

Local chapters promote planned gifts through their newsletters, and the National MS Society has redesigned its Web site at nationalmssociety.org, which supports local fundraising by taking online pledges and donations.

The Charlotte chapter also is geared for three big events — its “Leaders Against MS” luncheon Aug. 9 at the Charlotte Hyatt in South Park, Great Gatsby fundraising party Aug. 11 at the First Union Atrium and bike tour Sept. 22-23.

Chapter Chairman Mike Daisley says contributing to the fight against the disease may be just what the doctor ordered.

“Persons with MS don’t always want to take,” says Daisley, a Charlotte lawyer who was diagnosed with the disease on his 25th birthday 20 years ago. “One of the best therapies any of us can have is to give.”

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