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Cause personal for MS fundraiser

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By Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Ten years ago, while working a summer job before his senior year at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, S.C., Matt Honeycutt felt pain in his right side from the chest down, and spent four days in the hospital for tests that included spinal taps, blood work and MRI screening.

Ruling out multiple sclerosis, his doctors told him he had transverse myletis, a condition similar to MS that destroys mylen coating on the nervous system, and gave him steroids intravenously for five days.

But last January, after experiencing numbness on his entire left side during a visit to Chicago last fall, Honeycutt was diagnosed with MS.

“Technology 10 years ago wasn’t as good, and couldn’t see the things we can see now,” says Honeycutt.

Raising money to pay for advances in MS research now is the focus of Honeycutt’s job as major gifts officer for the Mid-Atlantic Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

The Charlotte-based chapter, which covers all of South Carolina and 33 counties in the western third of North Carolina, raised more than $3.9 million last year.

Annual fundraising includes special events like a Bike Tour in September to South Myrtle Beach, S.C., a walk next spring from Pfeiffer University in Misenheimer, and one-day walks throughout the year in cities throughout the region.

In addition, the chapter now is trying to raise $1 million as part of a national MS campaign to raise more than $32 million by 2010 through major gifts from individuals.

Since it was founded in 1946, the national organization has raised over $420 million it has invested in MS research.

As with all 64 MS chapters throughout the United States, 40 percent of funds raised locally go to the national MS office to support research, and the remaining 60 percent are used locally for programs, advocacy, training for health professionals, and emergency financial assistance.

The Mid-Atlantic Chapter provides services and programs to 6,000 people with MS, a chronic, often disabling disease of the central nervous system that is the number one disabling disease of young adults.

Advances in research have made it easier to diagnose and treat MS, Honeycutt says.

“As my doctor told me, ‘This is the best time in the history of medicine to be diagnosed with MS’ because we are inches from finding the causes,” he says. “There are now for the first time medicines that don’t stop the attacks but can slow down the frequency of the attacks.”

Recruited by Anne Marie McDermott, the chapter president, after meeting her at an MS fundraising event, Honeycutt says his strategy will focus on phoning and visiting donors who have supported the chapter in the past.

“It’s not about the money,” he says. “It’s about talking to people and finding out what their passions are, what gets them excited, and then plugging them into our organization, and saying, ‘We’ve got a program that matches your goals.’”

Honeycutt says he is not shy about talking to donors about his personal bout with MS.

“I’m having a daughter in November,” he says. “My goal is to walk my daughter down the aisle. MS fights against that. The Society is going to help me do it.”

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