The September/October issue of Currents explored the importance of working collaboratively with faculty in “When Advancement Meets Academia.” In this web exclusive, an advancement leader with a science background shares insights into the nuances of fundraising for medical research.
As Managing Senior Director, Foundation Engagement, at UC Davis, California, U.S., Traci Galbaugh helps medical faculty attain nongovernmental funding for research on rare diseases. Given her own medical research credentials, the passion she brings to her work is not surprising.
Galbaugh earned a Ph.D. in molecular biology from the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences before becoming a postdoctoral fellow at Northwestern University’s Lurie Cancer Center in Chicago, U.S.
“When I was a faculty member and medical researcher, I didn’t know there were people in jobs like the one I have now that could help me get funding,” she recalls.
She moved into a position as the associate director for an interdisciplinary graduate program in biological sciences, and then into foundation relations—both positions at Northwestern. That move to advancement was 14 years ago.
“I’ve never looked back,” says Galbaugh. “It helps that I speak ‘science.’ … I tell faculty members, ‘My job is to help you get funding so you can stay here and do your research.”
Now in a leadership position at UC Davis, Galbaugh enjoys coaching fellow development professionals in best practices for faculty collaboration.
She acknowledges that fundraising for medical science can be intimidating for a layperson: “The key is understanding the impact of the science. If you ask a scientist, ‘Tell me about your research,’ they are likely to go into a deep dive. Instead, we might say, ‘In two sentences tell me why the average person should care about what you are doing? What impact will it have?’”
Galbaugh says getting government-funded grants for medical research has become increasingly difficult and competitive. And that means “researchers are more willing and eager to work with us. They understand they must diversify their funding portfolios beyond agencies like the NIH, especially for pilot studies,” she says.
Donors want to hear from the researchers and they want to see the labs where the science happens. For that reason, Galbaugh and her colleagues often organize tours and talks for their foundation donors led by researchers.
“I have nothing to pitch without faculty members,” she says.
Kyle Fink, Assistant Professor, Neurology and Institute for Regenerative Cures in the Department of Neurology at UC Davis, says he is quick to answer the call, especially given his strong collaborative relationship with Galbaugh.
Fink is a scientist who develops gene editing platforms in the quest for medical breakthroughs in rare neurodegenerative diseases, such as Angelman’s Syndrome and Huntington’s disease. While he admits it is difficult to take time away from his lab work, he understands the importance of making personal connections with donors. Sometimes, he says, he learns as much as they do.
“It’s illuminating and motivating to talk to them. Those living with these diseases offer a perspective we don’t see in the lab,” he says.
The biggest lesson he’s learned from working hand-in-hand with his development team?
“You have to be a good steward of the funds,” he says. “You don’t want to offer false hope. Science is not designed for easy success or getting everything right on the first try. It takes failure to get to breakthroughs. Donors should understand that cures take years and years. And that means being accountable and transparent: ‘We did something we hoped would work. It didn’t and here’s why. But it was still valuable because we gained insights.’”
Those conversations, he adds, happen best with the guidance and support of development professionals like Galbaugh.
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