Breaking the Nonprofit Mold; How Our Foundation Dares to be Different

At our very beginning, sport collided with our cause in a way Executive Director Rick Dunetz couldn’t predict. With his mother Gloria diagnosed for the second time with breast cancer and a team of young volleyball players thrown onto Rick’s plate at the same time, two very magical things started to happen. His team, not even expected to win half their matches, rallied behind him and in support of his mother and won a district title. As a result, Rick’s mother also learned that healing could come not only from doctors and medicine, but also from strength and persistence.

“Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair.”

Nelson Mandela

Sport has unparalleled reach, opening doors for people no matter their age, race, gender or ethnicity. Sport is educational, teaching values and social skills such as respect, fair play and goal setting. Sport is inspiring, unifying and powerful bringing communities and even countries together.

Sport presented itself once again, to Rick and to many others that season, showing exactly what it has the power to do. That power was something Rick deemed worth harnessing and The Side-Out Foundation was born.

Why We Are Unique

With over a million nonprofits in the U.S. alone, you can imagine the spectrum on both their areas of focus and their operations is huge. Some focus on the arts, some the environment, some human services. Some operate publicly, some privately, whether they are research-driven (operating) or grant-driven (non-operating).
Side-Out FunnelWhere Side-Out falls however, is a little unique.

Our Focus

Well you see, we don’t have one…we have many.

Through youth education and empowerment, The Side-Out Foundation unify sport of volleyball to impact change. Thus, we are both a youth and sport organization.

By participating in Dig Pink® initiatives and our Ambassador Program, these youth work to drive change in the way breast cancer is treated by funding Side-Out’s very own clinical trial the Side-Out Protocol. This aggressively funded, highly-targeted research program sponsored entirely by the volleyball community is owned, managed, and operated by Side-Out. Thus, we are a research organization.

Furthermore, Side-Out also funds college scholarships for our Side-Out Ambassadors and provides grants to patient support services organizations in localities relevant to our Dig Pink participants. Thus, we are also a grant organization.

How We Operate

Side-Out continues to make three choices that define the way we operate as a foundation and make us unlike any other nonprofit out there:

We choose to own, fund, and manage our own clinical research.

This is far from traditional nonprofit practice. Most nonprofits are grant-only organizations, meaning they raise funds for their missions annually and grant those same dollars annually to research teams or other organizations that support their mission and goals.

However, it is very expensive to run a clinical trial. We’re talking $25,000 – $40,000 per patient in the study just for standard level of care (among other costs). Furthermore, our fund allocation is determined by what stage our clinical trial is in, each stage (patient accrual, site allocation, etc.) requiring different amounts of funding over the course of the trial. Affording the various phases of our ongoing clinical trial simply is not possible from one year of fundraising. The foundation actually has to stockpile funds and earmark dollars in order to afford the work our research team does.

The Side-Out team took a tour of lab at GMU in March. In this photo, researcher Mariaelena Pierobon holds up a slide of breast cancer cells.

Yes that’s correct. Our research team. Side-Out actually contracts our own team of scientists to outsource the work the clinical trial needs. Yet another part of why Side-Out is so unique. Unlike research teams looking for grants, our team of scientists is able to work and complete research/components of research (in full, without fearing the funds will run out) and then literally invoice the foundation for the funds to pay for the work they have completed.

Affording a clinical trial is expensive and applying for grant after grant of varying amounts for research teams is exhausting and unnerving. By stockpiling funds and contracting our own research team, Side-Out has cut out the middleman and eliminated the need altogether for our researchers to apply for grants. We’ve made funding sustainable for both our trial and our team of scientists.

We choose to give our constituents ownership.

This piece is and always has been extremely important to us. Donors find comfort in feeling they understand where their money is going. Dig Pink® participants have the opportunity to donate a portion of the funds they raise through our local giving grants to patient support services organizations in their communities. By doing this, Side-Out gives its constituents ownership of what they fund (local giving grants and The Side-Out Protocol).

This ownership is important to us but we want to take it one step further. The Side-Out Protocol is completely funded by the Side-Out Foundation and Side-Out is completely backed by volleyball. Thus all of the Side-Out Protocol’s results and breakthroughs can be directly attributed to the sport. We are able and proud to give volleyball this ownership and declare that volleyball itself is changing breast cancer treatment.

We choose to thank our constituents by investing in their futures.

Over the years, Side-Out has connected with people who wholeheartedly believe in ALL parts of our mission, using the power and influence of sport to impact youth and advocate for our cause. Establishing this tribe of advocates has been an integral part of the Foundation’s success and we want to give back to them. Through Side-Out’s Ambassador Program and our Dig Pink® awards, Side-Out invests in the future of its advocates by providing college scholarships and valuable coaching education.

2017 Ambassador Scholarship Winner
2017 Ambassador Scholarship Award Winner

Overall, these three choices sincerely shape how we operate as an organization as both a research-driven (operating) and grant-driven (non-operating) private foundation. They allow us to sustainably fund a clinical trial that is changing the way breast cancer is treated. They allow us to connect the work our funders are doing with the results they are producing and give our constituents ownership. They allow us to accomplish the goals and mission this organization were founded on; making an impact both on research and young athletes. Choosing volleyball to sponsor our own clinical trial has been and continues to be one of the best decisions we’ve ever made.

Side-Out, our programs, and our research are supported by thousands of people each year. In 13 years of existence, Side-Out has teamed with over 100,000 student-athletes on 8,907 teams in the volleyball community and 10 prestigious research teams, hospitals and research centers nationwide to drive change in the way that breast cancer is treated.

Quite simply, our team is huge.

Through youth education and empowerment, the Side-Out Foundation is unifying the volleyball community to drive change in the way breast cancer is being treated. As you can see now, we are doing it in a somewhat nontraditional way, but a way that allows us to have the greatest impact and results possible.

It’s hard to show that nicely in a pie chart or a percentage. Our impact is shown in the words of our Ambassadors, in the eyes of athletes who’ve realized they can make a difference, and in the time we are giving to those living with stage IV breast cancer, a community who just wants to be heard, valued, and fought for.

We’ve united a sport together to accomplish a very specific goal. We proved it can be done and it is being done. And when we’ve accomplished our goal, we know there will be something else out there for us to pursue.

“And no, we don’t know where it will lead. We just know there’s something much bigger than any of us here.”

Steve Jobs

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