When Michael Kennedy first stepped into the CFO office at the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) in 2018, he was surprised to learn that the association was spending $8 million annually on office space across the country.
“Why were we in these offices?” asks Kennedy, voicing the question that helped to kick off the first of what he now characterizes as a multichapter digital transformation.
As it turned out, the 93 offices occupied by the MDA were a legacy of the organization’s historic Jerry Lewis Labor Day Telethon, a once-massive annual fundraising event for that had lost its mojo in the Age of the Internet.Read More
“MDA wanted to have an office near every local television station that was participating in the Telethon broadcast,” explains Kennedy, who notes that the MDA offices needed to compete with local Girl Scout troops and firefighters to secure fundraising airtime on the local affiliates.
“But the fact is that we had stopped doing the Telethon 8 years before I arrived,” reports Kennedy, who adds that the $8 million that the MDA had once paid in real estate fees now goes entirely to support MDA’s causes and mission—a development that the pandemic no doubt helped to accelerate.
He continues: “We now have a 100 percent remote office environment.”
Still, the pandemic put much of the transformation at the MDA into a holding pattern, as fundraising events and activities came to a near standstill. According to Kennedy, however, the MDA is now on its way to matching and even surpassing pre-pandemic fundraising levels, as it opens yet another impressive chapter in its healthcare history. –Jack Sweeney
Made Possible By
- CFO Michael Kennedy highlights finance transformation milestones at the Muscular Dystrophy Association.
- Identified a significant expense: $8 million yearly on 93 offices tied to a legacy event; streamlined this cost.
- Emphasized redirecting funds: Shifted 50% of expenditures towards mission-centric goals, now increased to 70%.
- Aligned spending with impactful programs: Emphasized scholarship programs, research funding, and community engagement.
- Implemented operational changes: Consolidated systems, moved to a single cloud-based platform, enhancing efficiency and impact metrics.
CFOTL: Tell us about the MDA … what sets this association apart from others today?
Kennedy: The MDA is a tremendous organization. To just put it in a snapshot, for more than 70 years, the Muscular Dystrophy Association has been the number one volunteer healthcare organization in the United States. We treat people with neuromuscular dystrophy, ALS, and a host of other related neuromuscular diseases—and have been doing so for a long time. Our primary mission is to empower the people whom we serve to lead more independent lives. This is what we do. This is why we’re here.Read More
How do we do it? There are a few concrete things on which we concentrate. Of course, there are the research dollars. Over these 70 years, we have plowed more than a billion dollars into research. Right now, we have $20 million in outstanding research projects going on. For a long time, we worked mainly on hope, but now we’ve had over 20 FDA approvals in the past 15 years. Now, the drugs are showing up. Now, they’re changing the lives of these individuals. This gives us a more complete range of options, which is expanding more and more.
Much of this stems from breaking down the DNA code, so that scientists can really start to understand what’s driving these neuromuscular diseases. Many of these researchers can’t get money anywhere else. The MDA has stepped in and given them money at a time when similar funds may have been going to cancer or heart disease or diabetes research. Suddenly, now, there’s this $1 billion drug industry where there’s a lot of interest in neuromuscular, but if you were able to turn back the clock, you’d see that we were the ones who said, “Yes, we’ll give you your $500,000 so that you can start studying the DNA strain of what’s driving this.”
So, as an organization, we take a lot of pride in the fact that all of drugs rolling out now were built on the back of a lot of support coming out of the MDA.
“The three attributes that I would say have made the biggest difference in my abilities as a CFO are courage, belief, and risk-taking. Having the courage to take on changes, having the belief to stick through a change when it got tough, and having the willingness to take a risk to try a different way to move the organization forward have all been cornerstones of my success.” –Michael Kennedy, CFO, MDA
MDA | www.mda.org | Chicago, IL