CHARITY: Chain Letter for Sloan-Kettering Goes Big Time
A novel idea designed to raise a few thousand dollars for New York City's Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center has blossomed into a nearly $1 million enterprise that has become a who's who of Hollywood, Washington, big business and high fashion. The genesis of the phenomenon came when Carol Farkas, a volunteer nurse in New York, got an idea to raise money for Sloan-Kettering's home care program: "Send 10 friends a letter asking them to mail $10 apiece" to the center, then forward the letter to 10 others. As she is married to an "heir of a now-defunct department store chain, she mailed the original 10 letters to some reasonably well-off people." Much to her surprise, within a year and a half the letter "bounced through the elite of New York publishing, then ricocheted off superstars in Hollywood and is now caroming through the corridors of power in Washington," generating more than $800,000. Farkas said, "My husband and I figured we'd raise maybe $5,000 to $10,000. I thought it would last maybe three generations and that would be it. We don't know people in Hollywood." The Washington Post credits the success of the letter to the name recognition of Sloan-Kettering, and with the $10 amount, "which gives it the grass-roots feel of an underdog campaign."
Still, Sloan-Kettering officials are "irked and a little embarrassed about the appeal," and are complaining about the cost of cashing the checks. Moreover, they are concerned about losing the ability to fundraise from some of these wealthy people again -- "Dustin Hoffman's pockets, after all, are more than $10 deep." Spokesperson Chris Westerman said, "Our sense is that if somebody was willing to give $10, they would have given more and we missed an opportunity. We're grateful for the money, but please, if you have one of those letters, just throw it out." It is an attitude that Farkas cannot comprehend. She said, "I can't imagine it's that expensive to cash a check. Even if it costs $9 to process a $10 check, that's $1 million if 1 million people participate" (Segal, 4/8).