You could say that the Salk Institute “began on a dime.” Or millions of them.

In 1938, the nation’s citizens were asked to send President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who had contracted polio as an adult, a birthday present of a single dime (or more, if they chose) to help fund his newly created National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis. Playing off a popular newsreel, “The March of Time,” entertainer Eddie Cantor asked Americans to create a “march of dimes.” And they did. That year alone people sent in more than two and a half million dimes, totaling $268,000. The foundation eventually changed its name to the March of Dimes and, later, after Jonas Salk’s discovery of the polio vaccine, helped him finance the Institute that would continue to seek cures for disease.

It always amazes and pleases me when I see people come together in a united effort, each contributing what they can—be it a small monetary donation or a unique skill or the generous gift of their time—and thereby accomplishing remarkable works.

The Salk Institute welcomes every one of these heartfelt contributions. While larger gifts are memorialized at the Institute’s entry or acknowledged via naming rights—deservedly so—less extravagant gifts, no matter the size, also serve to move science forward. And we are honored to receive them.

When Wendy Levy died of metastatic breast cancer in March of 2014, her family asked that, in lieu of flowers, donations be sent to The Wendy Levy Fund for Breast Cancer Research at Salk. Although most gifts were between $25 and $100, in just three months the Institute received over $9,900. By December of the following year, that number had risen to $31,500. What an honorable way to celebrate the life of a loved one while helping preserve the lives of others.

The people who work here daily are no less inspired to support the life-changing science that erupts all around us. When Ted Waitt initiated the Jacobs Rockstar Recruitment Fund in honor of Chair Emeritus Irwin Jacobs (the “original rock star,” says Ted) many of our Board members made significant and much-appreciated contributions. Then our Salk scientists and staff began adding their own donations, many in the $50 to $500 range. I’ve personally contributed to this fund, too, because I know that an investment in top talent is an investment in saving lives.

In this same spirit of crowdfunding, a concept that enables people of moderate means to financially impact the issues important to them, Wolfgang Busch recently initiated a crowdfunding campaign so that his lab can purchase a seed-planting robot. Salk supporters Carol and Larry Greenfield then made a matching gift challenge of $150,000, thus doubling the amount of each crowdfunding contribution.

And in yet another example of many coming together to make an impact, friends and family members of Salk scientists unite annually with teams from other organizations in a local cycling event called “Padres Pedal the Cause.” The proceeds remain in San Diego to fund cancer research and the Salk Institute is one of the four beneficiaries. Since 2013, over 40,000 riders and donors have compiled nearly $5 million.

Parables throughout history reinforce the idea that small contributions from many regularly produce astonishing results. A delicious meal from “stone soup.” A ball dress from scraps. Soldiers saved by the little ships of Dunkirk. Allow me to add the many, many lives saved by incremental advances in scientific discovery…funded, in part, by each of you. Thank you.


Elizabeth Blackburn
President, Salk Institute
Irwin M. Jacobs Presidential Chair

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