One of the best ways to make a foundation successful is to find a generous group of donors to help support it—and that’s just what the Melanoma Research Alliance has done. Debra Black was diagnosed with Stage 2 melanoma in 2007, and after her successful recovery she and her husband, Leon, founded the MRA.
Mr. Black is the famed founder of private equity firm Apollo Global Management, a venture that has made him into a billionaire. But his wife’s diagnosis served as a “real wake-up call,” reminding them both that cancer can strike anyone, anytime. Debra was lucky and has made a full recovery without any remissions, but through the process, the Blacks discovered that not much was actually known about melanoma.
“This was a field, as we learned, that really did not have a lot of momentum six years ago,” Black said, pointing out that at one time a diagnosis of melanoma was almost certain death. “Our hope is to be out of business in the next five years.”
But with no knowledge on how to actually run a cancer foundation, the Blacks had to turn to a friend for support: Michael Milken. His success in the medical research world and his many connections made him a prime support figure throughout the formation of MRA.
“Would you like to do in melanoma what I’ve been able to do with prostate cancer?” he reportedly asked Black.
With the combined network of the Blacks and Mr. Milken, that proposal has become a reality. Black is big on Wall Street, and has recruited many big names to the cause, including Jeff Rowbottom and Henry Kravis of KKR, Brendan Dillon of UBS, and Glenn R. August of Oak Hill Advisors. Last year, the annual benefit raised around $925,000.
“In a very cynical world Wall Street is viewed as just wanting to make money, but that is not the truth,” said Black after last year’s benefit. “Wall Street has funded so many hospitals in this city, there is the Robin Hood Foundation, and many other philanthropic efforts.”