Does Phil Knight's $1 billion fundraising challenge hurt or help local nonprofits?

An Oregon nonprofit may be processing donations a lot more than it's used to in the coming year.

Nearly six months ago, Nike Inc. chairman Phil Knight and his wife Penny Knight challenged the Oregon Health and Science University to raise $500 million within the next two years. The couple pledged the same amount in November, which kicked off the campaign for the Knight Cancer Challenge. The pledge is the largest matching grant of its kind in U.S. history, the Portland Tribune recently reported.

The objective of OHSU is not only to match the Knight's donation, but to also fund research to find smarter and faster ways to detect cancer - or when the disease is most curable, its website said. Dr. Brian Duker, the project's lead researcher, is confident the funds can be raised, and he's already looking to bolster his staff with industry standouts.

"I have two main jobs over the coming year," Duker told the Portland Business Journal. "Helping with the fundraising and doing everything I can to see that we make our match, and two, fulfilling our promise of putting together a team of investigators for the next challenge in cancer research."

Economic stimulation or nonprofit domination?
Large-scale fundraising efforts are often good ways to create local jobs and raise awareness for burgeoning nonprofit organizations. The Knight Cancer Challenge is aimed at doing both, in addition to dumping a significant sum of money back into the local Oregon economy. Moreover, the end result is unarguably admirable in that cancer has caused two times as many deaths worldwide than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined. According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of global deaths from cancer will increase nearly 80 percent by 2030 if a cure isn't found.

Despite the good intentions of Knight's Cancer Challenge, the inadvertent and indirect effects on other local nonprofits may be larger than the average donor thinks. OHSU has already secured more than $86 million in private commitments toward the match - but the lump sum of donations has many wondering whether the local resource pool is running dry for the rest of the area's charitable organizations.

A recent OHSU survey regarding the matter found that 47 percent of local nonprofit respondents didn't feel that Knight's fundraiser would be a "rising tide that lifts all boats," the Portland Tribune said. Another 27 percent of charities said they were neutral on the matter. But as industry trends show, the nonprofit sector is typically pretty optimistic, so the survey results show a likely and legitimate cause for concern in the Pacific Northwest. One nonprofit who responded to the OHSU survey said it already had confirmation from a private donor that they would no longer be providing funding so they could contribute to the Knight foundation.

Despite local industry concern, most Oregon nonprofits reported increases in funding in 2013, the Portland Tribune added. But with a limited number of local resources to go around, Oregon charities will have to implement unique and creative ways to increase nonprofit payment processing.

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