"Death with dignity" is a polarizing, controversial slogan among the American public. But to Mickey MacIntyre it's an article of faith. MacIntyre is the chief program officer for Compassion & Choices, which works to improve care and expand choice for people who feel they should have the right to decide at which point death is a better choice than paying the high costs — both physical and emotional — of remaining alive.
C&C is headquartered in Portland, Ore., and Denver, and currently has 40 affiliate groups. The organization is a huge and, at first glance, unlikely success story.
"It's pretty significant that we've grown during the economic recession," MacIntyre says. "In 2010 we had 32,000 donors. In fiscal 2011, we had 38,000."
During roughly the same period, C&C's operating budget went from $5 million to its current level of $8.2 million — more than a 60 percent growth rate. This happened despite the fact that it has no government or corporate support, and is entirely dependent on contributions from individuals, planned giving and foundations.
"We've expanded our development work. We received support from longtime foundation friends who invested in that work to make sure we were able to do the work," MacIntyre says. "And we were smart in limiting our risk of exposure as we were expanding."
Limiting risk at C&C meant choosing the least costly way to enhance funding. It involved working on an aggressive major-donor acquisition program, one that included a tremendous emphasis on reclaiming lapsed donors.
But still — how to account for C&C's high growth rate, especially in a country where there is strong organized opposition to the idea that terminally ill, mentally competent people should be permitted to play a major role in deciding how and when to end their own lives?