Cover Story: Worth The Gamble
Las Vegas: known for its high rollers, Elvis impersonators, and Siegfried and Roy. But now the glitzy city also is attracting attention for a major philanthropic success.
When the Nevada Cancer Institute rooted down in Las Vegas more than four years ago, its development staff did something unheard of in the city: They asked potential donors for unprecedented $1 million gifts to fund the comprehensive cancer research and care facility. To date, the NVCI has raised in excess of $60 million — $40 million of which has been in individual million-dollar gifts.
Until recently, there had been a near-total lack of research-linked care for Nevadans, who often have to travel out of state for specialized treatment. In 1998, Heather and Jim Murren — both former Wall Streeters with a history of cancer in their families — relocated to Las Vegas and began working with community leaders to build a cancer center for statewide use. Heather Murren is the NVCI’s president and chief executive, while her husband is president of MGM Mirage.
Shortly after her family relocated to Nevada, Heather Murren volunteered at a Las Vegas medical clinic and saw that uninsured cancer patients were sent to emergency rooms, and those who could afford to travel left the state for treatment. Recognizing the need for a cancer institute in the state, Murren quit her job as Merrill Lynch’s lead consumer-products analyst to spearhead the launching of the institute.
“The need for a [cancer institute] has been a recognized need everywhere in the state, in every segment of the community,” says Shelley Gitomer, the NVCI’s vice president for development. “The Murrens did their homework very early on, and the need was confirmed by not only all facets of the government but by people at the University of Nevada, people in the private sector, and by cancer patients and their families. There hasn’t been one segment of the population that has not rallied around this.”