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Philanthropy: The Michael J. Fox Foundation

Updated: Mar 16, 2022

"Genetics loads the gun and the environment pulls the trigger"– Michael J. Fox

Michael J Fox Foundation

Most people think of Emmy and Golden Globe winning fellow Canadian Michael J. Fox fondly from his roles in Family Ties, Teen Wolf, Back to the Future and Spin City. We also think of the public struggles that Michael has had with his battle against Parkinson’s Disease (PD). However, many of us have known someone closer to home; a family member, friend, or client who is one of over 100,000 Canadians who suffer with PD. While most people are aware of the Michael J. Fox Foundation (MJFF), what they may not realize is the incredible efficiency with which this charity operates and the leverage that it provides to enable groundbreaking research.

This past fall, Arthur toured the offices of the Foundation in New York City with co-founder and Executive Vice-Chairman Deborah Brooks to learn more about the MJFF vision. First and foremost, the MJFF carries a 5 star rating and is held in high praise for its efficiency and transparency – 89% of the contributions go to fund research, whereas many charities only have 50% or less operating efficiency.

The story of the founding of the MJFF is a unique one. It is a combination of the perspective of Michael, who had been diagnosed with PD and his desire to fund drug research, combined with Debi Brooks, a former executive of Goldman Sachs, who had a passion to bring productivity to philanthropy. Michael and Debi joined forces to make to their vision of accelerated drug development and its delivery to market a reality.

The first step was to utilize Michael’s name to get high quality professionals involved and to create a “brain trust” with the objective of understanding the science and the business of science. The goal was to spend money smarter; combine PHDs, MDs and scientists with business trained project leaders in order to prioritize research that can transform patient’s lives and get high risk, high reward projects funded by the MJFF.

The MJFF spearheaded a highly unconventional collaboration of 3 biotech companies who set aside their status as competitors to work side-by-side to share their findings around their research on the LRRK2 gene. This collaboration has fast tracked drug research and development - what would have taken 10 years has taken only a period of 9 months. The implication is that this neuroscience research will not only help those afflicted with Parkinson’s, but provide overlapping benefit for those with Alzheimer’s, ALS, and Multiple Sclerosis. This is proof positive of the unique execution of MJFF’s vision.

While the focus has been on the MJFF, the takeaway is that in order to ensure that each donation provides the maximum benefit to those in need, a quick review can be performed on the efficiency of any charity that one wishes to support. At Northland Wealth we believe in charitable giving and philanthropy and our goal is to help you with finding the most effective means of supporting those causes that are dearest and most important to you.


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