Q&A: Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Ellen Rubesin

The executive director of the organization’s Pennsylvania chapter shares her vision for the future.

Ellen Rubesin anticipated a career teaching English, until she took a job working as a public relations assistant for the American Heart Association while earning her master’s at the University of California, Berkeley. The Media resident fell in love with the mission and has since dedicated her career to health nonprofits like the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and, most recently, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. For the past three years, Rubesin has increased chapter revenue by 55 percent to help fund cancer research.

MLT: How did you increase revenue so dramatically?

ER: I have a great staff, and I cannot say enough about the people who work here. We implemented a program called Students of the Year, which is for high school students. It’s a seven-week fundraising program, and it’s brought in $300,000-$400,000. We increased the number of foundations that have given to us. The Wawa Foundation was looking for an additional national partner, and we became one. [The money raised by] our Red & White Ball has increased significantly—$2.1 million in four years.

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MLT: What inspired you to dedicate your career to health nonprofits?

ER: I was fascinated with the fundraising. I recognized that it was what was keeping the organization and research afloat. It was so wonderful to interact with the people we were helping. I feel so good about the money I’ve raised for medical research.

MLT: What’s the most satisfying thing about your work?

ER: The research, and seeing the progress that’s being made in Philadelphia. There was an amazing accomplishment [on Aug. 30]. The FDA approved CAR T-cell therapy. It’s so exciting because it was the work of some professors and researchers at the University of Pennsylvania. LLS has been funding this research since 2000, when a lot of people wouldn’t—and didn’t—necessarily see the potential. We’ve given $21 million to the work of Dr. Carl June and Dr. Stephan Grupp and the people named in this exciting breakthrough.

MLT: What are some of your goals moving forward?

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ER: I would like to see the chapter become a $10 million chapter. As successful as we are as a national organization, $30 million in potential research had to go unfunded last year. I want our chapter to do everything it can so that doesn’t happen again. I also want to be the organization in eastern Pennsylvania that’s considered the go-to cancer organization. Even though it’s blood cancers, it’s really an organization for all cancer patients. The research that’s being done by our society is applicable to solid tumors, as well.

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