Amplifying the Signal: Foundation Donor Takes His Advocacy Into the Twittersphere

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Michael A. Thompson, MD, PhD

When donors give by making online purchases on Amazon via AmazonSmile (, they have the opportunity to automatically share a tweet about their gift.

Thanks to Dr. Thompson and four other Conquer Cancer Foundation Twitter advocates, this tweet reached more than 30,000 people.

[With Twitter], it’s not just the people in power. Anyone can have a voice…. What if we could use that for the power of good in oncology?

—Michael A. Thompson, MD, PhD

Michael A. Thompson, MD, PhD, a Medical Oncologist for Aurora Cancer Care and the Medical Director of Early Cancer Research at Aurora Health Care in Wisconsin, has become something of an expert on the Conquer Cancer Foundation.

It began in 2006, when he received a Conquer Cancer Foundation of ASCO Young Investigator Award, and accelerated through his participation in the 2012–2013 ASCO Leadership Development Program, when he and group of colleagues focused on the Foundation for their culminating project. 

“I learned about how integral the Conquer Cancer Foundation is to how ASCO operates,” Dr. Thompson said, “The Conquer Cancer Foundation is a huge part of ASCO, and I think people still don’t understand how it integrates with ASCO. The Foundation needs funding to keep up all the activities it supports—ASCO membership fees don’t pay for everything.”

Over the course of the Leadership Development Program project, Dr. Thompson became a Conquer Cancer Foundation donor, and has since become a strong advocate for the Foundation. He’s even brought his advocacy online via the Twitter social media platform, helping to “amplify the signal” for the Conquer Cancer Foundation and raise awareness about its vision of a world free from the fear of cancer.

Twitter and Oncology

Dr. Thompson (@mtmdphd on Twitter) first became active on Twitter in 2010 with the guidance of friend and colleague Michael J. Fisch, MD, MPH (@fischmd) of The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. They discussed Twitter at length, particularly given the impact that the social media platform had during the Arab Spring movement, which was going on at that time and which exemplified one of Twitter’s great virtues. According to Dr. Thompson, “[With Twitter], it’s not just the people in power. Anyone can have a voice.”

Their discussions led to an intriguing question: “If [Twitter] was going beyond this kind of trivial thing where people were posting pictures of their food, and you could take down a dictatorial, well-entrenched government… What if we could use that for the power of good in oncology?” he said.

Twitter has played an increasing role in the global cancer conversation occurring every day between physicians, researchers, advocates, health-care systems, pharmacists, patients, and survivors the world over. For example, the 2013 ASCO Annual Meeting’s #ASCO13 hashtag (hashtags are a tool used to organize tweets surrounding a single subject) trended on Twitter’s homepage for 3 days straight—meaning the meeting was among the most-discussed subjects on Twitter during that time.

Over the course of the meeting, more than 18,000 tweets engaged in a real-time discussion of breaking advances in cancer care and research, all at the fingertips of anyone who wanted to participate.

Tweeting for the Greater Good

While he’s no Lady Gaga (the Twitter user with the most followers at 41 million), Dr. Thompson’s more than 4,000 followers mean that when he retweets a message from the Foundation (putting it on his own feed for his followers to see) he increases the reach and audience of the original message by those followers and those followers’ followers. He likens it to a signal transduction cascade that amplifies the message.

In December 2013, Dr. Thompson retweeted a message from the Conquer Cancer Foundation urging followers to consider a donation in honor of Giving Tuesday. Thanks to Dr. Thompson and four others who retweeted the message, its reach increased by nearly 2,000%.

These small interactions may seem trivial, but they can have a big impact in raising awareness (and donations) for a nonprofit. According to a report in The Huffington Post, 69% of Twitter follows are at the suggestion of a friend, meaning that the act of retweeting or tweeting about an organization can help them increase their reach—and potential donor base—dramatically.

As Dr. Thompson put it, “I think [this is] one component of how you engage people about your mission, and I think anything we can do for Conquer Cancer Foundation to help engage and educate ASCO members and the public is useful. They’re doing so many good things.”

First Steps to Supporting the Conquer Cancer Foundation on Twitter

Dr. Thompson pointed out that the number one thing an individual can do to get started helping the Conquer Cancer Foundation (@iConquerCancer) on social media is simply to follow the organization. “See what they’re doing, understand their mission, and amplify that,” he said.

“Number two is retweeting,” he continued, and “Number three is putting out your own tweets about it, especially when you give.”

“When you say ‘I gave money to the Conquer Cancer Foundation’ and tweet that out it’s like having a little sticker saying ‘I donated blood’ or ‘I voted’,” he said. “People are like ‘Oh, tell me about that’ or ‘Oh, that’s good that you did that’… They become curious and [think] ‘Well, they donated. Maybe I should check that out.’”

There are, of course, innumerable ways to raise awareness about the Conquer Cancer Foundation, but if you have a smartphone and a Twitter handle, this one might be one for you.

Donate to the Conquer Cancer Foundation at or create a personalized fundraising page at ■

© 2014. American Society of Clinical Oncology. All rights reserved.