Working to defy cancer: Meet Erin McKenna

This post is part of a series highlighting staff members within Dana-Farber Cancer Institute & The Jimmy Fund’s Division of Philanthropy, to give supporters an inside peek at life at New England’s favorite charity. Today, we’re talking to Erin McKenna, Assistant Vice President of Planned Giving.

What brought you to Dana-Farber? What made you want to work here?

In 2002, my dear friend from college, Amy Doherty, who was working on the Philanthropy team as an Assistant, encouraged me to apply for a position on the Annual Giving team. Growing up in the Boston area, I knew all about Dana-Farber and the Jimmy Fund’s lifesaving mission, but I did not have a personal connection at the time. After two years, I left to pursue another opportunity, but what brought me back six years later was a friend’s personal experience with cancer. When I was 30, my best friend from childhood, Colleen, was diagnosed with a rare type of colorectal cancer, familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP). It was a very challenging journey especially during a time in our lives where many in our friend group were planning weddings and starting families. It was not a time when one would expect to be facing a life-altering diagnosis.

Can you describe your role here?

I have the privilege of being the Assistant Vice President of Planned Giving, where I oversee all aspects of the Institute’s comprehensive planned giving program, including marketing, estate administration, relationship building, stewardship, and the management of an extremely talented team.

Can you share more about what Planned Giving does within the Division and its goals?

Many people think of planned gifts only as deferred gifts that come via bequest through a will or a trust, and although these are the most common types of planned gifts, there are many different planned giving vehicles—some of which provide current support.

The Institute accepts many types of planned gifts including bequests, beneficiary designation gifts, life income gifts like charitable gift annuities, and remainder trusts, which can provide payments to the donor with the remainder going to Dana-Farber, as well as charitable lead trusts, real estate, life insurance and retirement assets, and more.

Our support for the Institute fluctuates each year as much comes from realized estate gifts, so a big part of our job is to create awareness around planned giving opportunities and recruit new members of the Dana-Farber Society, which is how we recognize those who have made legacy commitments and other planned gifts to the Institute. During The Dana-Farber Campaign, we have set a goal to grow to 2,000 members. We are currently at 1,483!

Right now, we are also helping to educate the community on the CARES Act, which expires on December 31, 2021. For itemizers, this legislation increases the limitation on CASH contributions to public charities in 2021 to 100% (ordinarily it is only 60%) of adjusted gross income (AGI). For non-itemizers (those who take the standard deduction), it extends and modifies the charitable deduction for CASH gifts they made to public charities. For 2021 only, the law doubles to $600 the maximum amount joint filers may deduct. As in 2020, single filers or married filers who file separately are limited to $300.

What’s your favorite part of your job?

The people! My team, colleagues, manager, and our amazingly generous donors.

How is your team working to engage with a variety of communities, promote collaboration, and foster inclusivity?

The best thing about Planned Giving—and something most people don’t realize—is that planned gifts come in all shapes, sizes, structures, and amounts. Our job is to present donors with options and help them determine how their giving can be structured in a way that makes sense for their personal goals and financial circumstances (think tax savings!) and that will maximize impact on the Institute’s mission. Many planned gifts are a win/win in that they can provide benefits to the donor and Dana-Farber.

What does it mean to you to work here and support Dana-Farber’s lifesaving mission to conquer cancer?

I am directly able to see the impact that philanthropic dollars have on our patients and their families and know what I do matters. Having been at the Institute for 13+ years in total, I have seen first-hand Dana-Farber’s total patient care model and how it has impacted and improved outcomes for family members, including my Dad, and many friends. Unfortunately, there are still too many instances that have not had the happy ending we all hoped for, and that is what keeps me going on the hardest days. I want to do whatever I can to reduce that burden on others.

Can you share a particular memory while working here that has made an impact on you?

There are SO many! My favorite memory (or memories) is one that used to happen in-person annually: our Dana-Farber Society Dinner. It was a special time when our community would come together to recognize the collective legacies and generosity of our Dana-Farber Society. It almost felt like a wedding or reunion—it was a celebratory time to say thank you and I hope we get to do this again in-person soon!

Erin, pictured here at the Dana-Farber Society Dinner in 2019 with Co-Chairs Jim and Barbara Sadowsky


We’re stronger together.

In the Division of Philanthropy, we believe in the power of different voices. We encourage authenticity and diversity of every individual within our community. Our collective voices—donors, volunteers, staff, and patients alike—allow us to work together towards a world without cancer. Committed to being a place of inclusivity, belonging, and change, these are our core values. 

If you are interested in exploring a career in Dana-Farber and the Jimmy Fund’s Division of Philanthropy, we invite you to check out our careers page to learn about our culture, view open roles, or register for an upcoming Information Session.

We also encourage you to support Dana-Farber and the Jimmy Fund through The Dana-Farber Campaign, our ambitious, multi-year fundraising effort to prevent, treat, and defy cancer. The Dana-Farber Campaign will accelerate the Institute’s strategic priorities by supporting revolutionary science, extraordinary care, and exceptional expertise. As a community, we have the power to create a more hopeful, cancer-free future—in Boston and around the world. Together, we can defy cancer at every turn. Learn more about The Dana-Farber Campaign at