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March is of course synonymous with spring and St. Patrick’s Day. In the last 40-plus years this has also been a time of great significance for the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA). Within this period a simple pin-up in the shape of a shamrock has flourished to raise in excess of $343 million for the flagship organization of advocacy to treat neuromuscular disease.

The campaign began as a grassroots initiative in Southwest Michigan. In 1983 that’s where MDA district director Molly O’Toole Karnitz Parker was stationed. That year she had the idea to have bars display the paper shamrocks customers could purchase to go towards fundraising efforts. It was local distributors for brewing company Anheuser Busch that supplied the early batches of the pin-ups. The results spoke for themselves as the regional campaign collected $40,000.

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Today, thousands of retailers of varying sizes participate. This includes national chains like Burger King and those that are more regional, such as Shop ‘n Save. MDA’s chief development officer, Jeremy Kraut-Ordover, provided some insight as to why this program has had such longevity.

“When partnerships celebrate local communities and provide a foundation for a national cause to rally around, campaigns like MDA shamrocks are enduring, especially because of the results,” he said. “The funds from this campaign have contributed to breakthroughs in research and care that have led to empowering treatments for people living with neuromuscular disease to live independent lives.

The MDA Shamrock donor pin-up. Credit: Alan Hieber

“In addition, when you can see the results of a society becoming more inclusive through our advocacy work, through education and raising awareness from campaigns like shamrocks, you can see progress. When you can see the impossible becoming possible with the advances in medicine—specifically for genetic diseases—people are motivated to continue to participate in making a difference through philanthropy.”

Pin-up campaigns like this have become a commonplace practice in the nonprofit world.

“The Muscular Dystrophy Association has led the way with innovative fundraising programs throughout the decades, and our retail partnerships have certainly been replicated by other charities,” Kraut-Ordover said.

The fundraising dollars are a vital component of MDA’s mission to expand neuromuscular disease research. It also contributes to giving children ages 8-17 access to the well-known MDA Summer Camp.

“The funds for all our mission programming are important, but especially coming out of the pandemic we know kids across the country need to connect with one another more than ever in person. If they live with a neuromuscular disease there may not be many people in their community who can relate outside of their family,” Kraut-Ordover pointed out.

I purchased a shamrock at my local discount Drug Mart and was pleased to see that a number of them were already posted. Through the rest of March, you can support people living with neuromuscular disease by donating toward a pin-up to be displayed with someone’s name written on it at the participating retailer. You can also round up your purchase. It’s the perfect chaser for your green beer.