Ryan and Ashley Smith boost Primary Children’s cancer efforts with $20 million donation
The Smiths have quietly been pouring millions into charitable organizations for years. But this time, they hope a little publicity will inspire others to join in the fight against cancer
Utah Jazz owner and Qualtrics co-founder Ryan Smith and his wife Ashley Smith have been quietly pouring millions into local and national charitable organizations for years, but on Monday they broke with their penchant for keeping their giving on the down-low and announced a whopping new contribution.
During Monday night’s square-off between the Jazz and Los Angeles Lakers, the Smiths announced their philanthropic foundation will make a $20 million donation to Utah’s Intermountain Primary Children’s Hospital.
The gift expands on the Smiths’ long-running support of cancer research efforts including their 5 for the Fight crowdfunding program which launched in 2016. The program has raised nearly $30 million to date and is also notable as the sponsor of the Utah Jazz’s jersey patch, making Utah’s hometown team the only NBA franchise that features a logo from a charitable foundation instead of a corporate entity. The 5 for the Fight program has been the Jazz’s jersey patch sponsor since 2017.
The challenges of battling cancer fall very close to home for Ryan Smith, who, along with his brother Jared Smith, founded the customer experience innovation company Qualtrics in Provo in 2002. The underlying technology that helped launch Qualtrics, which was acquired by German software giant SAP in 2018 in a record $8 billion deal, was first developed by Ryan Smith and his father, BYU researcher and professor Scott Smith, amid the elder Smith’s fight (it was successful) against throat cancer.
In a Deseret News interview Monday evening, the Smiths talked about the inspiration behind the gift to Primary Children’s and their passion for providing help to those who are facing some of the biggest challenges that life can bring.
“Sometimes things come along on your journey and you have to pay attention,” Ryan Smith said. “Cancer has affected us and our family and almost every family.
“We started 5 for the Fight and it was really nothing in the beginning, just an idea of how to raise some money. Then we did the jersey patch ... and then we ended up taking over the Jazz and our platform for making a difference became huge.”
Ryan Smith said a visit to Primary Children’s in Salt Lake City with one of his children helped stoke the idea that two realms he and Ashley cared a lot about were on a convergence path.
“We’re big believers in the work that Primary Children’s is doing, and expanding, with the new Lehi hospital,” Ryan Smith said. “We said, ‘these two worlds are colliding’ and they really were, with all the work they’re doing with young cancer patients. It all felt like the same direction and we came to the same decision to help.”
Ryan and Ashley Smith’s donation will expand pediatric cancer research benefiting Primary Children’s patients through continued groundbreaking clinical trials, faculty recruitment, research personnel and equipment, social work and psychology support and improvement of the overall patient experience, according to the Smiths’ announcement. The gift will also establish 5 For The Fight family centers — unique spaces for families of children receiving treatments for cancer and blood disorders — at Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City and at the hospital’s new Larry H. and Gail Miller Family campus in Lehi, a $500 million facility which is expected to open in 2024.
Ashely Smith said the community work of Gail Miller and her family have long been an inspiration, and after seeing the Millers throw their support behind the new Lehi facility with a $50 million donation, they wanted to find a way to join the Millers in this project.
“Gail Miller is someone we really, really admire and look up to and we’re always looking for ways to hitch our wagon to hers,” Ashley Smith said. “This (donation) has been a long time in the making and we’re honored to be part of her bigger project and align ourselves with it.”
That admiration flows in both directions as then-Jazz owner Miller noted in comments she made in 2019, after the initial 5 for the Fight jersey patch contract was renewed.
“I believe 5 For The Fight is an inspiring cause and one which we can all be proud to support,” Miller said. “I appreciate Qualtrics for taking a unique approach to sponsor a purpose-related jersey patch and then use it in a global campaign to raise funds for cancer research.
“I am proud to be affiliated with this campaign and I encourage fans everywhere to commit to give 5 For The Fight.”
Ashley Smith also touched on the path she and Ryan have taken in keeping themselves out of the spotlight when it comes to their philanthropic endeavors, and why, in this instance, they took a slightly more public approach.
“We really just want the focus to be on the causes and not us,” Ashley Smith said. “In this situation, as we talked to Primary Children’s about the amazing things they are doing, they asked if we’d be willing to share our participation, in hopes it would inspire others
“And, we really do want to inspire others. At the end of the day it’s about the children and the battle against cancer, and that’s the passion.”
Davis Flood, president of Intermountain Foundation and chief development officer for Intermountain Healthcare, celebrated the Smiths’ passion and gift, noting the positive impact it will have on the health care provider’s ability to care for pediatric cancer patients.
“This tremendous endorsement from Ryan and Ashley Smith, and the confidence in our vision expressed through this partnership with 5 For The Fight honors all of us at Intermountain Healthcare, and in particular the expert caregivers who treat and help children with cancer and blood disorders at Primary Children’s Hospital every day,” Flood said in a press statement. “This gift will help us continue our work to strengthen pediatric cancer treatment and research for children in Utah and beyond, and power our Primary Promise to create the nation’s model health system for children. We are incredibly thankful for their generosity.”
Last year, Ryan and Ashley Smith joined Apple CEO Tim Cook and rock band Imagine Dragons’ frontman Dan Reynolds to throw their support — and $4 million in seed funding — toward a new effort to create a national support network for LGBTQ youth.
Cook, Ryan and Ashley Smith and Reynolds, along with his wife Aja Volkman, have been longtime supporters of the work to build new resources for LGBTQ young people. And they’re also all connected via the annual LoveLoud event that Dan Reynolds launched in 2017, a Utah-based music festival that draws tens of thousands and functions as a fundraiser for a variety of outreach organizations for the LGBTQ community and families.
The LoveLoud event is also the conduit by which Cook got a chance to visit a Utah County facility opened by Encircle, a Utah-based organization founded in 2017 that has served over 70,000 individuals and funded thousands of family and youth therapy sessions, “providing a lifeline to those facing suicidality, isolation and depression, helping them build local community and forge a path forward.”
The donation funds from Apple, the Smiths and Reynolds and Volkman helped seed Encircle’s “$8 Million, 8 Houses’’ capital campaign, which is working to establish eight new Encircle homes in four states: Arizona, Idaho, Nevada and Utah. Encircle already has three Utah homes in Provo, Salt Lake City and St. George, and a fourth under construction in Heber City.
The Smiths contributed $2 million and Reynolds and Volkman donated Dan’s childhood home — valued at $1 million — in Las Vegas. In addition, Apple pitched in $1 million and a slew of products from the company to “promote digital connection, creativity and education.”
“All LGBTQ+ people should feel safe and supported enough to be open about who they are with their community and themselves,” Cook said in a statement when the contribution announcement was made last year. “Encircle is helping to bridge divides and bring people together — sending a powerful message that the greatest thing you can aspire to become is who you truly are.
“It’s my hope that every young person who feels alone or unsupported can find connection and community at this incredible organization.”
Other work the Smiths’ have backed include efforts to house Ukrainian residents displaced by Russia’s military invasion; providing over 100 college scholarships for underprivileged Utah students; backing autism/sensory disability support groups; and supporting the SafeUT app, which provides real-time crisis intervention services for Utah youth and their families.