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Think Pink: Five Tips for Non-Profits

By Kim Blake @kimkblake

As our 31 days of “pinktober” come to a close, we enter diabetes, pancreatic and lung cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease awareness month.  The difference between October and November?  In October, it seems that the world (or the U.S., at least) turns its focus to breast cancer awareness.  Aside from heart disease awareness month in February, it is unlikely that the general public can cite another month associated with a particular disease.

Breast cancer is not the number one killer of women.  Heart disease is.  It’s not the number one cause of cancer deaths among women – that’s lung cancer.  Yet it receives the lion’s share of attention and more than double the funding of any other cancer by the National Cancer Institute ($625 million compared with $296 million for no.2 lung cancer).

Why has breast cancer captured the hearts, minds and pocketbooks of the American public?  The following are five tips for non-profits based upon the enormous success of Susan G. Komen for the Cure:

1)      Give hope – Breast cancer has many survivors who are evangelists for the cause.  They share their stories online, participate in the Race for the Cure, and are available for media interviews.  The challenge for cancers with low survival rates, such as lung and pancreatic, is that there aren’t as many survivors to share their stories of hope.  Some of these organizations may be wary about featuring survivors because they are concerned that they may have to pull an ad or a story from their website.  They need to harness hope and share it, even if it means redefining the term “survivor” (e.g. a five-year survivor in remission v. someone living with cancer).

2)      But, remember those who have been lost – People need to hear the positive stories, but they also need to have a place to honor their loved ones, by fundraising or taking some other type of action.  The Race for the Cure celebrates survivors while honoring those who have lost their battle with breast cancer.  Since 1983, it’s grown from one race with 800 people to more than 140 races with 1.6 million people.  At each race, breast cancer survivors wear complimentary pink hats and t-shirts and people are also encouraged to wear “In Memory Of” and “In Celebration Of” back signs.  Like most non-profits, you can donate directly to Susan G. Komen for the Cure on its website.  What is unique is the “Shop Komen” tab, where people can share their support of survivors and honor those lost by purchasing women’s and men’s clothing, accessories, electronics, or even fully customized products.

3)      Make it sexy – Let’s be honest.  Chronic disease can be a tough sell.  It can be depressing and rife with medical terminology.  How does one inspire the general public to embrace a cause?  Certainly a personal connection is a first step.  But, the next one is making it sexy.  Susan G. Komen for the Cure did that by adopting the pink ribbon in 1991.  Other groups such as Save the TaTas’s have pushed the envelope further with products featuring the organization’s mildly provocative name.  The Keep A Breast Foundation created “I Love Boobies!” bracelets to raise awareness and funds for the cause.  The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute has helped do the same for heart disease awareness and prevention with its The Heart Truth campaign, featuring the now iconic red dress logo.

4)      Partner to extend your reach – People have been critical of Susan G. Komen for the Cure’s commercial focus, however, it’s a very effective strategy for extending the organization’s reach.  The Yoplait Save Lids to Save Lives campaign has promoted breast cancer awareness and research via valuable shelf space at thousands of retailers nationwide.  It’s also a simple way for consumers to get involved.  General Mills, Yoplait’s parent company, has contributed more than $50 million to the breast cancer cause over the past 14 years through Save Lids to Save Lives and other initiatives.

5)      Give people a reason to join in – People don’t buy brands, they join them.  The same applies to non-profit organizations.  It’s more than a contribution.  With Susan G. Komen for the Cure, it’s a sisterhood.  From obvious opportunities to build camaraderie such as Race for the Cure, to message boards, to the bond of wearing pink to show a united front or a shared experience, the organization is inherently social.

With so many worthy causes, it’s easy to understand why many people are frustrated with the disproportionate funding for breast cancer awareness and prevention.  Susan G. Komen for the Cure’s success may not completely be duplicated, however, other groups could benefit from “thinking pink.”  If they do, we may never think of November (or any of the 11 months other than October) the same way again.

About Kim Blake:

As a director in PadillaCRT's D.C. office, Kim has more than a decade of experience in strategic communications planning, branding, marketing and media relations, with an emphasis on healthcare. She has helped create award-winning campaigns for clients such as the American Physical Therapy Association and The Partnership at Drugfree.org. Kim has been a speaker at the Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association Annual Conference, the Public Relations Society of America’s International Conference and the Society for Healthcare Strategy and Market Development Annual Conference.

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