Cause Doctors: Strategies for Rethink Breast Cancer

Ideas from Public's Phillip Haid and Thinking Unstuck's Mark Tomblin include an "essential goods" fundraiser and at-home walkathons.

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For generations to come, 2020 will be remembered as a year of innovation, reinvention and collaboration  among businesses, people, even governments. Strategy is taking a page out of the books of many others during the crisis, and doing its part to help organizations today survive for tomorrow.

Our “Cause Doctors” series is the cousin of “Brand Doctors,” a format from strategy’s archives that enlisted marketing vets to devise solutions for a brand facing new and ongoing struggles. Now, we’re turning experts’ attention to vulnerable non-profits, which are suffering from major disruptions that hinder their ability to fund life-changing programs.

Strategy asked creatives, marketers, academics, consultants and strategists to offer their guidance. And we’ll share their recommendations, one cause brand at a time, throughout the month. So check back here regularly, and make sure to visit CauseConnect to find out how you can personally give (and get) help.

  • Non-profit: Rethink Breast Cancer
  • Backstory: Rethink‘s mission is to educate, empower and advocate for young people worldwide who are affected by breast cancer through content, programs and resources. 
  • The challenge: The organization, and many others like it, is facing several challenges during the current crisis:
    (1) fundraising events are being cancelled so there is a need to take them digital;
    (2) partnerships heavily rely on retail support and since most retailers are closed for now, budgets are paused and non-profit collabs are cancelled, resulting in lost funds;
    (3) programming has had to pivot to be COVID-related and there is a need for extra resources to make that happen, as well as creative ideas to get the public’s attention and support.

Phillip HaidPhillip Haid, Public Inc.

The impact of COVID-19 on businesses and charities is profound. Rethink Breast Cancer is no exception and their current reality is emblematic of what so many charities are facing across Canada. But if there is a silver lining, it can be found in the new level of creativity and innovation emerging to survive during these trying times.

And that’s the opportunity for Rethink. To lean into its namesake and turn the reality of what’s happening (especially online) into a positive outcome. With this in mind, here are three ways Rethink can rethink their challenges, increasing fundraising and building audience, during the pandemic.

Your content is a brand’s best friend.

Almost all COVID-19 fundraising and support is focused on health workers and people most at risk (frontline staff, food insecure, vulnerable seniors). This is a good thing because they deserve the support, but there is also an opportunity for Rethink to remind people of the impact the virus is having on women battling breast cancer.

Rethink already created the “#StayHomeForCancer” social movement, which is a great start. But what if they turned it into a much greater content opportunity for corporate partners who are looking for ways to engage their audience but don’t want to come across as overly commercial.

For example, they could partner with Bumble in meet ups to support women going through difficult times. Or Misfit Studio to create online content focused on self-love practices that people can do at home. Or what if they engaged a range of current corporate partners in #ReThinkLessons, offering up tips, tutorials and guides to learn new skills and ideas.

A quick glance at Rethink’s partner list suggests Healthline, Gee Beauty, Visage, Kitchen Stuff Plus are just a few that could easily work with the organization during the pandemic.

Make digital events your moment.

Digital events are having a moment. From Global Citizen’s “One World: Together at Home” and “Saturday Night Seder” to all the impromptu Zoom get-togethers, people are looking for connection while apart. Combine this with the stream of fundraising challenges happening (#AllinChallenge, #2.6 Challenge, #NextHighFiveChallenge) and a clear opportunity emerges. So why not combine the two and create a moment for Rethink that supports women in need while raising money for the organization?

For example, what if they created #RethinkWednesday to encourage young women to turn their next Zoom girls night into a fundraiser sponsored by some of their current partners? Or maybe even a #BadHairChallenge? Recognizing they would need to tread carefully not to come across as insensitive, but in an act of solidarity, people could post their bad hair situation as support for young women who have lost their hair or are in the process of growing it back.

Get into the slipstream of online retail.

During the pandemic we all need to buy the essentials: groceries, toiletries, alcohol and maybe even some games for the kids. So why not partner with brands and retailers that sell the essentials and turn it into a fundraiser?

Earl’s recently got into the food purchase and delivery game. Could they team up with Rethink to deliver food to a friend or sister going through treatment? Or what if they took a page out of the Amazon playbook and created the Rethink #GiveACareDay where they drive online partners to help promote their Give a Care products that support young women going through cancer.

These are challenging times and there are no easy answers for how charities can replace lost revenue. But hopefully the perspective and ideas shared here serve as a starting point for more creative thinking that’s necessary during the pandemic. Given their track record, there’s no doubt Rethink is up for the challenge.

Mark Tomblin, Thinking UnstuckMark TomblinSM

For many charity brands, the current crisis is a time of extreme difficulty. For some smaller ones, with revenue sources threatened or gone and with few financial reserves, it presents a clear existential threat.

In my view, Rethink is one of those threatened brands.

Rethink is undoubtedly a great cause but also a small operation, with an average gross revenue over the past six years of just over $2 million. (To put this in perspective, The Canadian Cancer Society generated more than 80 times as much revenue last year.)

To make thing worse, to my (admittedly non-accountancy-expert but nonetheless experienced) eyes, smaller non-profits were already facing some pretty big challenges even before the arrival of COVID-19.

The long decline in Canadian giving since the global financial crisis is well documented; it has particularly affected smaller players. This is the rarely mentioned consequence of the remarkable success of initiatives like Sick Kids “VS.” Especially in a declining market, the share growth of the few real whales can all too easily leave the small fish gasping for air on the beach.

Let’s be clear, for charity brands, COVID-19 is a nightmare. One of its main sources of income – fundraising events – has basically vapourized in front of their eyes; the other – corporate sponsorship – is doubtless under tremendous pressure.

I would recommend three things:

  • The organization should look at ways to increase the amount of money coming from individual donations. It will know better than me how to do this, but I’m struck that the home page of the Rethink site does not explicitly make this an issue for the organization. In contrast, the CCS makes the challenge of fund-raising in a pandemic the lead item on its homepage. Rethink could follow suit.
  • Talk to corporate partners. I don’t know why corporate support was falling before the crisis, but if the Rethink cause matters to any of their current – or former – partners, now is the time to ask them to dig deep. The charity’s survival is at stake.
  • There may be some mileage in an eye-catching sponsored activity that some of Rethink’s beneficiaries/survivors could do from home – while it would be hard to match the example of the 99-year old veteran who has just raised $40 million for the U.K. NHS by walking round his backyard, it shows what can be done during a lockdown.