We've never met, but like millions around the world I am indebted to and inspired by you. Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure transformed how society views breast cancer, women's health and charities in general. What was once a taboo topic spoken of only in hushed whispers became kitchen-table conversation, and a movement began that was unlike any other in our history. You proved women can, and will, rally around a cause that they hold dear, and have the power to exact incredible change.
Along with the millions of individuals who joined the fight, Race for the Cure transformed the way corporate America engaged cause-related charities. I was one of the hundreds of marketers who watched in awe and soon jumped on the bandwagon as your foundation championed the cause of breast cancer. Getting corporate marketing executives to believe women by the thousands (and later millions) would embrace your vision was a wildly difficult sell at the onset. Countless times in a host of traditionally ivory-towered boardrooms we heard,
"BREAST CANCER? You want us to partner with BREAST CANCER? We can't talk about breasts, and we certainly can't align OUR PRODUCTS with CANCER!"
Thank God you and like-minded believers refused to listen. Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure made the pink ribbon the No. 1 "must-have" accessory for products and services. Komen became the gold standard of nonprofit charitable partnerships, securing millions in financial support from countless blue-chip brands including Yoplait, American Airlines and Bank of America. In turn, consumers everywhere used their buying power to support Race for the Cure sponsors and a myriad of breast cancer initiatives nationwide.
When the Susan G. Komen/Planned Parenthood funding disaster ignited earlier this year, corporations and consumers were shocked, angered, hurt and dumbfounded. Political lines that had never been publicly drawn before at Race for the Cure became a villainous part of its identity. Supporters and sponsors were furious with you, the board of directors and the executive team for putting politics above principles and eviscerating Race for the Cure. You had seemingly compromised the fight against breast cancer in order to appease the political agendas of those obsessed with a battle that raged well outside of Komen's legitimate concern. An entirely different cancer invaded Race for the Cure, and its impact was both catastrophic and life-threatening.
A host of experts have offered possible saves for Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure. I joined the chorus of marketing pundits suggesting you, the entire board of directors and all top-tier core executives resign. Sadly, this still seems the only legitimate course of action that can even begin to repair consumer and corporate confidence. Some of your best talent, many of whom represented the affiliates that refused to allow Komen to be politicized, have already left the organization they loved. Consumers and corporations that have long heralded their relationships with you are trying to figure out how to work within the present caustic environment or bow out gracefully.
If the recent past is any indication of Susan G. Komen's future, you must decide if your personal investment and that of your board members and executive team is more important than the success of the foundation. It seems impossible that you can hold onto the CEO reins and return Race for the Cure to its previous status as the premier charitable organization. Even if you could survive the catastrophe with your executives intact, the years of lost opportunity would be devastating to the countless women who depend on your efforts.
The magic of Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure is how it has united, motivated and empowered women. Not by politics or race or socio-economic standing or religion, but by gender. We realized we are women first, and everything else second. Only by grounding itself in that notion can Susan G. Komen win back the millions once again. Why not start by forming an entirely female board comprised of noteworthy women who are committed to women's health? Tap Republican Olympia Snow and Democrat Hillary Clinton as co-chairs. Select the top females from medicine and science to drive the research and operational efforts. Search out other noteworthy women who can put down their religious and political placards for the sake of breast cancer. And give yourself an emeritus seat at the table so that you can still actively support the foundation you built to honor Susan.
Nancy, those of us who, like you, have been deeply affected by breast cancer owe you our sincere gratitude. You have made early detection, treatment and research an accepted part of the national health conversation while boldly demonstrating how average citizens can make real, substantive change. Susan G. Komen's efforts have brought us light years closer to a cure for a horrific, indiscriminate and deadly disease.
For the sake of those we've lost, those who are in the battle today and those who've yet to fight, Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure must rise again to greatness. We're depending on you, Nancy, to do what's best for all of our good. We've never needed your commitment to the fight against breast cancer more than we do today.
Sarah O'Leary is a 30-year marketing industry executive, author, motivational speaker and supporter of human rights. She can be reached via email, email@example.com.