Fundraising as Movement-Building: Breast Cancer Action

These are exciting, scary and sometimes confusing times we live in. From the recent national controversy surrounding SB 1070—the Arizona law that criminalizes immigrants and encourages racial profiling—to last month’s disastrous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, there is plenty to be upset about. As social justice fundraisers, though, our job is to see the opportunity in crisis, and figure out how to channel people’s anger into constructive action to move our work forward.

One organization that can offer some excellent examples of how to do this is Breast Cancer Action. Breast Cancer Action (BCA) is a twenty-year-old national organization that “challenges assumptions and inspires change to end the breast cancer epidemic.” While the group is headquartered in San Francisco, their membership spans the United States. BCA is in the midst of a large national campaign targeting major institutions, and have been actively asking their supporters to be donors as well as activists and advocates.

BCA’s Think Before You Pink project recently waged a successful online advocacy/fundraising campaign targeting the Susan G. Komen Foundation’s partnership with fast-food chain KFC. But this isn’t a spontaneous, unplanned flash-in-the-pan campaign. BCA has been strategic and thoughtful about how to make a big impact with their online work.

In 2009, BCA worked with online campaign consultants Watershed Company to improve their e-fundraising and e-advocacy capabilities, working to streamline their systems and get more strategic about how they used email to engage their supporters.

And it seems like this work has paid off. Since September 2009, over 5,000 people have taken action to demand that KFC and Susan G. Komen for the Cure rethink their Buckets for the Cure partnership. And in April 2010 alone, BCA was able to get 4,000 new people to join their email list through the Think Before You Pink campaign, and since December have increased their online donations by 400%—from $7,500 to $32,000! BCA’s general email list contains over 32,000 names.

You might think that BCA is a large organization, but they’re actually pretty lean for a national group with such big ambitions—10 staff people carry out the day-to-day work, while an active crew of volunteers (from the board of directors to two national advisory committees) brings added capacity and skills to their programs and fundraising.

So what’s the lesson here for us fundraisers? That if we work smarter, not harder, think through our strategies and ask, ask, ask our supporters to get involved AND give money, we will be richly rewarded. And our movement will be all the stronger for it. BCA’s example shows us how possible and powerful our fundraising can be.