ORGANIZATIONAL TACTICS: BIG RACES, SUPER SALES
Byline: Susan Watters
WASHINGTON — After 15 years and the raising of $90 million to fight breast cancer, The Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation knows the ups and downs of building support in the apparel and retail industry.
Nancy Brinker, chairman, founded the Dallas-based foundation in 1982 in memory of her sister who died of breast cancer at age 36. Brinker, who started her professional career in retailing at Neiman Marcus, has put together a roster of powerful backers in the retail and apparel industry.
Among the Komen Foundation’s top fashion industry supporters are J.C. Penney Co.; Lee Apparel Co., a VF Corp. unit; Alexander Julian; Danskin; Nordstrom, and Neiman’s.
With the help of such companies, Brinker has built the foundation’s Race for the Cure into a nationally recognized event. J.C. Penney is the race’s sole presenting national sponsor. Brinker has also launched the Komen Foundation’s Million Dollar Council for corporations who donate $1 million per year. Members include Penney’s, Lee, New Balance Athletic Shoe and Titleist and Foot-Joy Worldwide.
This year, with 77 races nationwide and 400,000 participants, the Komen Foundation expects to raise $15 million. Of the $21 million raised nationwide in 1996 from all programs, the Komen Foundation, which employs 32 full-time employees, spent less than 6 percent of revenues on general administrative costs, with $14.5 million going to fund research, education, screening and treatment programs.
Last year, the Komen Foundation awarded $9.5 million in grant money, including 42 national grants and 315 local grants by its affiliate network in nearly 80 cities throughout 38 states and the District of Columbia.
In New York, for example, the Komen Foundation awarded 24 grants totaling $350,000 to tristate-area education programs and services to underserved communities. Among the recipients, said New York board co-chairwoman Nancy Comer, was the first program to offer mammography screening for garment workers at the Chinatown Health Clinic.
In the communities where the races are held, stores, designers and manufacturers often join forces for promotion of the events or Komen-related fund-raisers during Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October. As noted in related stories in this section, Henri Bendel, Ann Taylor, Ann Klein and Everlast Woman are among the supporters in New York. Designer Susan Lazare did a scarf for the race this year, following Nicole Miller, who last year designed a hat and T-shirt.
With all the success, Race for the Cure organizers are still keenly aware of the competition for fashion-industry dollars, both from other diseases such as AIDS, and also rival breast cancer causes that have come onstream since 1982.
Among the newest races is the Nov. 2 race at the Rose Bowl in Los Angeles, now in its second year. Patricia Harris, founder and co-chairwoman of the L.A. chapter of Race for the Cure, says she faces an uphill battle trying to get the fashion industry to contribute to breast cancer.
“Many designers only want to deal with AIDS,” she said “Our best sponsors are hospitals, newspapers, magazines, supermarkets.”
Nancy Comer, co-chair of the New York Race for the Cure, noted designers in New York have a wide variety of breast cancer organizations from which to choose. “A lot feel they don’t want to do the same organizations all the time,” she explained, noting that one of the organizations with strong designer backing is the Nina Hyde Center for Breast Cancer Research at the Lombardi Cancer Center at Georgetown University, an organization spearheaded by Ralph Lauren.
Indeed, Jerre Iversen, executive director of development at Georgetown University Medical Center, attributes much of the Center’s cachet to designer contributions to the annual Washington Post Super Sale, which benefits the Hyde Center.
“Rather than having designers write checks, designers who give a gift in kind to the Super Sale produce more than money. It gives a halo to the problems of breast cancer, with a very high profile that calls attention to breast cancer as a women’s disease,” he explains. “When a designer like Ralph Lauren or Bill Blass makes a contribution, it makes everyone more aware of the research we are doing here.”
This year’s Super Sale, held in September, raised $730,000, bringing total revenues to over $4 million since the Nina Hyde Center received contributions from the first Super Sale organized in 1991 by Lauren and Washington Post chairwoman Katharine Graham.
In addition to donating merchandise for the sale, a number of fashion firms make cash contributions to the Lombardi Cancer Center. The center’s 1996 honor roll, for contributions of at least $1,000, includes Ralph Lauren, Bloomingdale’s, Federated Department Stores, Nordstrom, Polo Ralph Lauren and Hecht’s.
Brinker says that while she has received many requests to come up with a Super Sale-type event for the Komen Foundation, for now she plans to stick with the race events.
And in the end, Brinker noted, every contribution counts in the war against breast cancer.
“I realized early we had pitiful support from the government, that you can’t make change in government unless private sector leads the way,” she concluded.