CSR efforts enable all involved to be winners

By now, PR pros understand the value of CSR programs and the connections they allow companies to make with customers, employees, and the general public.

It seems that virtually everyone has "gone green," picking up on consumers' concerns about climate change. Pink is our color, and in October, during National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, it will seem as if the world will turn pink to call attention to and raise funds for a cause near and dear to my heart: breast cancer.

As founder of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, I remember pounding the pavement through the streets of Dallas 27 years ago trying to get anyone interested in this issue. Finally, I came to the conclusion that the only direction to go toward raising aware- ness, breaking the silence, and creating action was by aligning products or brands to the cause. It was an uphill battle. No one wanted to be associated with a disease. And despite it being the 1980s, many felt being associated with "breasts" was somehow inappropriate.

How the world has changed, thanks in large part to the enlightened companies that did get on board. Today, Komen for the Cure has more than 240 corporate partners - we lost 38 through the downturn, but gained 31 - and, as we've learned in previous downturns, our partners' creativity and commit- ment is helping us hold our own even through the worst economic downturn in generations.

Corporate partners will help Komen raise approximately $50 million for research and breast cancer programs this year alone. Our trademark Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure Series continues to be our largest contributor to the cause, generating the bulk of the $350 million we raised last year at more than 120 races worldwide, with more than 1.5 million participants.

Some view "all this pink" as an exploitation of their illness by corporations attempting to profit off others' suffering. If they could only see, as I see, how the participation of businesses in our cause is helping to end suffering, I would hope they change their minds.

The funds have helped us raise breast cancer five-year survivor rates to 98% for tumors that haven't spread from the breast. When I started, that rate was 74%.

We've long said CSR programs are a "win-win-win," for the company involved, the charity, and the people who benefit from its work. Certainly, it's been true in our case.

It isn't always about the bottom line, however. When I attend employee events at companies supporting Komen, I invari- ably come to discover that a company's support for Komen grew less from a "marketing strategy" and more from a personal experi-ence with breast cancer, very often an em-ployee surviving breast cancer or in memory of someone who lost his or her fight.

And even after 27 years, I am still overwhelmed by the enthusiasm, the generosity, and the outpouring of support.

For so many, this cause is personal. So we can talk about "win-win-wins" and CSR as a marketing and PR strategy. But like everything else, it comes down to the story: the woman helped by the Komen helpline; the man connected with other men with breast cancer; hope and help to women through our Web site; the opportunity to make a personal contribution to the extraordinary research funded by Komen, all aimed at ending a disease that still kills too many on our planet.

The natural inclination of businesses facing a tough economic climate is to scale back these programs and weather the storm. Some of our partners have been forced to do that, but others have redoubled their com- mitment and we've welcomed new partners. To all of them we say thank you, because for many in the nonprofit world, scaling back ambitions isn't an option. In fact, tough times are when we're needed the most.

Ambassador Nancy Brinker is the founder of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the global leader of the breast cancer movement. The organization she founded in her late sister's memory, with its iconic "running ribbon" logo, continues to be a leader in this field with nearly 250 partnerships. Brinker is currently serving as a World Health Organization Goodwill Ambassador for Cancer Control. Earlier this year, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

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