Talk about surprise and delight! A few weeks ago, I was asked to attend the Avon national sales gala in Montreal as a special guest to share a bit about the impact of the $100,000 grant Avon Foundation had given us in early 2015. What a night. I think the photo of me holding a big check with my mouth open kind of gives it all away!
My night at the Avon gala was more than just another party, another speaking gig. I jump at any opportunity to get in front of an organization that has generously given Rethink vital funding—sharing the impact of a donation is beyond important to sustaining our organization. This invitation, though, had me jumping extra high because our Avon grant has had personal significance for me: Avon got behind the new Rethink Breast Cancer. They were a huge part of making it possible.
Today, the “new” Rethink, the new logo, the new programs are just who we are. They are Rethink. But anyone who has gone through organizational change knows what’s involved: anxiety, excitement and lots of extra work too.
A bit of background on the evolution…
We spent years building thoughtful in-person support programs for young women with breast cancer, programs that were much loved and gratefully appreciated by those who attended and participated. Avon Foundation had given us funding to start our in-person LiveLaughLearn education and support evenings for young women with breast cancer and we were getting fantastic feedback from those who attended them. However, there were some challenges with the model. The needs of the young patients we serve are very high but their numbers are quite small and they are spread across this huge country. We would gather 30 young women in Toronto and a dozen or so in cities like Calgary and Montreal but what about all the young women in smaller cities and rural areas? It’s hard to run an education evening for two or three women. We also knew that young women’s busy lifestyles – juggling cancer treatment with careers and young families made it hard to get to in person programs.
As we grappled with these program challenges, it was impossible not to notice how much the world was changing around us. When I started Rethink 15 years ago, we had the internet, of course, but there was no social media, no youtube, and smartphones hadn’t been invented yet. Smartphones were introduced in 2007 and by 2012, over a billion were in use worldwide. As an organization that prides itself on staying relevant to young women, it was a no brainer to ramp up our digital focus. We also noticed the tremendous popularity of short “how to videos” in the fashion/beauty/lifestyle realm and envisioned an opportunity to use that format to help young women with breast cancer. We could re-launch our YouTube site as the first “breast cancer digital channel” and populate it with fantastic, helpful short videos that young women could relate to and easily share with others. So, we had the vision, we had the ideas, we just had to figure out how to make it all happen – or more importantly, how to fund it!
Out of the blue, and literally days later, we found out about the Avon Centennial Grant. In celebration of their 100th birthday, the Foundation invited charities to submit a proposal to be considered for 10 grants of $100,000 to improve the lives of those affected or impacted by breast cancer. We put together a proposal for funding to evolve our in-person LiveLaughLearn support gatherings into an on-going video series offering practical tips for young women with breast cancer. We eagerly submitted, crossing our fingers and hoping and praying Avon Foundation would see the value of a totally new mission delivery format.
Avon got behind our idea. Big time!
Thanks to the Avon Centennial Grant that we received, we’ve really established our digital focus and our reach has exploded. Our new direction is working and we are seeing more women supported. We are able to reach 1000s of more women than we did in the past. For example, a few years ago, we had an in-person LiveLaughLearn gathering in Toronto with about 30 young women with a young make-up artist who had gone through breast cancer. She shared her best tips and did a make-up demo. It was really wonderful. We featured that same young make-up artist in our LiveLaughLearn Beauty video series, which now has 22,000 views. Our total views for the Avon funded videos is 69,000 and growing! We are also forming deeper connections with many of the 400 plus women in our Rethink Young Women’s Network. We are working directly with young women to create resources, tools and campaigns. The videos feature their ideas. They get a chance to give back and pay it forward to help other young women.
Rethink continues to host in person events like forums and retreats from time to time but we did wrap up our regular, on-going in person support services. And this was a scary and sad change. As I said, anyone who has experienced organizational change knows how difficult the process is. Even when you know change is necessary, even when the change is exciting, there are always mixed emotions. Some nostalgic feelings, some sadness about something good ending. I was closely involved in creating our support programs so felt much attachment. And, of course, there is fear too. Will it work? Is it the right decision? I had many fitful sleeps as we made decisions about changes to our mission.
The Avon Centennial Grant gave us the confidence to fully embrace our new direction. The funding allowed us to launch our digital breast cancer channel with 20 very special videos, beautiful “hero” content. I believe it’s been an enormous part of our successful evolution.
When I attended the gala in August, I learned that Avon, an organization that had been around for decades and decades had recently undergone a lot of organizational change too. They are ushering in a new era and the future is unwritten, as it is for all of us. One thing that is not changing at Avon is their incredible commitment to the breast cancer cause. And, that commitment to the cause is pervasive throughout the organization.
What I mean is that the funds Avon Foundation distributes to charities like us are raised by the reps themselves and through the relationships they cultivate with their clients, many of whom have been affected by breast cancer. So, as I stood on stage describing the impact of the Avon Foundation donation, I realized that the audience of 200 district sales managers and representatives in the room all had serious “skin in the game” when it came to the donation; they had all helped personally raise the funds given to our organization. Our impact is their impact. Both the incredible reach of the videos, which has surpassed what we ever imagined as well as the kinds of beautiful testimonials we’d received…this is only possible because of generous funders like Avon and in this case, it was possible because of the women in the room.
It was quite transformative for me to experience the energy and commitment to the cause. You could hear a pin drop as I described the experiences of our young women dealing with breast cancer and the incredible feedback we’d received from the resources funded by Avon. When I finished speaking, I received a standing ovation that soon turned into a rhythmic clapping, signaling to me that I needed to wait up there on stage because something was about to happen. But what?
Goran Petrovic, the President of Avon Canada, and Roberta Lacey, President of the Avon Foundation for Women Canada surprised and delighted me with a cheque for $25,000. For me, it was more than an extraordinary unexpected gift of additional funds to educate, empower and advocate for young women with breast cancer; it was a signifier that change is good, that Rethink Breast Cancer is headed in the right direction and that we have supporters that believe in our future vision and are excited to be a part of it.
Thank you Avon for getting behind our evolution!
To watch some of the Avon sponsored LiveLaughLearn videos click HERE.