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Rebooting an icon: How Komen topped its most famous fundraiser

by Cati Diamond Stone

For more than a quarter of a century, the Susan G. Komen Greater Atlanta Race for the Cure was one of the most recognizable events in the greater Atlanta community. That’s why, when we made the decision to rebrand the event – now known as the More Than Pink Walk – it was not a decision we made lightly.

We had to consider the internal changes that we would need to make as an organization, as well as the external challenges. What was the best way to explain why we decided to change the event? Would the public understand and embrace the new approach?

We designed the More Than Pink Walk concept to drive greater involvement and inspire a more personal connection to the fight against breast cancer. The evolution from Race for the Cure to the More Than Pink Walk reinforces the organization’s aim to be more than just a color: It’s a proactive call to do more in the fight against breast cancer.

 

The event’s rebrand was ultimately successful – the inaugural More Than Pink Walk raised nearly $1 million – and we learned a number of lessons along the way. Here are three takeaways from our experience that every nonprofit should carefully consider when undertaking a similar challenge.

 

Go overboard. There’s no such thing as over-communicating. When rebranding an event completely, you need to take every opportunity to communicate the change. We went so far as to add the phrase “Formerly Known as the Race for the Cure” to all of our marketing collateral, advertising, social media messaging, and especially our public relations efforts. An organization can’t simply announce a new event name and assume that everyone will make the connection. There will inevitably be confusion no matter how overboard you go, so you have to hammer the point home in every way that you can.

 

An organization can’t simply announce a new event name and assume that everyone will make the connection... you have to hammer the point home in every way that you can.

 

Focus on the why, not the how. One of the biggest changes in this event rebrand was the change from a running race to a walk. Komen Atlanta and our primary public relations partner, The Dalton Agency, had long been immersed in the Race for the Cure, so we had to make a deliberate effort to look at the event from an external perspective, and focus on what we were trying to accomplish – the “why” that drove us to start the Race in the first place. As an organization, we decided it was more important to focus on our mission than on our brand, which meant we needed to refocus the event in order to evoke a more personal connection to the cause. Once we crystalized that goal in our minds – the “why” – it made the “how” a lot easier to figure out.  

 

The “why” also played a major role in our communication plan: We knew that our community would better accept the change if they understood why we were making the change. For that reason, we worked to make all our public-facing messages, from the name on down, communicate our motivation: We have come quite far in the fight against breast cancer since Komen was founded 35 years ago, but if we are going to end this disease forever, we have to do more; in other words, we have to be More Than Pink. Throughout our event campaign, we highlighted stories of local Atlanta supporters, partners, and volunteers who work with Komen to make an impact. Those stories resonated with our audience, driving home the need for our event rebrand, and building enthusiasm for our new approach.

 

Don’t be afraid to take risks. We knew it was a risk to make such a major change to this long-standing event, and we expected to lose some runners. (And, to be clear, we did lose some runners.) But data in the peer-to-peer fundraising space shows that “runs” just don’t raise money at the level of “walks,” and fundraising was the main objective. The risk paid off: We increased the average fundraising amount per participant by 60 percent over the previous year’s event, and the total amount raised accounted for a five-year high. It was not easy: In fact, it was much more work than in previous years. We had to increase, exponentially, our personal outreach efforts and provide in-depth support for team captains and fundraisers. But doing whatever it took to make the transition a success paid off in the end: With support from our stellar board of directors, we took a measured risk and ultimately accomplished our goal.

 

The tagline for the More Than Pink Walk this year was, “Be bold. Be Fearless. Be more than pink.” That’s the best advice that I can offer to other nonprofit organizations when facing a challenge.

 

Cati Diamond Stone is executive director of Susan G. Komen Greater Atlanta, which fights breast cancer by providing breast health and breast cancer services for those who cannot afford them, and funding cutting-edge research to find cures. For more information, visit KomenAtlanta.org.

 

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