Breast Cancer Series

Cancer charities fight for space

CREATED Oct. 2, 2012

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MILWAUKEE - It is breast cancer awareness month and as a part of our series today we are focusing in on how breast cancer charities are creating space for their niche when they may sometimes be surrounded in a sea of pink. 

"We've really had to step up our marketing," says Nikki Panico, Executive Director for the Southeastern Wisconsin Chapter of the Susan G. Komen Foundation.  They are the originator of the pink ribbon and perhaps the best known breast cancer charity in the world.

"Especially this year, we've had to try really hard to tell our story in a different way," says Panico.  Komen faced a public relations fiasco when the national board cut off funding for mammograms at Planned Parenthood offices earlier this year.  The group later reversed its own decision amid the public outcry.  Panico admits it's been tough, "The idea is that we just don't sway from what our mission is and the good work we do."

Contrast Komen with a small, local, and volunteer run group like the Breast Cancer Showhouse.  They have volunteer designers remodel a house in the Metro Milwaukee area one per year, and then they sell tickets to people who'd like to walk through and take a look.

"The public coming through is where we collect our money," says the group's spokesperson Linda Short. 

Short says the goal of the Breast Cancer Showhouse is to raise money to support research being done at the Medical College of Wisconsin. 

"We're just this little local group but in the 14 years, $4.4 million is pretty good," she says.  (By contrast the local Komen chapter raised $1.1 million last year alone and this year gave out close to $900,000 in grants to local groups.)

But Short says it's tough to fight for space among other charities every year.  "We're not huge and we're not nationwide like a Komen.  I would be careful where I gave because you don't know if it's going to your cause or going to someone's salary."

Panico's reaction, "That's OK.  We're just so happy that you're giving to the cause. You know, I don't want to look at it like a competition."  She pointed out that each charity serves a different mission and she feels there is room for everyone to do good works.

Short says her group will never be as splashy as a national group like Komen, "We can't afford it, they can."  But she says the Showhouse works well because their volunteers and donors are loyal.

Panico says Komen will continue to innovate.  The local group is already beginning to see success from things like Facebook postings surrounding a partnership with one of the Green Bay Packers, and this years breast cancer walk kicked off with a flash mob style dance. 

Panico says, "Giving back to our community is not going to change.  What will evolve is maybe the methods we use to spread that message."