Growing Pains Abound for Local Cancer Charity
For the Legal Information Network for Cancer, a nonprofit organization that offers legal advice and assistance to cancer patients in the Central Virginia region, expanding donor universes has been a daunting task.
When LINC was founded in 1996 by two breast-cancer survivors (who were attorneys), the organization relied heavily on the celebrity of Sarah Jessica Parker to raise funds and spread the word about its mission. Parker, who is the goddaughter of one of the founders, jumped at the opportunity to film public service announcements, schmooze with potential donors and lend her name to direct mail solicitations. But much to the chagrin of LINC, Parker could not officially sign as spokesperson because she had already made prior commitments to other charities.
Still, with grant money streaming in and its office space and utility expenses taken care of by a corporate donor, LINC felt quite comfortable -- at least for a while.
“We discovered early on that one of the problems with our institution’s services is that, unless you have cancer, it’s not something you’ll ever use or need,” says Philip H. Crosby, executive director. “Unlike American Cancer Society, we don’t do research, so we can’t say we’re looking for a cure. When potential donors come to us with that mindset, they’re not necessarily people who can turn around and give us any money.”
Crosby is quick to admit that LINC’s early successes, due in part to Parker’s celebrity endorsement, preempted an urgent need to fundraise. Unfortunately, those donors who gave during the formative years were not adequately cultivated for future giving.
“The board realized they had a problem, but what they failed to do was implement a strategic plan,” Crosby says. “I was surprised at how many donors came onto the database after the Parker efforts, and nothing had been done with that data.”