More lessons from Terry Fox: integrity in cancer fundraising

publication date: Feb 2, 2012
author/source: Lisa MacDonald
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Many years ago, I worked as Provincial Director for The Terry Fox Foundation (TFF) in Manitoba.  I was young, enthusiastic and determined to make my fundraising mark.  One of the biggest frustrations for me then was the "restrictions" the Foundation placed on corporate sponsorship. Still in tune with their grass roots beginnings, TFF's directive to staff was clear.  Terry's name and his Marathon of Hope would not be sold to the highest bidder.  Lisa MacDonald photo

The policies of the Foundation were initially created by Terry himself, who was wary of those trying to profit from their association with the annual Terry Fox Run, either directly or indirectly.  Reflecting on the purpose of his Run, Terry said, "I was not going to let myself be used. There was only one thing I wanted to publicize, and that was fundraising for cancer research."

After attending a screening of The National Film Board's documentary, Pink Ribbons Inc., I am convinced that in a world where blatant sponsorship has become the rule for event-based fundraising for cancer research, The Terry Fox Foundation stands alone. 

The focus of the film was the pink ribbon "brand" that has become synonymous with so many events and cause-marketing efforts undertaken in the "battle" against breast cancer.  Revlon, Ford, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Yoplait, AstraZeneca, KitchenAid and the National Football League are only a few of the many corporate entities that have adopted a "pink" strategy. 

Do these corporations contribute money to research?  Yes.  But what, Pink Ribbons Inc. asks, are the consequences of that involvement on the goal of preventing, understanding the causes of, and ultimately curing breast cancer? The film's evidence of a negative impact is compelling.

The Terry Fox Foundation tells another story - one about the power of one person who asked each Canadian for a simple gift of $1 to help find a cure for cancer.  Last year, the TFF directed $30 million to cancer research programs.  To date, over $550 million has been raised in support of Terry's cause.  People and businesses alike continue to give unconditionally, like Terry did.

Editor's note: Cancer fundraising is a multi-faceted issue. Send your responses and views to me by email. Hilborn will publish the most thoughtful perspectives in future articles.

Pink Ribbons Inc. premieres in theatres across Canada on February 3rd. For a sneak peek, visit Or read the book,

The Terry Fox Run will be held on Sept 16, 2012. Visit to get involved.

Lisa MacDonald is assistant editor of Hilborn's flagship newsletters, Canadian Fundraising & Philanthropy and Hilborn eNEWS. A degree in journalism and communications from Carleton University and more than 12 years of experience as a nonprofit communications professional inform her passion for and understanding of issues in this sector. Lisa welcomes your ideas and comments about this article by email or @lisalmacdonald.

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