Charities compete for cancer dollars

Friday, March 15, 2013, Vol. 37, No. 11
By Brad Schmitt

The Memorial Foundation Hope Lodge provides a comfortable, nurturing environment in which patients and caregivers can stay free of charge during treatment and focus on getting well.

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Who knew that universally beloved Grand Ole Opry character Minnie Pearl – the joke crackin’ country gal with the price tag dangling from her hat – could ever be this controversial?

The Minnie Pearl Cancer Foundation changed its name last month to PearlPoint Cancer Support, drawing a slew of ‘How dare you?’ responses online.

Directors respond they are growing online nationally, and the name “Minnie Pearl,” while highly valued and respected locally, doesn’t resonate much outside of Nashville. They also wanted to avoid any confusion with Sarah Cannon Cancer Center – so-named for the real woman who created Minnie – that’s part of the for-profit HCA Healthcare system.

Whether the name change and rebranding has an impact on donations remains to be seen. Competition for the local cancer donations can be keen with more than a dozen not-for-profits dealing directly with cancer research and/or cancer patients in the area.

PearlPoint officials expect the backlash to abate fairly quickly.

“I would expect some people, especially in the Nashville market, to be sensitive to that. It doesn’t surprise me,” says Stacy Eaton-Carter, director of development.

“I would hope our mission to serve patients at a broader base would outshine all that.”

Competitive or cooperative?

Selecting a cancer charity can be tricky, says Susan Hosbach, president/CEO of PearlPoint Cancer Support.

“From an outside perspective, it may seem like a crowded landscape,” she explains. “There are a lot of organizations helping people with cancer. But it’s a complicated disease. And it takes a village.”

Officials say there’s a cooperative spirit among those agencies most of the time.

“It surprises many people to learn that most nonprofit organizations cooperate rather than compete,” says Greg Broy, spokesman for the American Cancer Society’s Mid-South Division.

The key to success, officials with several agencies say, is not duplicating another agency’s services.

“For example, the Society actively collaborates with the American Heart Association, the American Lung Association and others to effect tobacco-related changes at the state and federal level,” Broy says.

Volunteers drive patients to and from cancer treatment as part of the American Cancer Society’s Road to Recovery program.

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Still, each agency is competing for checks and online contributions.

“There are a lot of people raising money for a bunch of different causes,” says Laura Heatherly, CEO of the T.J. Martell Foundation, which funds cancer research and helps cancer patients. “It’s competitive.”

Heatherly says she refers clients regularly to several other organizations that can provide financial help, small-group support and other services.

“It’s this whole nucleus,” she adds. “We connect the dots for people.”

Middle Tennessee agencies fighting cancer include:

American Cancer Society (ACS)

Major services: Funding cancer research, housing for patients and caregivers at Hope Lodge, rides to appointments through Road to Recovery and wig banks

Money: ACS gave Vanderbilt University $6.9 million (2009-to the present, some grants are scheduled for future execution) for cancer research.

How to donate:

The Memorial Foundation Hope Lodge at 20th & Charlotte offers 41 suites for cancer patients and their caregivers. It might be the agency’s most visible outreach in Nashville. Titans owner Bud Adams donated the money to build a fitness room inside.

Other agencies also call on the ACS for Road to Recovery and wig banks for patients who lose their hair during chemo treatments.

T.J. Martell Foundation

Major services: Funding cancer research, helping patients find doctors

Clients served: Tens of thousands through research, about 200 a year with doctor referrals

Money: About $4.5 million raised last year

How to donate:

Music exec Tony Martell made a promise in 1973 to his son T.J., who was dying of leukemia, to do what he could to battle life-threatening illnesses. The foundation has since grown strong Nashville roots, with many ties to Music Row.

Specially trained breast cancer survivors visit with patients to answer questions and offer support through the American Cancer Society’s Road to Recovery program.

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Among its major accomplishments, T.J. Martell Foundation has opened the Frances Preston Laboratories for research at the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center.

Among its major fundraisers, T.J. Martell hosts an annual star-studded Honors Gala here in Nashville, as well as the high-profile Nashville Best Cellars Dinner, which brings together top wine collectors with big country stars like Martina McBride, Faith Hill, Kix Brooks, Charles Kelley of Lady Antebellum, Luke Bryan and Jake Owen.

PearlPoint Cancer Support, formerly the Minnie Pearl Cancer Foundation

Major services: Providing online and phone support to cancer patients

Clients served: More than 10,000 patient families so far in this fiscal year

Money: About $2.3 million raised last fiscal year

How to donate:

Most PearlPoint users take advantage of thousands of pages of online information about cancer. And patients can keep track on their treatment plans and doctors visits online.

Patients also can access – at no cost – clinicians via phone and Skype to ask any questions about treatments, side effects, diet, getting money to pay bills, telling employers or anything else related to the disease.

Gilda’s Club Nashville

Major services: Providing support groups, lectures and social activities for adult and children cancer patients and those closest to them

Money: About $700,000 raised in 2011

How to donate:

Gilda’s Club was started by in the late ‘80s in the name of then Saturday Night Live star/comedian Gilda Radnor, and despite reports to the contrary, Gilda’s Club Nashville won’t be involved in any naming controversy.

National club officials faced negative reaction when it was announced in 2012 that an affiliate in Wisconsin would change its name since younger members weren’t familiar with Radnor, who died of ovarian cancer in 1989.

“Rest assured Gilda’s Club Nashville is not changing its name and will continue to celebrate and honor the memory of Gilda Radner in everything we do,” the club’s founder/CEO Sandy Towers posted on its website.

“Her sense of humor and whimsical grace inform much that takes place here at Gilda’s Club Nashville…. And, as for the inaccuracies in the news reports – Gilda would say, ‘It just goes to show ya’ – It’s always something!’”