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An Open Letter to Reuel Johnson of the American Cancer Society

This is a guest post by Todd Stiefel. Todd is the President and Founder of the Stiefel Freethought Foundation.

For background on this letter, I suggest reading posts here and here. In short, the American Cancer Society rejected the Foundation Beyond Belief‘s National Team for this year’s Relay For Life events. There is good reason to believe that, if we had that opportunity to contribute to a National Team, atheists and Humanists around the country could have raised at least $500,000 for cancer research. In a previous post, I referred to Mr. Johnson as “Bob.” — Hemant

Reuel, I am responding to you directly regarding your post on the American Cancer Society Relay for Life page on Facebook. You made your post on September 9th and I have only waited to respond publicly because I had still been attempting to resolve this situation. Those efforts have failed and I no longer believe that this issue can be resolved so, at the very least, I feel a need to correct the spin and misinformation in your post. You have treated us unfairly, and the record needs to be set straight.

My family wanted to raise a half-million dollars for ACS and offered a $250,000 dollar challenge to ACS as a dollar-for-dollar match on all money raised by a Foundation Beyond Belief national Relay for Life team. Our motivations were simple. First, we wanted to raise money for a great cause that is extremely important to our family. My wife, father, two uncles, and countless friends are cancer survivors. Two of my grandparents, an uncle, and a great-uncle are cancer victims. This disease has tormented my family for generations. We wanted to help find a cure and better treatments.

Second, we wanted to mobilize a large and quickly growing community to help in the effort. The non-religious are one of the largest and fastest growing demographics of the American population (PDF). Relay For Life seemed like an amazing way for us to rally together for a common cause both at the local level and nationally through the ACS system of national teams. Between my family’s gift and this large community, we believed we could do amazing things in the fight against cancer.

Third, Relay itself is a wonderful event that allows for amazing grassroots activities. It is a great way for our local groups to have fun, get to know each other better, and develop as teams. It is also a wonderful way for us to reach out in positive ways to religious people in communities and demonstrate to them that we share many of the same values.

I was incredibly excited to be able to launch this effort. Initially, you agreed that FBB could have a national team, as other non-profits do. I agreed to serve as the FBB project lead on this effort and an intern was brought on to support the effort. We had a goal to recruit 100 local teams to join our national team and to make this an annual tradition. FBB also had agreement from four of the largest national atheist and humanist groups that they would support our efforts and encourage their chapters and affiliates to create teams.

Then, shockingly, you reversed directions and denied us recognition as a national team. In an email to you, I had written, “Our goal will be to raise $500k in our first year and my parents, wife and me are still planning on running a matching challenge of up to $250k from us for donations made through local teams under the national team.” In your post on Facebook, you said that ACS did not turn down our offer, but that is not true. By rejecting the national team, you did reject the offered gift as that was the key contingency on the gift being made. Of course, you had showed virtually no enthusiasm or thanks for this gift offer. When we spoke on the phone recently, you referred to the gift offer as “fine,” but did not indicate that the offer was exciting or show any appreciation whatsoever for the gift. Instead, you promptly told me that ACS would not help us track the performance of our local teams so that we could calculate how much should be matched (even though your system can do that automatically if we had a national team). Major matching challenge gifts are not “fine,” they are amazing! The first thing you say about them is how thankful you are for the gift, not how you will not allow the automatic tracking of success. As someone who has worked to raise money for non-profits, I can assure you that your strategy here was very poor for cultivating donors, unless you do not want them as donors.

Originally, you had agreed that we could have a team under the Relay non-corporate national team program. In August, after weeks of you not returning my calls and emails, I got this message from you:

Todd …. wanted to get back with you regarding the non-corporate national team program status. I had not returned your most recent phone call pending the outcome of some ongoing proposed changes. The ACS is currently undergoing a top to bottom examination of the full range of our programs — a process known as Transformation — from the governance structure to all of our initiatives and activities — due in part to the changing economic conditions and the current charitable giving climate. As part of that exercise we are looking at eliminating certain aspects of our operations in order to more effectively deploy limited financial and human capital. One of the changes is to eliminate the non-corporate national team program in order to devote these resources into programs with greater potential for growth.
Our focus for the involvement of organizations will be at the community and event level where we have demonstrated our real strength. We certainly appreciate you personal involvement and the success of your team …. and your interest in getting other teams involved through your organization. We hope that you’ll continue that effort to field teams on a community basis.
Thanks again ….
Reuel E. Johnson | National Vice President – Relay For Life

Why is there no mention of the matching gift that we had offered? Was it not important? Why are you not thanking a donor for offering a major gift that could save lives? I felt stung and appalled.

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TAGGED: HUMANITARIAN EFFORTS


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