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Molly MacDonald, founder/president, The Pink Fund, Bloomfield Hills, Mich.

| 02.11.2013 |

On its website, The Pink Fund spells out its goal in clear and concise language: "The mission of The Pink Fund is to provide short-term financial aid to breast cancer patients in active treatment." However, the story behind this mission is nothing short of dramatic. Business-Superstar is proud to present one of the most amazing entrepreneurs we’ve ever met: Molly MacDonald, founder and president of The Pink Fund.

 

Q: What was the inspiration for The Pink Fund? And was this the first time you created your own organization?

Molly MacDonald: When I was forced to re-enter the job market in 2001 to support myself and my five children, as a result of a financially devastating divorce, it never occurred to me that a breast cancer diagnosis in 2005 would lead to seeing a need and filling a niche in the nonprofit world.

My background in journalism (five years with The Detroit Free Press) public relations and marketing morphed into a career in large and grand format graphic sales, where I developed ideas around which the products I sold would enhance brand identity.

But in the spring of 2005, at a time of job transition, my annual mammogram came back looking suspicious. A biopsy confirmed early stage breast cancer. The diagnosis detoured my career plans to the off ramp, and I found myself unemployed. Without a financial safety net, no unemployment insurance from the state and the addition of a $1,200 a month COBRA payment to maintain my family’s health insurance and ensure my access to care, our family went into a financial free fall.

The financial fallout to our family was the lead story, with breast cancer as the sidebar. Within four months, foreclosure notices began arriving in my mailbox, while we were juggling utility, car and insurance payments. Fortunately, our neighbors brought, dinner which helped with the grocery bills.

But after I finished treatment, the Pyrex pans of lasagna in every possible combination no longer appeared on our doorstep. My new self-employed husband and I had cobbled together a small marketing consulting business, but there was very little cash left to pay for groceries. I found myself as part of another statistic: the hungry. I was standing in line at a Gleaner's Food Bank pantry. My quest to get help was met with blank stares. In time, "How can I get help?" became "How can I give help?"

As far as creating other organizations, I ran a small marketing consulting business, started a greeting card line and considered starting an online support group for Baby Boomers. The marketing business landed me a full-time, well-paying gig for a year, the greeting card line was more of a cottage industry without a future of making any real money and the online Boomer support group was going to require a huge investment of cash to make it work.

 

Q: How long did it take to create The Pink Fund, and when did it official launch?

Molly MacDonald: A year of initial thinking, planning and fund raising became The Pink Fund. We officially launched October 1, 2006 with a front page story in the Life section of The Detroit Free Press, featuring a dental stone cast of my pre-surgery bust) called "My Winged Victory." Seventeen newspapers picked up the story and requests and small donations started coming in.

 

Q: What have been some of the challenges in starting and maintaining The Pink Fund? And conversely, what have been some of the high points of this endeavor?

Molly MacDonald: Well, like in any business, you need revenue. We had to raise money. Initially, people thought this was a great idea, but I did not have a venture philanthropist in my back pocket to help fund the mission and make it sustainable.

So, I relied on friends, family and networking to spread the word and raise money. At the same time we launched, I brought my 88-year-old, mildly demented mother home to live with us. My husband and I were her primary caregivers, while raising three teenagers, caring for the dog and trying to work enough to pay our own basic bills.

In the first three years, we worked from our kitchen table, raising about $30,000 and helping 10 women in Michigan by paying their bills for 90 days. Our board of directors was made up of me, my husband and a couple of friends. We asked the dog to join us in the event we needed a quorum - we knew he would always vote our way (just kidding). By the way, my husband still sits on the board as an officer, but not a director and he does not have a vote. But the dog still does – just kidding, of course.

From the very beginning we received inquiries from all over the United States thanks to our donated, well optimized website. Google "breast cancer" and "financial aid" and see where we pop up. So, we knew the need was national and believed we could help women nationally with the right partner.

Also, somehow my personal cell phone number began to be published by referring organizations like the American Cancer Society, Livestrong, the Patient Advocate Foundation etc. I would get a couple of calls a day asking for assistance. It was frustrating to not be able to help these women, but I would talk with them and before they hung up, they always thanked me, if tearfully, for listening.

In March 2007, I attended a women's survivor retreat, Sisters Hope in Colorado, where we made vision boards. Of course, I thought vision boards were a bunch of hoo-hah. I read "The Secret" and saw the movie, but I did not give any of that any credibility. But I did remember what Henry Ford said, "Whether you think you can or you can't, you're right." So I decided to take what was brewing in my mind pasting the "Ford Blue Oval" on the board.

At the time, and still, Ford Motor Company is a major contributor to breast cancer research and awareness, having donated $115 million in the last 18 years to Susan G. Komen. Of course, I thought Ford would never consider working with another charity, particularly a small charity like The Pink Fund. But last March, they contacted us and in May we signed a contract. We became part of Ford's Warriors in Pink Family. Their significant support and our alignment with the automotive company was a true game changer, in terms of our credibility and ability to fund raise. Since Ford took us on we have helped 129 women ages 27-64 in 40 states!

Another highlight was meeting Erin Denton, who turned out to be the wife of actor James Denton, known best for his portrayal of Mike Delfino in "Desperate Housewives." Erin is a fitness instructor teaching at Break Through Fitness in Pasadena, Calif. A good friend of mine lives there and I would visit on occasion to meet with prospective Pink Fund partners and spend time with two of my girls who now live in Los Angeles. We would start our days by attending Erin's classes. Always the marketer, I would wear my Pink Fund cap and t-shirt. On our drive over one day, my friend told me, "Erin is married to...but she is very private, so don't say anything." "Okay," I replied.

Well, in January 2012, I got a phone call from Erin! Her baby sister, Meghan, had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Like many American women, Meghan's income as a nurse represented half of what her family needed to live on. With a compromised immune system, Meghan could not work, and like many American families they required two incomes to make the basic bills. A conversation began about Erin and James helping to raise money for The Pink Fund. In May, I traveled to California. James and Erin were in.

Ford was geeked and decided to create and produce a limited edition Pink Fund Tee Shirt, available at FordCares.com. They also launched us nationally on "The Talk" on October 5, complimented by full-page, full-color ads of James wearing the shirt in People, US, In Style and Ladies Home Journal. Additionally, they created a four-minute video, "The James Denton Story," which appears on our website and their, and a 30-second spot which aired on CBS during October. James also appeared on "Today" with Hoda and Kathie Lee.

The daily challenge remains to continue to raise more and more dollars. Think of us like a household. Every month we need to bring in dollars to pay the basic bills, and most importantly pay the bills of our clients.

Unlike other charities that may deliver programs on an annual or quarterly basis, we write literally dozens of checks every month. Cash in, cash out every 30 days. Our ability to help these women and their families is solely limited by the generosity of our donors.

Long-term, we hope to address this with a strong endowment, which at the very least will cover The Pink Fund's operational expenses and allow 100% of every donor dollar to be paid out in grants.

Other costs are covered by in kind: gifts, our videos, photography, legal work, brochure and website are all donated. Additionally, we have a great arrangement with Baker and Walsh Colleges to supply us with a regular rotation of qualified interns to help perform some of the in office help.

 

Q: How else have you been able to promote your message? And what kind of a feedback have you received, to date?

Molly MacDonald: Additionally, local stories and social media, Facebook and Twitter postings help to spread our mission. All our feedback is great, except for the few people who don't qualify for our program – they are understandably disappointed. We do everything we can to help redirect them to other sources of support. Our partnership with Diplomat Specialty Pharmacy will help with co-pays for some of the oral chemotherapy drugs they may be prescribed.

 

Q: What professional advice would you give to someone who is interested in following your example and launching their own endeavor?

Molly MacDonald: Don't share your idea with anyone, even people you believe you can trust without protecting it. Make them sign non-disclosure and non-compete agreements. Even volunteers at The Pink Fund must sign this document.

Make sure your by-laws, the rules by which you govern your organization, are clear, while allowing for some flexibility. Govern by the rules.

If you are starting a nonprofit, don't make the assumption that people who want to be involved don't have their own agenda. They do! In fact, it has been my experience that people who have no power in the for-profit world try to grab it in the nonprofit world.

Be selective about who you bring on your board. Vet them for six months to a year before assigning them a board position. Ask them to volunteer on a committee; if you want them to raise money for you, make sure they are prepared to donate annually and ask others to do the same.

Work with interns. It helps to keep the overhead low. You can give them valuable work experience; in fact, craft a project which will allow them to qualify and quantify the work they do with you. The upside is regardless of their performance, they are gone in 10 weeks. The downside, if you love them and they work out great, they are gone in 10 weeks. Give them a review and then ask them to write up one on your organization. Since you have already assessed their performance and are not offering them a job, hopefully they will feel free to be candid.

Network, network, network! I say, "Dress Up, Show Up and Speak Up." Be seen in public, at community events, at least once a week. Speak at area Rotary's, Kiwanis and Optimist Clubs. You never know who you will meet. Share your story sincerely and it will pay dividends.

Hold yourself accountable. Make sure you are evaluated regularly. Although we only meet quarterly, I provide monthly reports to my board. They need to know what I am doing, who I am meeting with and how I am furthering the mission and vision of The Pink Fund.

Make sure your financials are in good shape. Your cashier, the person who handles the money, your bookkeeper and your treasurer should provide you with monthly reports. And track as much as you can – if you are running a nonprofit, everyone wants to know the numbers that count.

Use social media, follow people you respect and learn from them. And get yourself two mentors, one who is older and one who is younger. Wisdom can come from both.

Finally, hang in there. If this venture is your passion, it may take a number of years to get to where you want it. There will be setbacks. Doors will slam in your face, people will betray your. Your patience and endurance will be tested.

When women tell us, "You've saved my life," or "I am crying happy tears for the first time in months," you cry with them. You cry tears of gratitude that you were able to do something to ease their burden so they could focus on healing and returning to the workforce.

I learned a lot about myself and others during that time. And I know I will continue to face more challenges in the future. Apart from raising my five precious children, my work with The Pink Fund is the most rewarding of my life.


The Pink Fund is online at http://www.thepinkfund.org