Why the Coaches Vs. Cancer Program Has Been a Slam Dunk

The American Cancer Society’s Coaches vs. Cancer program, which enlists basketball coaches to fundraise for ACS, will turn 25 in 2018. Here are two keys to its long-running success.

In 1993, University of Missouri Basketball Coach Norm Stewart, who fought cancer several years earlier, asked fans to pledge $1 for every three-point shot Mizzou made during that season to the American Cancer Society. Since that time, Stewart’s 3-Point Attack pilot program was adopted by ACS and the National Association of Basketball Coaches and became the remarkably successful Coaches vs. Cancer program.

As the partnership among ACS, NABC, and thousands of basketball coaches enters its 25th year in 2018, Sharon Byers, chief development and marketing officer at ACS, notes that the coaches have raised more than $110 million. Engagement in the program also continues to grow: More than 4,000 coaches, ranging from middle school coaches to college legends, participated during the 2016-17 basketball season.

Looking back over nearly 25 years of success, Byers shares two elements she credits the program’s success to:

Understanding the power of relationships. “I think where some nonprofits make mistakes is that they take the check and they run,” Byers said. “We are very focused on listening to everyone, whether it’s someone in Memphis, Tennessee, who wants to fundraise for us all the way up to Roy Williams [the University of North Carolina’s men’s basketball coach]. We really listen to their stories, and how they want to fundraise and empower them.” And ACS values its partnership with NABC as much as it does its relationships with the coaches. “We are very appreciative of their work with us,” Byers said. “That’s our key.”

Last year, as a way of highlighting the amazing fundraising work its coaches do, ACS launched a digital and TV fundraising campaign. The 30-second TV commercial featured four iconic Division I college basketball coaches leveraging their passion for recruiting new players to help ACS recruit new donors. “Our TV ads were also a big thank you for all the coaches that have fundraised for us,” Byers said.

Understanding the power of publicizing. Byers, who came to ACS in 2015 after years of marketing at Coca-Cola, remembers the big buzzword was “innovation.” But she remarked that ACS already had this amazing platform in Coaches vs. Cancer. “All we need to do is just tell people about it,” Byers said. “A lot of people didn’t even know that Coaches vs. Cancer was associated with the American Cancer Society, and the enterprise of the American Cancer Society is such an amazing organization. We are the number-one funder of research outside of the government. Most people have no idea.”

Throughout the years, Coaches vs. Cancer program has used various initiatives like Suits & Sneakers and the Round by Round bracket challenge, among others, to increase awareness and build momentum. In its 25th year, ACS will continue to “shout from the mountains” about the good work its coaches are doing, according to Byers.

(Jan-Otto/Vetta/Getty Images Plus)

Emily Bratcher

By Emily Bratcher

Emily Bratcher is a Contributing Editor for Associations Now. MORE

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