September is Prostate Cancer Awareness month, and the nonprofit organization ZERO - The End of Prostate Cancer is working to increase research funds to find new treatments that will end the disease. The nonprofit also conducts free testing through its mobile testing program, and it educates patients, families, and those at risk of developing prostate cancer.
I invited Colony Brown, vice-president of marketing and communications for ZERO, to talk with me about nonprofit marketing, including how her team has empowered a community of champions (ZERO's Heroes) to spread the word and drum up support for the cause.
Here are just a few highlights from our conversation:
To get people talking about a difficult subject (like prostate cancer), you have to start the conversation (04:53): "Part of [men's] journey [to] talking about prostate cancer was no longer feeling like a victim, but instead feeling empowered. Recognizing the good they could do by sharing their story. What's amazing is, when you talk to men, they're like, 'I just didn't realize...my friends have prostate cancer, but we just didn't tell each other,' and it's such a tragedy! You could have been there supporting each other. Many more men are coming out to tell their stories.
"One of the ways we encouraged that at ZERO is we started a program called 'ZERO's Heroes,' and this was a forum for men to tell their stories. We have a run/walk series that goes around the country that we started more than a decade ago. We're the only nationwide series dedicated to prostate cancer, so this was a wonderful way to start gathering those stories, start connecting with them. Men were connecting at the race, which was great to see.
"So they started to feel like 'I want to be a ZERO's Hero, I want to tell my story.' And of course the women there with them were cheering them on. Sometimes, the women were the reason the men were even at the race. We heard that a lot. 'My wife made me come to the race,' or 'my daughter told me I had to come,' but once they were there, you could see them really warming up.
"We make the race all about [prostate cancer survivors and patients]. Celebrating survivorship, celebrating the fact that we're all here, which is really the end result. No matter what side effects there are...we're here, and you get to be with your family because you're a survivor or you're going through treatment.
"45% of the people who come to our run/walks are men now, which is up from a 40/60 split, and we have a higher percentage of men that are donors than women right now, which has flipped in the last couple of years. So we're definitely seeing progress."
To succeed in nonprofit marketing, don't just give people information—give them a way to help (07:20): "If you're asking people to get involved in the cause, you'd better have something for them to do. Every nonprofit feels challenged by that, because they want meaningful work and meaningful effort. Certainly, our annual summit has been a wonderful way for people to come in from around the country and talk to their elected officials about federal prostate cancer research funding. That summit, which we've been doing now for more than 20 years, has built such a community of avid advocates (Champions), but has empowered them to make a difference.
"But there are only so many people who can come to DC, so we want to make it accessible for everyone in their own community. One of the other things we do is to provide awareness tool kits so you can really keep it local. You want to help your friends, you want to be there to support your family, so [it's important that] you can do things in your community that can make a difference.
"For instance, we have a woman named Linda in Ohio. Her husband has the disease. And she has made it her mission for every district in Ohio to have a proclamation that prostate cancer is an issue and to declare prostate cancer awareness month in September. She literally goes city by city, town by town, talking to elected officials to make that happen. And she has more than 100 proclamations in Ohio alone under her belt! It's really amazing what people can do. Part of our role at ZERO is to channel that passion and be the vehicle through which they can take action. We are so amazed and inspired on a regular basis by what our champions are doing."
Fight for the future, but also focus on what's happening now (18:05): "Seeing the uptick in our run/walk is very encouraging, particularly knowing that other run/walks are struggling. We're seeing an increase across the board in our engagement on social as well as the number of fans. We love the number of fans, we certainly look at that, but part of that is the actual engagement that we're seeing and the interaction and the comments. That dialogue and conversation that's happening and continuing online.... That's been incredibly important.
"We're not only fighting for the future and research dollars for a cure, but we're supporting patients now. We have a whole suite of programs that are free to patients, and our champions are letting people know about that. That's so critical, because there's nothing worse than having a phenomenal program that could be life-changing for a patient, but nobody knows about it. [ZERO's Heroes] get the word out in their communities about these programs so that men can take advantage of it and hopefully have a better journey with prostate cancer than they would if they hadn't found ZERO."
To learn about prostate cancer, access helpful resources, support the cause, or take the survey Colony mentioned in the episode, visit ZeroCancer.org. You can also follow the organization on Facebook and Twitter.
Colony and I talked about much more, so be sure to listen to the entire show, which you can do above, or download the mp3 and listen at your convenience. Of course, you can also subscribe to the Marketing Smarts podcast in iTunes or via RSS and never miss an episode!
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Music credit: Noam Weinstein.
Colony Brown, vice-president of marketing & communications for nonprofit organization ZERO - The End of Prostate Cancer, a nonprofit that raises awareness about prostate cancer and men's health, and works to fund research to end the disease. Connect with the organization on Facebook or follow ZERO on Twitter: @zerocancer.