In March of 2011, I founded the Canadian Breast Cancer Support Fund (CBCSF), a national charity with a mission to provide short-term financial assistance to breast cancer patients. Although tens of millions of dollars are raised every year in the name of breast cancer, the financial crisis that often accompanies a breast cancer diagnosis is not addressed despite being well known within the cancer care community. CBCSF’s primary mission focuses on this significant gap in support.
In order to set ourselves apart in a very crowded landscape of pink breast cancer organizations, we have branded ourselves as Canada’s only green breast cancer organization. In real terms, this means that as well as raising funds to support patients, we want to change the conversation about breast cancer by raising awareness about the links between breast cancer and the environment, and the importance of the role of prevention when it comes to breast cancer. To this end, we have been providing Think Pink Live Green™ presentations in and around the Greater Toronto Area. These educational presentations provide information on how one can reduce exposure to environmental toxins.
Think pink, live green
The decision to be not just another pink breast cancer organization also meant a commitment to raise funds differently. If we decided to engage in consumer-based philanthropy, rest assured we were not going to ask anyone to purchase anything pink – not a keychain, teddy bear or pink blender in sight. In addition, corporate sponsorships or collaborations of any kind would only be considered with companies and organizations offering products or services that are respectful of the environment.
Without depending on typical pink cause-marketing campaigns that have become so familiar to Canadians, and with a policy to only engage with partners that are respectful of the environment, I knew that fundraising was going to present a challenge.
Knowing that many charities were deeply impacted by the recent recession and were actively engaged in looking at activities that might provide an additional revenue stream, as well as our distinctive policy to forgo the traditional cause-marketing fundraising activities (at least in the breast cancer community), it seemed like a practical solution would be to develop a social enterprise, a “social purpose” business that could provide CBCSF with a revenue stream.
Exploring social enterprise options
Federally and in Ontario, there is no legal definition of a social enterprise, so any individual who is looking to become a social entrepreneur might need to explore a variety of options in order to accomplish their goals. After researching my options, I decided the best choice for me would be to register a for-profit corporation, as there was some flexibility within that framework that would allow me to have the company function as a social purpose business. For-profit corporations registered in Ontario are permitted to donate up to 70% of their net profits. I felt this was the best option that would allow me to provide a revenue stream for the charity.
When it came time to incorporate the business, I reconnected with the lawyer who had assisted me in obtaining charitable status for the Canadian Breast Cancer Support Fund. I wanted to ensure that my plans for what I call a “sister organization” to the charity would not negatively impact our charitable status. I also wanted to publicly declare that “doing good’ was built into our for-profit business model and included bylaws of a Benefit Corporation (B Corps) in the articles of my new corporation.
B Corps are unlike traditional responsible businesses because they meet comprehensive, transparent standards and legally integrate stakeholder interests into their corporate governance. The structure of B Corps allows companies to adopt higher standards of corporate purpose, accountability and transparency. Consumers evaluate and support businesses that align with their values by going online and looking through the registry of B Corps and their ratings.
Doing good and doing business
The educational presentations offered by the Canadian Breast Cancer Support Fund provide information on how to reduce exposure to environmental toxins. Canadians expose themselves to more than a hundred chemicals every day from the shampoos, soaps, deodorants, body wash and personal care products we use. Holly & Ivy, the name of my social enterprise, is an online store selling natural and organic skin care, cosmetics and personal care products. I chose to sell non-toxic, chemical-free products because one of the easiest ways we can all reduce our exposure to environmental toxins is by changing the personal care products we use every day.
Holly & Ivy, is perfectly aligned with activities of the Canadian Breast Cancer Support Fund and is committed to donating 50% of the net profits to the charity. As a social enterprise and aspiring B Corp, I feel this model of business reflects my values and high standards and I’m pleased to contribute to a new sector of the economy that harnesses the power of business to solve social and environmental problems.
*Holly & Ivy has been described as a for-profit company with a nonprofit soul.
Win a $75 gift certificate from Holly & Ivy! (hotlink to contest page)
Donna Sheehan, founder of the Canadian Breast Cancer Support Fund, has been a business woman and entrepreneur and knows first-hand what it’s like to face the challenges of a breast cancer diagnosis. After years of working with organizations providing programs of support to breast cancer patients and survivors and bearing witness to their stories about the challenges and triumphs that accompany a breast cancer diagnosis, she became acutely aware of the lack of support for breast cancer patients who were struggling financially.