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Charity won't back fundraiser

Charity felt calendar wouldn't be a success

Joanna Frketich, Health Reporter The Hamilton Spectator ,January 5, 2002
Also appeared in the Toronto Star, Page 2, Monday January 7, 2002

The largest breast cancer charity in Canada has refused to endorse a calendar featuring what it calls "controversial" photos of women's bare breasts. Guelph artist Sue Richards planned to give the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation 40 per cent of the profits from her self-funded Breast of Canada 2002 calendar, designed to teach women how to examine their breasts and remind them to do the checks once a month. 

It never occurred to her that the foundation, which raises money and advocates for breast cancer research, education, diagnosis and treatment, wouldn't want its name associated with the calendar. 

"I hadn't considered it controversial at all," Richards said. "They're just regular pictures of regular breasts. There's nothing sexual about them." 

However, the foundation didn't like all of the 12 black-and-white artistic photos, which don't show any of the women's faces and depict a wide variety of poses such as a child breastfeeding, three women rowing and close-up shots of nipples. 
"It was controversial," said Jay Hooper, national funds development director for the foundation. "If I put that in front of my mother, she might find the photos controversial. She might have been offended by it." 

Asked what he thought of the shots by fine art photographer Melanie Gillis, he said, "Like any art, some pictures I liked and some I didn't." 

But he stresses the photographs aren't the reason the foundation decided not to endorse the calendar. Hooper said a number of staff reviewed Richards proposal and decided it wasn't a "worthwhile" fundraiser because it had little chance of success. When Richards submitted her plans in March, she didn't have a large retail network to sell the calendars and had no prior experience in the field. "It's a very competitive business and to step in for the first time and sell calendars in that marketplace is pretty high risk," said Hooper. "It takes a fairly significant retail distribution network to make a calendar work." 

The foundation didn't stand to lose any money, as Richards financed the entire $70,000 it cost to make the calendar. But Hooper said that carried little weight as the foundation gets numerous requests each year to endorse fundraisers and carefully selects the best ones that offer the highest chance of success. 

So far, the foundation's predictions have been right as Richards was only able to sell 4,000 of the 20,000 calendars before Jan. 1 despite finding a national distributor. 

She is now heavily discounting the $24.95 calendar to try to recoup some of her $50,000 in losses. 

But Richards argues the calendar would have done significantly better if it had been endorsed by the foundation and could have been sold at its breast cancer awareness events. She said by the time the foundation turned her down in June, it was too late for her to find a new charity before the calendar went to print in July. She is convinced it was the content of the photographs and not her lack of business experience or connections that led to the refusal. 

She said the foundation never asked to see her business plan and that Hooper told her "the fundraising didn't outweigh the controversy of the calendar." Hooper denies making the statement. 

While Richards acknowledges the calendar is "bold and not for everyone," she said the idea is to help women become more comfortable with their breasts. "I find (the refusal) disturbing because I thought we were further along than that," said Richards. "Early detection (of breast cancer) requires a detailed examination of the breasts visually and physically so we need to look at them." 

However, marketing experts say pictures of bare breasts are still likely to offend a portion of Canadians so endorsing the calendar could be risky. Marvin Ryder, professor of marketing and entrepreneurship at McMaster University, said charities have to be extra cautious because large donors tend to be older and have more conservative values. 

"In Ontario, we're still quite uptight," he said. "When you're not clear on how the consumer will react, you tend to err on the side of caution. You go where the flow is pushing and right now it's still a sensitive issue." 

This story and related links can be found at www.hamiltonspectator.com
You can contact Joanna Frketich by e-mail at [email protected]
or by telephone at 905-526-3349