Katie Carter, executive director of the Columbus Affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, hears stories all the time from volunteers about how they or someone in their lives have been touched by breast cancer. But one in particular sticks out.
A Columbus-area woman with young children was struggling with her stage IV breast cancer, undergoing chemotherapy and radiation. She received a drug that was developed in part through the donations of Susan G. Komen for the Cure.
“She’s doing well now,” Carter says, “but when you’re talking about a drug that Komen was a part of — that saves someone’s life and continues to make them live longer — that’s what it is really about.”
Susan G. Komen for the Cure, which seeks to help find a cure for breast cancer, is the largest non-government funder of breast cancer research in the world, having donated $58 million to research last year.
“We’re here to save lives, but we’re also making an impact from a local level,” she says.
Komen has been involved, at least in some way, in every one of the breakthrough cancer treatment drugs, according to Carter.
“Again, there are lots of collaborations, so you need the researchers, and you need the pharmacy to create it and mass produce it and get it back into the hands of the patients, but it’s a fact that everyone who was a part of that breakthrough helped save her life. And we had a small part in that.
“That’s what really matters, and the impact we make every day in the lives of so many that we don’t hear stories about. We know that we’re continuing to do great work, and we do make a difference.
“But we need help,” she says. “We need to continue to make that help through our community and continue to raise more money, so we can give more to research, and we can give more to our local programming to continue that.”
Such goals and the many volunteers at Komen Columbus helped the affiliate win the Affiliate of the Year award for 2013 from the national organization.
The affiliate strived to diversify funding, increase awareness and expand outreach communication activities to be visible throughout the year. Through the collaboration with corporate sponsors, community support and dedicated volunteers, Komen Columbus was able to fund 20 breast health programs in Central Ohio and invest its 20 millionth dollar toward the organization’s mission — to save lives and end breast cancer.
Here’s how Carter and her staff manage 1,000 volunteers as a team and engage them on the mission of one of the most widely known brands in its field.
Getting in position
One of the keys to keeping a workforce engaged is finding an opportunity for employees to exercise their talents. “Do the work you love, and love the work you do.” is more than an aphorism — it’s the attitude the employees at a successful organization exhibit.
Likewise, Carter finds matching volunteers with a role that makes the best use of his or her aptitudes leads to successful outcomes.
“As long as you place everyone in the right position and in the right seat, you’re going to be successful,” Carter says.
The Columbus affiliate has new people coming in all the time who want to be involved. Carter says they don’t just say, “Great, thanks for joining. Here’s a job for you.”
If they aren’t in the right position, the volunteer might get bored or lose interest.
Instead, a Komen Columbus staff member interviews the volunteer, a procedure that is almost like a job interview, to get an understanding of his or hers passion and why the person is interested in volunteering. Finding out the story is the first step.
“Usually the volunteer has a story — my mom was diagnosed or my aunt or my grandmother or my wife, or I myself am a survivor,” Carter says. “And they say, ‘I just want to give back,’
“Anytime you have a volunteer, they have to be engaged in your mission, and believe in it and entrust in it, and know that they are there to help,” Carter says.
The second matter is asking what the person has done, and finding out about his or her background and interests.
“I think we all know that whether you’re in a job or volunteering, you have to love what you do. And if you don’t, then it’s very hard to motivate someone,” Carter says.
“You want to sit down and ask the right questions, and make sure that it’s a good fit for the organization and that it’s a good fit for that volunteer.”
Although communication skills are helpful because there are a lot of jobs where volunteers interact with other people, there are other ways to make an impact, Carter says. Whatever roles they fill, volunteers, staff members, board members and corporate partners know the strength of the organization’s mission.
Keeping the engagement
The mission and vision statements of a company, when used properly, guide an organization to inspire employees to reach its goals.
But how you maintain inspiration in any organization, for-profit or not-for-profit, where burnout is a concern, may be a large factor in your success.
Susan G. Komen for the Cure allows people to help in many ways, whether by donating money, participating in events or donating their time and talents to make the organization grow and be what it is today, Carter says.
That flexibility keeps the nonprofit strong — as long as it stays true to its vision of a breast cancer-free world.
The affiliate works with volunteers’ schedules, and seeks to let them know that whatever they can give helps.
“As organizations grow, people come and go, and they serve their time. But they are still always connected by it,” Carter says.
“And once you leave, you don’t really leave. It’s one of those things where you’re always connected by Komen or breast cancer,” she says. “So we always say that even though people maybe don’t stay with us every day, they are still with us in spirit, and support the organization.”
For example, the Columbus affiliate’s founders still come to the annual race and are engaged with overall community support, even though they may not be involved with day-to-day operations.
Carter says it’s just like anything else, whether it’s a job or an organization, you’re going to have turnover in terms of people coming and going. As others get involved, however, new ideas and innovation can come out of it.
“That’s OK with us as long as we know that we always have a core volunteer base, as our go-to,” she says. “Then as people move on, they get replaced and that’s OK. It’s good to have change and get others involved.”
Stay true to your mission
There are always potential challenges facing an organization. They can range from financial woes to straying away from the mission. But once you notice a growing challenge, it’s time to execute your response.
“I think everybody always has challenges,” Carter says. “I think you have to adapt, and I think that’s the biggest thing. You have to know why things are changing, whether it’s good or bad.”
The next step is to take an introspective look at the situation.
“Evaluate where you’re at and what needs to happen to make those changes, because in any organization, whether it’s nonprofit or business, things do change,” Carter says. “Whether it’s through financial crisis, the economy has issues, or there are changes in laws, or there are just changes in how people give — you have to adapt.
“Make sure that your vision and your mission are true. It’s the same vision, but the way we’re going to adapt is we’re just going to do it a little differently. But our vision stays the same, and we just adapt and make those changes that we need to make to continue that vision and make sure it goes forward.”
In any organization you are going to have times that are difficult or challenging.
“You just have to make important decisions that go toward that vision,” Carter says. “And I would hope that our organization shows that. We are great stewards of our funds, and we try to continue to say that to the public, and to our sponsors and to everyone that we serve. We do it the right way, and make sure that it goes right to the mission, which is research as well as providing direct service and funding that money here to keep it local.” ●
- Matching the right person with the right job allows you to succeed.
- Be flexible, and know that new ideas can come out of change.
- Adapt, but stay true to your mission.
The Carter File:
Name: Katie Carter
Title: Executive director
Company: Columbus Affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure
Education: Undergraduate degree in psychology from Capital University, and a master’s degree in public administration from Ohio University.
What was your first job and what did you learn from it? I worked at an IGA grocery store. When you’re young, you’re happy to have a job and finally have your own money, but as you grow you realize those first jobs were stepping-stones that added to the experience of your life. One of the great things about it was interacting with people.
I think that’s what I love about my job now and what I’ve always loved about jobs — the interaction with individuals, whether it’s employees, volunteers or corporate partners.
From every job I’ve ever had, one of the most important takeaways has been treating people with respect.
Who do you admire in the business world? I’ve been surrounded by great board members in our community, and I think from each and every one of them you learn something different. Being here 13 years, I’ve been engaged with probably a few hundred people. So, I would probably have to say they’ve been a big influence on my life — some more than others — but I think you have certain people who you’ve taken more from. They’ve made me grow as a person. How do you repay that? It’s really hard to.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received? The biggest advice that I’ve always tried to emulate is to just treat others how you want to be treated; work hard and good things will happen. It’s simple but true.
What’s your definition of success? I think for me, success is if you’re looking around the room, knowing that you’ve got the right people in the right place, and they support you every day. You love working with them, and they love working with you for one common goal — and that is to end breast cancer. It’s not just one person. It’s thousands of people that make it all possible.
Learn more about Komen Columbus at:
How to reach: Columbus Affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, (614) 297-8155 or www.komencolumbus.org