Pink Ribbons Inc. – A first step to dialogue

I’m sweating a bit. Nervous. Never wrote a post that the potential to outright anger so many people.

So let me start with a key disclaimer. I am a man, and I really despise it when men talk about women’s issues when they are not educated or experienced in any way about them. I have never interacted with the cause of breast cancer as a fundraiser – so in some ways I offer an objective perspective on this film. BUT I won’t be commenting on the ‘issue’ of breast cancer or the politics of the work. You could fill the state of Texas with what I don’t know, so I won’t weigh in on something I’m ignorant about.

My interest in making sure I got to the pre-screening of this film was as a fundraiser ( and although my current job doesn’t look like traditional fundraising I’ve been in the sector for over a decade ). I’ve been waiting for a film like this for a long time.

You see this kind of documentary is both a fundraisers greatest nightmare…and kind of our secret joy.

As a profession, we’re supposed to stand up for peers, cause marketing, event planning and dollars raised. As individuals often we feel disconnected from the actual way dollars are spent, research is done and for those of us not in that part of the sector ( that’s me ) find mega-events and personal-ask programs distasteful ( like big firm lawyers who have to stand side by side with peers who advertise in washroom stalls – both do honourable important work but one has a crisp-easy-clean lifestyle and the other has the guts to mix it up to help honest hard working folks but is seen as unpleasant ).

I was relishing the tough questions for the fundraising profession – so the film like many documentaries quickly sets about establishing the crusaders ( historians against the cure for the cure ) , the honourably outraged ( a stage four survivor focus group that drops emotional bombs throughout the movie that blow out your senses with real human questions that take you off the course, a discussion about the machine ) and the enemy ( corporate-friendly nonprofit leaders complete with anti-hero, conveniently botoxed to fuel more outrage ). My sadness is that the tone and conversation stayed there in this loop of very focused accusation towards a short list of sinners when the naughty list of “pinkwashers” is so much, much bigger.

But it was a damn good and powerful start to the dialogue.

Although it didn’t have the teeth I wanted, I still think it’s 100% required viewing for all career fundraisers. You may even find some peace here seeing questions asked that you’ve wished to raise in your organization. Maybe your donors and the community of the cause you serve will rise up and start asking questions too. The public often thinks fundraisers are bounty hunters but I suspect ( and the few blogs from more official peer sources like and Hilborn, Canada’s two largest fundraising enews teams seem to agree ) that they welcome and encourage this conversation.

Don’t get me wrong, when I say it has dulled edges I mean on the fundraising front – on the cause of cancer side there are some gut-wrenching scenes, discussions and discoveries. A scene with thousands participating in a run past the Egyptian pyramids really messed me up, everyone knows the pink thing has gone far but just how far will scare you. That being said, it is SO EASY to vilify corporations for flogging the cause and members of the public to get slactivated ( thanks Lee Rose ) but as the fundraisers in events/cause marketing always show me, the numbers don’t lie – $ is raised, people come out – EVERYONE wants to help, to honestly express love, loss, grief, anger but no cause is so simple that you can take aim, come together and “end” it.

In the end, like most members of the public, I’m like this dog. We’re covered in pink and we don’t really have a choice nor do we really understand why. Question is, will this movie move you enough to bite something? Someone?

The pink-pirates are betting no.

Because that first someone is going to be your best friend whose mom has cancer – but somewhere we have to have this discussion.

I for one hope for my profession, it’s a big time discussion at the major conferences we have coming up.

In the meantime, I know it won’t be date night at the movies but I highly highly encourage you to get out and watch this movie. Happy Superbowl Sunday.

Want to watch it as a group with a discussion afterward?
Let me know, I’ll set it up.


Ps. In case you’re worried, high production value, good pacing/editing this didn’t win at TIFF for no reason, it’s a high quality doc.

PPs. The NFB is a national treasure. Canada is greater for its’ existence.

4 Replies to “Pink Ribbons Inc. – A first step to dialogue”

  1. Paul,

    I don't have a problem with this post at all. The movie could have featured a whole lot of different causes that fit perfectly into the model – is it corporate marketing or is it improving-the-world fundraising? The truth is that I haven't seen the film yet, but I'm glad the question is being raised, it has bothered me for years.

    I heard Ravida (?) being interviewed this week on CBC Saskatchewan and she made a good point (my non-precise summary), "I'm not saying that we should stop giving to breast cancer charities/research, just that we should think about just writing a check and forgo buying something completely unrelated to the cause. Fundraising has to move beyond the transactional." I agree with that sentiment.

    Wonder what you would have to say about project (Red) in light of the movie? What do you think about the Starbucks cards, the Gap campaign, etc.?

    Christina @GPtekkie

  2. Thanks for posting your feelings from your perspective — one which may be somewhat unique among the typical audience. I agree that it could have gone deeper and steered away from the easy targets, but also that it is a very good start.

  3. YES YES YES! This film is all about OPENING UP THE DIALOGUE. And yes, it should extend far beyond "pink ribbon" cause marketing but The Pink Ribbon? Frankly, No one does it better……

    There are so many aspects to this mess that is 25 years in the making, it is not going to change overnight. The movie may have been "simplistic" on some level but those of us who already understand "cause marketing" are not the intended audience. This movie is to reach out to the masses…. those who truly believe if they wrap themselves in a pink boa or become what someone referred to as a "Pink baseball cap wearing volunterrorist" they will be helping The Cause.

    This is a great commentary on an EXCELLENT movie…… aimed at raising awareness. The RIGHT kind of awareness…….

    Please do pop over to my blog and read my rant…… Someone had the audacity to tell me to "stop ranting" and "just accept things" because "that's the way it is" ….. I don't take kindly to that kind of stuff….. the snide comment is here:
    and my rant is here:
    and to "punctuate my point" my trip to the grocer the next day….? Well this is what I found:

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