The Canadian Cancer Society’s $33 Million Turnaround Helps Support People With Cancer

February 26, 2019

By Christa Fletcher(opens in new tab), contributor of The Underground Group
4-minute read

In short:

  • The Canadian Cancer Society (CCS)(opens in new tab) is Canada’s largest national charitable funder of cancer research. It recently celebrated a major financial turnaround after making especially impactful structural changes.
  • CCS merged its 10 provincial divisions into one organization, then merged with the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation. 
  • In the wake of its financial success, CCS is looking to grow through a new campaign focused on life with cancer.

Talk about a change for the better.

During a four-year stretch ending in 2018, the Canadian Cancer Society (CCS) turned a significant deficit into an $8 million surplus by changing the structure of the organization. 

This remarkable $33 million turnaround freed up funding that could help improve the cancer experience.

Pieces of a puzzle

Founded in 1938, CCS is one of Canada’s largest charitable organizations. It has almost 900 employees nationally and a presence in more than 70 local communities.  

CCS runs some of Canada’s major cancer fundraisers, including Relay for Life and the CIBC Run for the Cure, while investing in cancer research, support services, information and advocacy work. Support services work includes providing wigs for people who have lost their hair as a result of their cancer treatment, offering rides to individuals to and from treatment and hosting peer support programs across the country to connect people going through similar experiences.

CCS organizes some of Canada's major cancer fundraisers, including the CIBC Run for the Cure. (credit: Facebook/CanadianCancerSociety(opens in new tab)) CCS organizes some of Canada's major cancer fundraisers(opens in new tab)

Bringing the pieces together

Until a few years ago, CCS operated as 10 separate entities. Each province had its own CEO, board of directors and operating systems, meaning an unnecessary duplication of efforts.

In 2015, CCS leadership decided to combine each province’s operations into one large organization. They reduced staff size, closed and resized offices and changed programs to operate more efficiently. This also involved reconciling differences between each province’s IT systems. 

“While these steps weren’t easy, they were critically important to ensure we were using donor dollars to have the greatest impact,” said Sara Oates, executive VP of finance and operations. 

Today, everything is centralized for efficiency.

Formerly operating as 10 separate provinces, CCS is now one national organization. (credit: Facebook/CanadianCancerSociety(opens in new tab))CCS is now one national organization

Cashing in

As a result of the major structural changes, CCS saw a 28 percent year-over-year reduction in fundraising expenses. Relative to the amount raised, CCS’ cost of fundraising decreased from 41 percent in 2017 to 32 percent in 2018. The changes also saved money for CCS.

“With the help of our funding, the CCS-supported Canadian Cancer Trials Group(opens in new tab) found a new chemotherapy regimen that significantly delays cancer recurrence and extends survival for those facing pancreatic cancer,” said Oates. “This finding is changing how pancreatic cancer is treated worldwide.” 

Another change

The provincial merger isn’t CCS’ only big-ticket change in recent years. In February 2017, CCS joined forces with the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation, merging two of Canada’s largest national health charities into one.

The change helped eliminate unnecessary duplication in the sector. Post-merger, CCS officially celebrated a $33 million turnaround, eliminating its deficit and producing an $8 million surplus.

Beyond financials

Having made strides with its financials, CCS is now revamping the way it talks about itself.

“On World Cancer Day 2019, CCS began communicating differently about who we are and what we do,” said Paula Roberts, executive VP of marketing and communications. 

The organization’s new personality reflects the idea that a cancer diagnosis doesn’t define a person.

“We heard directly from people with cancer and their families that the words ‘fight’ and ‘battle’ have become synonymous with the experience of cancer, forcing us to see it in binary terms: win or lose,” said Roberts.

“The reality is, there’s so much in between. Instead of talking about fighting cancer, we want to highlight how we help people live their lives to the fullest.”

The new campaign’s focus is, “Life is bigger than cancer.” So far, CCS’ social media posts are decidedly lifestyle-focused, including guidelines for healthy eating, recipes for mocktails in honor of “Dry February” and e-cigarette best practices that anyone--not just those with cancer--can use to reduce their risk of cancer.

This month, CCS unveiled a new brand identity focused on life beyond cancer. (credit: Facebook/CanadianCancerSociety(opens in new tab)) CCS unveiled a new brand identity(opens in new tab)

The bottom line

Whether it’s an internal company merger, an external merger or a new marketing campaign, every change your business pursues should roll up to its overall mission.

For CCS, the objective is simple: improve the cancer experience by helping people live longer and enhancing their quality of life.


 Keep growing! Follow Grow Wire on Twitter(opens in new tab) for daily doses of know-how.

NetSuite has packaged the experience gained from tens of thousands of worldwide deployments over two decades into a set of leading practices that pave a clear path to success and are proven to deliver rapid business value. With NetSuite, you go live in a predictable timeframe — smart, stepped implementations begin with sales and span the entire customer lifecycle, so there's continuity from sales to services to support.