A Promise Kept

By Matt Hawkins
November 5, 2014

In her dying days, Susan G. Komen made her sister promise to find a cure for breast cancer. Three decades later, Nancy Brinker’s fundraising and advocacy has raised more than $2.5 billion for the cause and lifted a once-taboo subject into the national spotlight.

Brinker, founder of the Susan G. Komen Foundation and Race for the Cure, shared her passion as the fourth lecture in Bradley’s Distinguished Entrepreneur Speaker Series.

“I’ve been told it’s impossible to change the culture and discuss a taboo subject. Being an entrepreneur is passion to make the impossible possible,” Brinker said. “Many times I questioned if I took the right path, but you have to do what’s right and not do it halfway.” 

Raised in a family that valued volunteer service, the sisters learned about serving the community at an early age. However, that lesson vividly came to life when Komen was diagnosed with cancer. As Komen neared death, she urged her sister to dedicate her life to fighting a disease that was kept from the public spotlight.

“I saw so much need I knew I had to do something. When she made me promise, I had no choice,” Brinker said. “I won’t let go. I won’t stop until I fulfill what I promised my sister.”

Brinker’s dogged perseverance built the foundation from a group of 12 women in 1982 into a national fundraising power. Early doubters and social pressures eventually eased as the foundation increased its presence in the national conscience.

“No one told us how hard it would be for a small group to build something like this,” she said. “I couldn’t count 10 people who thought we’d be here today. I can’t tell you how many times people turned and ran from us, fleeing from this disease.” 

Brinker encouraged the Bradley students to follow her lead in using creative professional ventures to make a difference.

“No matter your career path, you can be an entrepreneur,” she said. “To change the world, you all must be entrepreneurs.”

Addressing challenges of today’s nonprofits, Brinker noted the challenge of raising funds in a competitive economy. With the slow economy, more nonprofits are competing for fewer donor dollars. 

“It’s not enough to do the job well,” she said. “You have to have metrics to show what you’re doing.”

The lecture encouraged students who attended the event.

“She made me realize I have an opportunity to do something successful and not be held back,” said Grace Schulte ‘16, an entrepreneurship major from Crystal Lake, Illinois. 

Andrew Motyl ‘15, a marketing major from Peoria, said Brinker’s tenacious approach impacted him.

“If you have an idea, stick with it,” he said. “It’s as simple as that. You will succeed eventually.”