A workplace full of hope

| Print |  Email
Archives - October 2009
Thursday, October 01, 2009

No. 1 Best Large Nonprofit: Susan G. Komen for the Cure/Oregon and SW Washington

STORY BY LUCY BURNINGHAM // PHOTOS BY ANTHONY PIDGEON
OBMKomen-309
Executive director Christine McDonald (top left) and her staff create a workplace where employees genuinely care about each other.

In an organization with the simple, yet profound mission “to save lives,” it’s not surprising to see raw emotion cracking the surface of cool professionalism during meetings, phone calls and public events.

After all, the staff at the Oregon and Southwest Washington affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure participates in a large-scale human struggle; they work with some of the thousands of women diagnosed with breast cancer fighting to stay alive. Sometimes, those battles end tragically.

“You come together with these tragedies,” explains executive director Christine McDonald. “We know we have a job to do and that we serve a serious mission.”

The group’s mission stems from a larger dream: a world without breast cancer. In the meantime, the Portland office, as an extension of the 590-employee national Komen organization, works to raise awareness about the disease to help prevent deaths, support survivors and fund scientific research.

That work is particularly relevant in the Pacific Northwest, the area with the highest rate of breast cancer in the country.

OBMKomen-536
Executive assistant Devon Downeysmith (right) is inspired by boss Christine McDonald.

Last week, Toni Mountain, the office’s survivor programs manager, announced during a staff meeting that she’d lost one of her younger survivors, a 35-year-old woman with a young son.

“I’m the biggest crier,” says Mountain, a 31-year breast cancer survivor who’s dedicated her career to helping the one in eight women who will be diagnosed with the disease. She says that the Komen office is filled with employees who genuinely care about each other and respect each other’s talents.

But most importantly, she says, the workplace helps her continue this important work, a sentiment echoed by most staff members, no matter what their personal connection to the disease.

In fact, within offices peppered by pink folders, calendars, pamphlets, papers and highlighter pens (to match the famous pink ribbons, which represent breast cancer awareness), it’s difficult to get any one of the 13-person local staff to deviate from talk about the mission. They make everything else, including raises, flextime and paid leave seem like the inedible plastic flowers on an already frosted cake.

Komen’s work requires funding, most of which comes from the annual Portland Race for the Cure, which attracts 50,000 participants, 1,200 volunteers and thousands of supporters, making it the third-largest Komen race in the world.

OBMKomen-445
Race intern Teryll Evans and event coordinator Ian Gadburry collaborate.

Participants pay a $100 race fee, $77 of which is considered a donation to the organization to cover the average cost of one mammogram. But participants are encouraged to make larger donations and do additional fundraising.

Three-quarters of all funds raised by the local affiliate stay in Oregon and the three counties in southwestern Washington served by the group. Remaining funds go to the national organization, which subsidizes breast cancer research.

Kyle Camberg, corporate relations manager, who works almost entirely on the race, says the high-profile event gives the public a false sense of security.

“People say, ‘You have so many people at the race, it must be perfect,’” he says. “But there’s so much more we could be doing.”

Even so, Camberg says it’s difficult not to get caught up in the emotion of the big day, between the survivors wearing pink shirts and caps (3,000 of them ran last year) and participants wearing “in memory of” or “in support of” signs covered with handwritten names.

OBMKomen-90
The iconic pink breast-cancer color surrounds survivor programs manager Toni Mountain.

“It gets really emotional,” he says. “I see young men there with their children filling out ‘in memory of’ signs for the kids’ mom. As a new dad, it’s hard for me to see.”

Christine McDonald took the organization’s helm five years ago and during her tenure the local Komen affiliate has doubled its revenue and its staff, which employees say has created an important sense of stability that many nonprofits lack.

Devon Downeysmith, McDonald’s executive assistant, says she takes inspiration from her boss, who once sent her flowers after she planned her first board meeting and constantly tells her she can be anything.

“She’s got a knack for looking at people and seeing what they have to offer and making sure they feel valued,” Downeysmith says.

McDonald prefers to promote from within: Three current staff members who formerly worked as administrative assistants now hold other positions.

But here, career advancement doesn’t seem like an ultimate goal. In fact, the staff is constantly working toward a world where their jobs will be obsolete thanks to a cure for breast cancer. In the meantime, they’ll keep wearing pink.

MORE ARTICLES:

The list of the 100 Best Non-Profit Companies to Work For in Oregon

Caring mixed with laughter: No. 1 Best Small Nonprofit

Foosball, Focus and Bare Feet: No. 1 Best Medium Nonprofit

A workplace full of hope: No. 1 Best Large Nonprofit

An insider's view on the the Nonprofit Project

A different nonprofit strategy from Small Business columnist, Steve Strauss

How Nonprofits are pulling together to weather the "great recession"

 

More Articles

Water World

November/December 2014
Wednesday, October 22, 2014
BY KIM MOORE

Fred Ziari aims to feed the global population.


Read more...

The short list: Holiday habits of six Oregon CEOs

The Latest
Thursday, December 11, 2014
121214-xmaslist1BY JACOB PALMER | OB DIGITAL NEWS EDITOR

We ask business and nonprofit leaders how they survive the season.


Read more...

See How They Run

January-Powerbook 2015
Friday, December 12, 2014
BY LINDA BAKER

Studying ground-running birds, a group that ranks among nature's speediest and most agile bipedal runners, to build a faster robot.


Read more...

Justice for All

January-Powerbook 2015
Thursday, December 11, 2014
BY JESSICA RIDGWAY

Lawger upends the typical hourly based fee model by letting clients determine the cost.


Read more...

The 100 Best Companies survey is open

News
Friday, October 24, 2014

100-best-logo-2015 500pxw-1How does your workplace stack up against competitors? How can you improve workplace practices to help recruit and retain employees? Find out by taking our 100 Best Companies to Work for in Oregon survey!


Read more...

Two Sides of the Coin

Contributed Blogs
Wednesday, October 22, 2014
22 twosidesBY JASON NORRIS

Historically, when the leaves fall, so do the markets. This year, earnings, Europe, energy and Ebola have in common? Beyond alliteration, they are four factors that the investors are pointing to for this year’s seasonal volatility.


Read more...

I Know How You Feel

November/December 2014
Wednesday, October 22, 2014
BY JESSICA RIDGWAY

Most smartphones come equipped with speech recognition systems like Siri or Cortana that are capable of understanding the human voice and putting words into actions. But what if smartphones could do more? What if smartphones could register feeling?


Read more...
Oregon Business magazinetitle-sponsored-links-02
SPONSORED LINKS