Baroness Delyth Morgan | Chief Executive of Breast Cancer Now | Friday 26 June 2015
Because of the research progress that’s been made on breast cancer in the last 25 years, the disease is now far better understood and the ongoing challenge to overcome it has become much more clearly defined.
That is why in 2013, when Breast Cancer Campaign and Breakthrough Breast Cancer published five-year strategies, we had very similar aims. Both organisations committed to putting an end to breast cancer deaths in the UK, and it became apparent that our strategies around how to do that were complementary.
We were both working to prevent breast cancer, improve early diagnosis and develop new treatments for all subtypes of the disease. We also shared a determination to boost research efforts into secondary breast cancer, where the disease spreads to another part of the body and which is currently incurable.
It had become possible to plot the course of the future for breast cancer research and, with such similar strategic aims, it became clear that merging would lead to faster progress in research and a stronger voice for breast cancer patients. It made sense to unite our ambition, as Breast Cancer Now.
How we made it work
This was a merger motivated by scientific strategy rather than by financial necessity, although one of the benefits of uniting will be the opportunity to use our supporters’ money more efficiently. And it was also crucial to deliver the merger at pace; announcing in mid-November and launching Breast Cancer Now by mid-June was a very deliberate decision.
We wanted to create a breast cancer research charity of scale, but where there was duplication, we have had to reduce our headcount. There has been a total reduction of approximately 25% in posts. While building a structure that would enable us to realise our strategic vision was crucial, saying goodbye to close colleagues – some of whom had been with our legacy organisations for over a decade – was really hard.
Our staff needed little persuading of the rationale, but effective internal communication around the process has been very important. Our approach, at each stage, has been to tell our “nearest and dearest” first, holding monthly briefings from the chief executives, circulating weekly email updates, and using regular staff surveys to gather feedback and help us understand areas of concern. We are also undertaking a culture audit to understand the strengths and weaknesses of each legacy charity’s environments.
Throughout, we tried to remain both driven and reassured by the fact that we knew it was the right thing to do for women with breast cancer. Our beneficiaries, supporters and partners have been at the heart of the decisions we’ve made. They’ve informed key decisions, in the run-up to merger through to our brand development and launch, and this is something we’ll certainly be continuing with as part of an ongoing stakeholder engagement programme.
Other charities should consider it too
Since we first announced our intention to merge, I have been asked frequently for my opinion on duplication and competition in the sector. Every situation is different of course, and our two charities found themselves in a very specific moment of resonance, but what I would say is that merging within the sector should be talked about more positively. It should be seen as a real opportunity, enabling organisations to reach common goals faster together, rather than a sign of weakness.
More could certainly be done to help charities who would like to investigate merging; there needs to be better guidance available, as well as more open and positive dialogue on the subject within the sector. For those charities considering merging, I would simply urge they ensure that uniting is unquestionably the right thing for themselves and their beneficiaries. For us, it absolutely was.
Our future as one charity
In terms of the kind of organisation we want to be, collaboration will be the key to everything Breast Cancer Now does, from our approach to research to our campaigning and fundraising. Continuing to connect our staff to the purpose of our charity will also be vital. It is so important to me that they have a real sense of ownership and are able to talk about breast cancer in their terms – particularly as many already have a close personal connection to the cause.
The beating heart of Breast Cancer Now will always be our wonderful supporters, from our regional fundraising groups to our strategic partners. We are delighted that the two sets of passionate supporters we brought together have responded so positively to our new identity and vision. And, that they no longer have to decide which breast cancer research charity to support.
Together, we are now defined by a bold and united cause. As portrayed in our launch campaign, The Last One, we believe that if we act now, by 2050 everyone who develops breast cancer will live. But we simply cannot do this alone. If we are to finally stop women dying from breast cancer, we will need everyone involved in and affected by the disease to stand with us, now.