Looks like the recession tripped up the race to beat breast cancer.
But executives of the Southern Nevada chapter of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, a nonprofit organization that raises money for breast cancer education and research, said they plan to jump those hurdles with fresh marketing ideas and a focus on their group's local ties.
Komen's new approach has its origins in 2009, when local participation in its Race for the Cure, held every May, slid into a "downward spiral," chapter director Stephanie Kirby said. With unemployment surging toward 15 percent and the city's foreclosure rate leading the nation, chapter advocates couldn't afford to contribute as they once had.
"I truly believe people want to give. They just have to make a choice of where to put their dollars," Kirby said. "Before the recession, they could support three, four or five organizations a year. During the recession, they had to pull it back to one or none."
Cass Palmer, president and CEO of the United Way, said giving to the local Komen chapter through his organization was also down "a bit" in the recession, mirroring general charitable-giving trends in Las Vegas.
For the foundation's signature Race for the Cure, held in May, local giving fell more than a bit during hard times.
More than 20,000 people ran in 2007, bringing in about $1.4 million. Participation dropped to 16,000, with $1.1 million in contributions, by 2010. The number fell again in 2011, with 14,500 racers raising less than $1 million.
The race is by far Komen's biggest source of local funds. The group relies on money from per-person registration fees of $25, as well as funds raised by the runner's sponsors. Not only did far fewer people register to race in the recession, participants who did register had a harder time rustling up sponsorship money. Nor did businesses match as much for participating employees.
Registration tumbled again in May, to around 12,500 racers, but Kirby traces that to a political flap that followed the national Komen organization's December decision to pull funds from Planned Parenthood. The group reversed its decision in February, but the damage was done for downtown's May race.
Still, participation was better than the chapter expected, given the nationwide backlash against the group.
"I was nervous it was going to be lower. I was really very happy about the turnout," Kirby said.
The chapter plans to emphasize its local ties in marketing for 2013's race, scheduled for May 4.
"We want to remind people of what we do here, and what we do with the money people give us - who it helps, who it's saving. Our focus is very local," Kirby said. "We really want to make that distinction, this year especially. The national organization is amazing, and I wouldn't work for it if I didn't agree with what they do nationally, globally and locally. But decisions that were made nationally did not do a thing to change what we do here locally."
The chapter is looking to add elements to make the race "more celebratory and joyous for survivors and families," Kirby said.
She added that she hopes the organization can bring turnout back up to 14,500 to 15,000 participants.
"I think things have started to level off, and I think we're in a position where, like other organizations, we can start to really pull back in those ... who stopped supporting us strictly for economic reasons," Kirby said.
Komen for the Cure may have reason for optimism, Palmer said. The United Way of Southern Nevada routinely polls its 25,000 donors, and based on recent feedback, the organization sees an improving outlook.
"In general, donors are feeling a little more optimistic. We're hearing that they're not going to reduce their gift, and they hope their gifts can go up," Palmer said.
Contact Jennifer Robison at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-380-4512. Follow @J_Robison1 on Twitter.