July 23, 2014
   
Art beCAUSE Uses Art to Fight Cancer

By Andrea Decof

Ellie Anbinder
Ellie Anbinder is a networker by profession, an art lover by avocation. She is also a breast cancer survivor. When she was diagnosed 15 years ago, she put her sales and marketing expertise to work with breast cancer advocacy groups and national coalitions, doing what she could to help. But when she started losing friends to breast cancer, she knew she had to do more. She founded Art beCAUSE.

A grass roots nonprofit working with artists and galleries to fund research, Art beCAUSE, based in Framingham, is “dedicated to eradicating environmental causes of breast cancer.”

During her treatment Ellie learned that only five percent of women diagnosed with breast cancer had a genetic link to the disease. That meant that environmental factors were playing a huge part in the increasing number of breast cancer cases. No shrinking violet, Ellie decided she would tackle the 800-pound gorilla and fund research to find and eliminate environmental causes of breast cancer.

Art beCAUSE began six years ago, when Ellie persuaded a gallery owner and friend to help organize a fundraiser and donate a portion of sales to the cause. Next, she networked with friends at John Hancock, who provided seed money to start the nonprofit. And with her business skills and the hard work of a small board of directors, Art beCAUSE has steadily grown from there.

From the initial fundraiser, which garnered $5,000, Art beCAUSE has grown to raising over $50,000 a year. Their goal is to double that figure this year.

Multiple Approaches to Fundraising

Utilizing the skills and talent of its board, the organization has developed several distinctive approaches to fundraising. Its primary event is a yearly Wine Dinner, held at a Boston venue and offering live and silent auctions of original artwork. Artists donate to the auction in exchange for a showcase for their work and networking opportunities with the charity’s business partners.

Artists can also donate their work to the Art beCAUSE website, where images are offered to create personalized greeting cards to send by email for a suggested donation. The artists receive more exposure and, as Ellie says, “It’s a good way of getting the word out.”

An online newsletter, with online support, also offers ideas for individuals to develop their own Art beCAUSE fundraisers.

Yet another fundraising approach employs “strategic partnerships” with select businesses willing to adopt Art beCAUSE as their charity of choice. In exchange for a percentage of company profits, Art beCAUSE promotes partners’ services through networking, on its website, and at charity functions. With her extensive business contacts, Ellie has partnered Art beCAUSE with a number of prominent companies; and board members have extended the network further with their own contacts.

The board has found other creative ways to bring in donations, such as selling personal sponsorships for running in marathons. As Ellie notes, “This is an easy and popular method for individuals to raise money, sometimes significant money.”

Gallery parties and third-party events are also good fundraising options. Ellie promotes creativity in the fundraising process, and is always seeking new ideas.

Art beCAUSE is on the lookout for new, emerging artists to join its ranks. The organization wants to stage gallery shows for new artists, to benefit both the artist and Art beCAUSE. Other art projects are under consideration as well.

Ellie explains, “We built this organization through friends — friends helping friends.” She is developing an email list, and is highly selective about the names included. “We only want people we know or who have an interest in what we do.”

“We Need to Fill the Canvas with Bright Colors”

Ellie loves the concept of using art to fight cancer: “Art paints the canvas with bright colors and beauty; while cancer paints it black. We need to fill the canvas with bright colors again.”

When it's ready to disburse funds, Art beCAUSE sends out requests for proposals, looking for researchers with interests matching its focus on environmental carcinogens. It has a medical review board in place to make recommendations and vet possible candidates for Art beCAUSE grants. As Ellie notes, “We want to seed the scientists looking at the right issues.”

Last year, an article about a researcher at Boston University working on the link between chemical receptors in the environment and breast cancer, caught the interest of Art beCAUSE. Ellie did some homework and learned that Dr. Xinhai Yang of BU’s School of Public Health was doing just the kind of research the Foundation wanted to support. His proposal was selected for a grant of $10,000, which was awarded at the November 2006 Art beCAUSE Wine Dinner.

“We’re all about funding research,” Ellie says. “We’re committed to eradicating carcinogens from the environment. We want to be part of the solution.”

Growth Leads to Professional Management

Started as a labor of love, last year Art beCAUSE had grown to the point of needing professional management. The board went to work, drawing up budgets, doing strategic planning, and divvying up responsibilities for different aspects of management, planning, acquisition, and fundraising.

“Building a charity is just like building a business,” Ellie notes. “You have to apply business principles and look at it from a professional perspective.”

The goals of Art beCAUSE are defined, its message clear. “We want to contribute to preventing breast cancer through research, so the next generation won’t suffer with it as we have,” Ellie says. “And we need to promote art and beauty at the same time we’re fighting the rise in breast cancer.”

Working at the grass roots level, Art beCAUSE is one small nonprofit making its mark. With Ellie Anbinder’s passion, a committed, active board and a steady eye on the prize, Art beCAUSE is making a difference in eradicating breast cancer, painting the canvas with the colors of life.

To learn more, visit their website at www.artbecause.org.

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