Yael Cohen, Philanthropist
By Gwen Moran
Yael Cohen has a potty mouth, and she's not afraid to use it. After her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009, Cohen made her a "F*** cancer" T-shirt, then started a Facebook group by the same name. Before long, the group had more than 1,000 members sharing support. Four years later, and with nearly 66,000 Facebook followers, F*** Cancer has turned into a fast-growing nonprofit.
The primary goal of the Vancouver, British Columbia-based organization is to spread the word about early detection. F*** Cancer has dozens of brand ambassadors using social media to encourage teens and twentysomethings to talk to their parents about getting mammograms, colonoscopies and other diagnostic screenings to "actively look for cancer, not just find it. Cancer is most curable at stage I," Cohen says.
But this isn't your typical charity for the politically correct set. The organization's cheeky attitude and Cohen's seemingly boundless energy have attracted celebrities like One Tree Hill star Sophia Bush to help get the word out. The marketing is edgy: October's "Touch Yourself" campaign in partnership with Women's Health and Men's Health magazines ditches traditional pink National Breast Cancer Awareness Month branding in favor of a naked woman holding her breasts, encouraging women to do self-exams for early detection.
F*** Cancer's December 2012 fundraising brought in roughly $500,000. Cohen has built trust among donors by posting an infographic on the organization's website that tracks incoming donations and expenses. She says that kind of transparency is important to her community, which expects access to information about the organization's activities and how its money is being spent.
"For our parents and grandparents [cancer is] the 'C-word,'" she says. "We want to shift away from that fear-based marketing and focus on the fact that approximately 90 percent of cancers are curable if caught in stage I."