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WICC: Now and Then

After 15 years and over $5 million raised to find a cure for cancer, the charity’s goals get even bigger

WICC Ontario executive members L-R: Barb Reddick, executive director; Marilyn Horrick, chair, communications; Jean Faulkner, co-chair; Carla Blackmore, chair, breakfast event.

Cancer is a word that no one wants to hear. It’s a word that frightens, causes anger and grief. It also knows no boundaries and has touched everyone in the insurance industry, either through friends, family, or business colleagues, at some point in time. This is what the executives behind Women in Insurance Cancer Crusade (WICC) truly believe, and why the not for profit organization was established.

“When people feel frustrated and feel they may not know what to do to make a difference, they can turn to WICC and be involved,” says Marilyn Horrick, chair of communications at WICC. “You can come to us and show your support so you no longer have to feel powerless in this fight.”

Barb Reddick, executive director at WICC adds, “The P&C industry comes together in a non-competitive manner to raise money for cancer research. Everyone leaves their egos at the door when they become part of WICC for the greater good.”

Since its inception in 1996, WICC has raised over $5.5 million for the Canadian Cancer Society (CCS). From Day One, 100% of the money that is raised goes directly to cancer research. Original founders Mabel Sansom and Linda Matthews made it clear early on that no money would be donated to CCS if administrative fees were taken out, and this is what makes WICC unique.

“From our understanding, we’re the only ones to strike that deal with [CCS],” explains Horrick. “It’s a wonderful partnership we have developed.”

The Toronto-based organization raises money through four key events each year: a gala dinner in April, the Relay for Life in June, a golf tournament in July and a breakfast in November.

However, WICC executives agree the organization wouldn’t be so successful without its grassroots initiatives, where a branch office, a group of friends, or an organization bands together to support the cause.

“Our events are done with the help of a ton of volunteers and sponsors,” says Carla Blackmore, chair of WICC’s Toronto breakfast event. “But also a lot of the money that comes to us comes from companies or people who come up with unique ways to raise funds.”

For example, some companies have had “dress down days” where employees donate a toonie to dress casually, some have held charity social events, and some simply keep a “change for change” box in the office so employees can donate loose change. The latter idea raises between $10,000 and $15,000 annually, according to Horrick.

And it’s impossible to forget the ever-popular WICC candles, which have sold in the thousands and is where it all began.

Fifteen years ago, Sansom and Matthews discussed what they could do to help raise funds for breast cancer research.

“We had experienced so many of our colleagues and friends being diagnosed with this disease that it was becoming heartbreaking,” says Sansom.

They had a simple idea of selling candles to create awareness and raise money for cancer research.

At the first dinner, which was held April 1997, Sansom, then executive director of the Insurance Brokers Association of Canada (IBAC) and Matthews, then COO of Royal Insurance, invited industry leaders and challenged them to support the cause.

“Throughout the evening, people came up to the podium, introduced themselves and would commit to taking 100, 500, and even 1,000 candles,” says Matthews. “By the end of the evening, Mabel and I sat down and were stunned at the support and success.”

Light of Hope

The candle idea has done even more than that. The organization was formed from the word candlewick—“candle” being the light of hope the organization aimed to be, and “wick” being the original acronym that became Women in Insurance Cancer Crusade, or WICC. The flame of a candle is also included in WICC’s logo.

Aside from raising funds for CCS, WICC also aims to educate people. Its annual breakfast has hosted various cancer survivors as speakers. One year, Neil Crone from the television show Little Mosque on the Prairie spoke about his battle with colon cancer.

“He had a very interesting presentation and had great timing because he would say something very moving and then pull back and say something to make everyone laugh,” recalls Blackmore.

However, getting people to talk about their cancer hasn’t always been easy. For the first few years, WICC struggled to find speakers who were comfortable discussing the disease.

“Back in 1996, if someone went off for six to 12 months to have cancer treatment, and someone asked where they were, the response would be ‘we don’t know’ and then that person would whisper ‘she’s got cancer.’ But keeping cancer a secret wasn’t helping anyone,” says Blackmore. “We wanted people to be aware—not to scare them—but so they could be proactive and take responsibility for their own health.”

Blackmore adds she’s heard many testimonials from people who’ve attended the WICC breakfast, listened to the speaker’s story, and took the initiative to schedule a mammogram or prostate exam in order to be proactive.

Bigger Targets

Originally an Ontario-based not for profit organization, today WICC has national reach.

“We knew it couldn’t just stay within Ontario, especially seeing that so many of the supporting companies were national themselves,” says Horrick. “[Companies] wanted their other branch offices to know what it felt like to support an organization like WICC.”

The expansion began in the early 2000s and WICC now has official chapters in Alberta, British Columbia and Quebec, as well as Ontario. Atlantic Canada has plans to establish a chapter soon.

And while the majority of funds raised are still donated to breast cancer research, a portion now also goes to prostate cancer research and other forms of cancer.

“The first $200,000 raised [each year] will go to breast cancer research, the second $100,000 will go to prostate cancer research and the balance will be divided equally between breast cancer, prostate cancer and other forms of cancer research,” says Horrick.

Whether it’s the last 15 years or looking ahead to the next 15, WICC’s fundamental goals have and will always be to make a difference by educating and raising funds at a grassroots level for cancer research.

“We wanted to fight hard against this disease and find a cure, and we brought great passion and energy to this objective,” recalls Sansom.

“I think we will grow by leaps and bounds and achieve our next milestone, which is having a cheque to CCS for $1 million each year,” adds Horrick.

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Copyright 2011 Rogers Publishing Ltd. This article first appeared in the November 2011 edition of Canadian Insurance Top Broker magazine.

Transcontinental Media G.P.