What 'Show Us Your Bra' Really Reveals

What 'Show Us Your Bra' Really Reveals

In the land of business start-ups, a common success story looks like this:  entrepreneur comes up with amazing new idea.  Entrepreneur cobbles a start-up business around said idea.  Idea spreads like wildfire.  Entrepreneur sells business to huge, well-established company.

What might this model look like from the non-profit perspective?

A small non-profit organization called The Breast Form Fund may be able to give us some insight.

The Situation
When you own a lingerie store, you see all types of women, including women living with breast cancer and trying to maintain their sense of beauty and self-assurance after surgery.  In Judith Fine’s experience, prostheses and post-mastectomy bras do wonders for these women.

For many years, Judith and her store, Gazebo, relied on a fund from the American Cancer Society to help un- and under-insured women obtain these products.  When the fund went away, Judith made a decision to replace as much of the funding as she could.  A percentage of Gazebo’s sales went into a new fund that spun off into a separate non-profit organization, The Breast Form Fund. Judith stepped in as the Executive Director.

The Idea that Launched a Thousand Bras
And then they came up with THE idea that would change the destiny of The Breast Form Fund.  A “Show Us Your Bra” contest.  They invited local community members and artists to create hand-made bra sculptures made out of unlikely materials.  The memorable and often humorous bras were an enormous hit and morphed into the main fundraiser for The Breast Form Fund, complete with a calendar of featured bras by “bratistes” and an annual celebration gala.  Many individuals and groups created bra sculptures as an upbeat way to honor the women closest to them who had suffered from the disease.  The simple act of creation seemed to provide healing.

The Success
As the “Show Us Your Bra” event gained momentum over the years and national media picked up on the contest, the small volunteer staff faced a hard reality:  they were completely overwhelmed by the crushing workload of putting on the growing annual event and managing the hundreds of submissions that poured in.  According to Judith, “We had become very successful friend-raisers more than fund-raisers.  In a way, we were the victims of our own success.”

They discussed discontinuing the event.  They knew, objectively, that the event had outgrown their internal capacity to manage it.

The Alliance
Judith also served on an advisory committee for an online cancer research guide.  Judith shared her organization’s struggle with the success of the “Show Us Your Bra” event to the mortification of committee members.  The “Show Us Your Bra” event was too powerful of an idea to allow it to fade away.

Instead, they put their heads together and decided to form an alliance and make the “Show Us Your Bra” event bigger and better as a joint fundraising undertaking.

So four non-profit organizations banded together and pooled resources to create a formal partnership, The All4One Alliance.  The agreement was that the Alliance would hold a bigger “Show Us Your Bra” event in Boston and produce a calendar of the winning bras to sell nationally.  They recruited celebrity “bratistes”.  The funds raised would be split between all organizations to expand access to free breast prostheses and post mastectomy bras to all women who need them.  The commitment by all partner non-profit organizations was two years, at which time the partnership would be reevaluated.

To Be Continued
The Boston gala was held this past week and by all accounts was a huge success, drawing a huge crowd and featuring celebrity “bratistes”.  The calendar is still being sold here.  The Breast Form Fund will host their local “Show Us Your Bra” event this coming weekend in Northampton to honor its local community roots.

The Model
The All4One Alliance is a powerful example of how non-profit organizations can band together to move bigger mountains than any one individual organization.

That Judith and The Breast Form Fund had the objectivity to see that they were drowning in their own success and reach out for help is admirable and demonstrates their true commitment to the cause.

All too often, head down in our own projects, we forget to look up and remember who our allies truly are, particularly in the non-profit realm.  We see one another as competitors for donor dollars instead of thinking of creative ways to share our ideas for the benefit of our constituents and even our organizations.

Judith’s main piece of sage advice when considering a collaborative effort is this:  don’t worry so much about what you might potentially be losing, focus on what there is to be gained…for your organization, for the other organizations and for your cause.

You can purchase the Show Us Your Bra calendar here.

What’s your experience with partnerships among non-profit organizations?  Where do you need to tread with caution?  What can be gained?

My social media outpost of choice is Twitter.  Let’s chat!


Megan Strand, owner of InCouraged Communications, is a project manager, creative marketer and proponent of authentic communication… passionate about spotlighting, connecting and supporting businesses and non-profit organizations that are doing well by doing good.