It was the turn of the century, 1901. Charles Walgreen, the son of Swedish immigrants and a pharmacist by training, returned from serving in the Spanish-American War and hung out his shingle on the South Side of Chicago, in a store that measured just 50 by 20 feet. The family stayed involved in the business for generations. Charles’ direct descendants still served on the company’s board through 2010. In the last decade, Walgreens merged with the Switzerland-based health and beauty group Alliance Boots, extending its global reach, and swallowed big brands from Duane Reade to Rite Aid. Today, nearly 80 percent of the American population lives within five miles of a Walgreens or Walgreens-owned store. Collectively, the brand filled more than a billion prescriptions in fiscal 2019, and serves roughly eight million customers a day.

Walgreens hopes to involve that community in the fight to accelerate cancer care and research. In October, it launched a five-year, $25 million collaboration with two leading cancer research agencies, Susan G. Komen and the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Between November 3 and 17, customers at Walgreen’s 9,200 stateside stores will be prompted to support the initiative at checkout. 

Crowdfunding charitable gifts from shoppers has become increasingly common and effective, as we’ve reported. Charity checkout campaigns raised more than $486 million in 2018. And few retailers are better positioned to succeed with this model than Walgreens, with its vast network of stores.

Proceeds from the new cancer campaign will be shared equally by Komen and LLS, and support breakthroughs in hard-to-treat cancers, expand prevention programs, and help families face the everyday challenges of living with the disease. That’s no small slice of the U.S. population. Almost 4 million Americans have either been treated for breast cancer or are living with it. Another 1.4 million are currently wrestling with blood cancers, or are in remission.

Cancer Research Partners

Walgreen’s chose two partners it’s worked with in the past. Its alliance here with Susan G. Komen builds on pin pad fundraising drives and national support for its premiere event, Race for the Cure. While Komen’s been called out on the high expense ratio of its fund-raising, it achieves powerful results. Komen says it has now invested more than $1 billion in breast cancer research, topped only by the U.S. government.   

Proceeds from the new partnership will help Komen accelerate the pace of research discoveries, particularly as it relates to combating cancer recurrence and metastasis. Paula Schneider, the organization’s president and CEO, says the 270,000 women who’ll be diagnosed this year face a recovery period of up to 20 years. During that time, the specter of the disease metastasizing, or spreading, looms large. Schneider says the unknowns are the scary part, from factors for recurrence to successful treatment. Metastatic cancer is currently not curable. Treatment focuses solely on promoting longevity and quality of life.

Schneider says Walgreens funding will help it break down silos, open scientific advances to all researchers, and help gather a diversity of data. For example, the majority of research currently resides in universities and major health institutions, yet 85 percent of patients are treated in community clinics. 

Walgreen’s partnership with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS) initially focused on expanding access to educational resources and training for Walgreens pharmacists. From that, local fundraising efforts grew in its community retail stores. Now, Walgreen’s is poised to help LLS accelerate the delivery of cancer advances to pediatric patients, and help current patients, survivors, and caregivers through the financial, emotional and psychological challenges of managing the disease. 

The world’s largest nonprofit dedicated to fighting blood cancers, LLS has invested nearly $1.3 billion in research since its founding in 1949, funding 34 of the 39 FDA-approved treatment options currently available. 

Walgreens CSR

Walgreens healthcare-centered approach to Corporate Social Responsibility syncs up well with its core business. Unlike its peer CVS, the company’s philanthropy model does not include a foundation. Instead, it believes in benefiting society by building loyalty and “driving business results” through initiatives that energize its customers and employees, from Red Nose Day to Get a Shot, Give a Shot, which earns children in developing countries a lifesaving vaccine each time a customer is vaccinated for the flu. 

Funding promising research is one of three cancer focus areas for Walgreen Boots Alliance as a whole, along with expanding prevention and supporting patients and caregivers. In the U.S., Walgreen’s charitable donations center upon promoting the health and well-being of the communities it serves, mobilizing resources and partnerships in the fight against cancer, and supporting young people. It has an invitation-only process for funding 501(c)(3)s, and does not otherwise accept proposals or letters of inquiry. 

Walgreens expects the $25 million it committed to Koman and LLS to be raised through a variety of sources. The company will make “a portion of the donation” from its business, and plans to involve both its product and merchandising partners and retail customers. It expects the retail promotion aspect of the promotion to continue all five years, though the way it “show’s up” in stores may vary as it “learns and grows.” 

Judging by its track record with similar initiatives, it will handily meet goal. To date, Walgreen’s Give a Shot, Give a Shot count stands at 50 million. Red Nose Day, which funds organizations that end child poverty, sells “Red Noses” exclusively at Walgreens. In its first three years, the stores raised $100 million in the U.S. through the campaign, “one nose at a time.” 

Paula Schneider characterized Walgreens first partnership on Race for the Cure as a way of telling the breast cancer community that “You’re not alone.” The new one sees that goal, and raises it by 8 million customers a day. 


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