Alumnus Uses Business Expertise to Launch Nonprofit For Advanced Cancer Patients
We usually think of entrepreneurs as business school graduates that launch for-profit businesses, but a 1997 BGSU marketing graduate was faced with a profound, life-changing experience that led him to use his business expertise, marketing savvy, and passion to launch a nonprofit organization in 2012. Troy Haslinger founded a nonprofit called Life Is Good No Matter What to honor his 39-year-old sister, Holly, who died from colon cancer, leaving behind a husband and three children.
The charity is headquartered in Akron and assists adults with advanced cancer to take “cherished experiences” and escape from the label of “cancer patient.”
When Haslinger is not working as the CEO of his charity, he is a medical sales representative for Foundation Medicine.
Here is a narrative that describes the loss of his sister and the launch of his nonprofit.
Written by Troy Haslinger
How and why we started
Holly’s death was a tragedy. One that thousands of people many times over have experienced. My family was not alone in losing someone young to this horrible disease. But, I was determined that Holly’s life and legacy would not be “cancer patient.” Instead, I took her mantra that she said time and again – life is good no matter what – and turned it into a calling card to help adults fighting advanced cancer.
I was hooked, obsessed and passionately driven from the start. I gathered people, mostly my close friends, to start a charity that had no name and no mission. However, the pieces quickly fell together and we had no idea the impact we were about to have on so many in such a short amount of time.
Mission and vision
Through a lot of trial and error, networking and asking questions of the right people, we found our mission: to give adults with advanced cancer an escape from their label and battle through a cherished experience.
We now had our mission statement and were anxious to start raising funds, but there was a lot of red tape to navigate. We needed a strategic plan, marketing plan, bylaws, insurance, and a 501(c)(3).
In December 2012 out of nowhere we received a donation for $5,000. The donation came from a family who had lost a loved one to advanced cancer. They were inspired by our passion and mission and were undeterred by the fact we were not yet incorporated and their donation was not tax deductible.
That $5000 seed money allowed us to grant our first cherished experience and hire a public relations person to help us start spreading the word that we existed.
We are 100 percent privately funded which means we don’t receive any grant money. We started out with small fundraisers that people hosted for us and have graduated to some signature events like our two Holly Run 5K races that brought in some significant corporate sponsorships and a thousand runners.
We also have our own beer line as a revenue stream for us at our events, and it is also a marketing tool. Again, we do things differently because we want to differentiate ourselves from the pack of other cancer charities. We are a bunch of entrepreneurs who think outside the box. I mean who wouldn’t like to try a “Life Is Good No Matter What Ales You” or “Bucket List” brew?
To date we have granted 19 cherished experiences. What we did not anticipate was the impact that we would have not only on our recipients, but their families as well. Caregivers, whether they are spouses, significant others, children or parents, rarely get a break from the cancer either. They are often driving the patient to doctor’s appointments and treatments, preparing meals, keeping all the day-to-day things going while they are also emotionally and physically drained.
We’ve sent people on trips to places like Chicago, Las Vegas, and Florida, and we’ve also done simpler, close to home weekend packages. Every recipient and their family receive a memory book that captures the memories from their respective escapes.
The future is incredibly bright for Life Is Good No Matter What. We are opening a second chapter this year in Northwest Ohio. Cancer is not going away and the demand for escapes increases everyday. Our goal is to grant 20 escapes in Northern Ohio in 2015. We will do this through our outreach team who is out in the communities educating hospitals and cancer organizations about how to apply for an experience.
To bring it back full circle. My life’s mission was founded on tragedy, losing Holly. I was told time and time again I did not have enough experience to raise money for people with cancer. I can’t blame anyone for saying or assuming I would not be successful. However, sometimes you can’t measure a person’s will, heart or passion based off inexperience. In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
The Life Is Good No Matter What tagline is: “Celebrate life today like there’s no tomorrow.” All of our amazing recipients have advanced cancer. To date we have lost 13 of 19 recipients – this is the most difficult part. But, what motivates us and what we are so deeply passionate about is that we help create cherished memories that will live on after our recipients are gone. Here are three testimonials from people who benefitted from Life is Good No Matter What.
“Bill and I would like to thank everyone at the Life is Good No Matter What organization and everyone involved who made our trip to Las Vegas an amazing adventure to spend time together. We went to some great shows that words just don’t describe well enough. The sights and sounds of Fremont Street along with all the Christmas decorations were fantastic to see up close and in detail. Thank you again for the wonderful gift to spend time together.” -Lisa
“This vacation has given me a new perspective on life, that every day is precious and cannot be taken for granted. It reminded me of better times years ago.”
“This trip was something we couldn’t have done on our own. I have never felt more blessed and been more thankful. For four days I was able to see the two most important people in my life smile, laugh and just have fun, with no worries. I felt like the luckiest person in this world and I will never forget the time we had. Life Is Good No Matter What is an amazing organization that truly makes dreams come true.”
Although my sister lost her fight, she would be proud to know that her simple slogan became the catalyst for this organization built solely on the principle that life is good and worth celebrating….no matter what…..because happy memories really do last a lifetime.
For more information about Life Is Good No Matter What, click here.