ACS’s Seffrin To Retire After 40 Years

January 16, 2014       Paul Clolery      

John Seffrin, president and chief executive officer of the American Cancer Society (ACS), will retire after 40 years with the organization. A search committee is being assembled for a national search for his successor.

Seffrin, 69, is the dean of national healthcare charity chief executives and is a member of the Leadership 18 of United Way Worldwide. He was a volunteer with the organization before becoming its chief executive 20 years ago. Seffrin was selected to The NonProfit Times Power and Influence Top 50 list 11 times, each year since 2003.

Tara Peters, ACS’s vice president of media relations, said there is no projected timetable for the retirement. Seffrin will stay through the search and a transition period, she said, before retiring from the Atlanta, Ga.-based organization.

The ACS chief executive has always come from the volunteer ranks. But, the search might widen because ACS has been undergoing a transformation and as part of it the board was reduced from 43 members to 21. It has five officers and 16 directors. There had always been a layperson as chairman with the board president being from the medical field. While there is a vice chair of the board, the board president position was eliminated during the reduction. There is now a board scientific officer.

In a prepared statement, Seffrin said, “a search of this size and scope will take time, and we are committed to doing everything possible to assure a thorough process and a good outcome. When the time comes, I will spare no effort in ensuring a smooth transition in CEO leadership. Once my successor is in place, I will retire from the Society.”

The announcement comes after the organization’s Nationwide Volunteer and Staff Leadership Summit last week.

Seffrin initiated a transformation of the 100-year-old charity in 2010 that led to a complete restructuring, merging 11 divisions into one central organization while the 143-member National Assembly voted itself out of existence. The transformation centralized virtually all back-office services, eliminated some individual fundraising, and cut its 6,000 employees by roughly 5 percent through buyouts.

Total revenue for ACS last year was $916 million, No. 20 on The NonProfit Times’ NPT 100, a study of the nation’s largest nonprofits. Seffrin earned total compensation of $762,994, including $79,364 as part of a supplemental executive retirement plan (SERP), for the fiscal year ending August 2012. He also earned $69,361 as CEO of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN), the affiliate advocacy organization.

Seffrin’s first encounter with cancer dates to his childhood. His grandmother, who was living with his family at the time, died of cancer when he was 10 years old. He has since lost his mother to cancer, and his wife of 45 years, Carole, is a breast cancer survivor.

Seffrin has been on the frontlines of the war against cancer for many years, not only as CEO of the American Cancer Society, but also – for many years before that – as one of the Society’s roughly three million volunteers nationwide. Under his leadership, the ACS has become the world’s largest voluntary health organization fighting cancer.

In the political realm, Seffrin has transformed ACS into one of the world’s most progressive public health organizations and a leading advocacy organization. He spearheaded the creation of ACS CAN, the society’s nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy affiliate. He currently serves on the White House Advisory Group on Prevention, Health Promotion, and Integrative and Public Health, as well as the Advisory Committee to the Director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a Secretary-level appointment.

Seffrin is a past president of the Geneva-headquartered Union for International Cancer Control (UICC), the first globally-oriented cancer non-governmental organization (NGO), and has served as chairman of the board of Independent Sector, the largest coalition of nonprofit groups. He also helped to create the National Center for Tobacco-Free Kids (now the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids), among his collaborations and affiliations.

In 1999, Seffrin was selected to be a charter member of C-Change (formerly known as the National Dialogue on Cancer) Steering Committee, which was co-chaired by former President George H.W. Bush and former First Lady Barbara Bush. In 1997, he was appointed to the National Cancer Policy Board of the Institute of Medicine, and in 1999, was appointed by Senator Dianne Feinstein to co-chair the National Cancer Legislation Advisory Committee.

Seffrin is a contributing author to more than one dozen books and has written more than 100 articles and other publications. He was awarded the 2010 James F. and Sarah T. Fries Foundation’s Elizabeth Fries Health Education Award.

Seffrin holds a B.S. degree from Ball State University, a M.S. degree in health education from the University of Illinois, and a Ph.D. in health education from Purdue University. Ball State University, Purdue University, Thomas Jefferson University, and Indiana University have also bestowed honorary doctorates upon him in recognition of his more than three decades of leadership in the worldwide fight against cancer.

Prior to being appointed the ACS’s top staff executive, Seffrin served at Indiana University as professor of health education and chairman of the Department of Applied Health Science.