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Outrage Shutters “Be Bold, Be Bald” Cancer Charity

Be Bold, Be Bald, an annual charity event that urged people to don “bald” skin caps for a day as part of its cancer awareness and support fundraising efforts, has ended due to a wave of negative popular sentiment. This despite the fact that an image search revealed participants would write messages on their bald caps in support – and sometimes in memoriam – of loved ones with cancer.

The fundraiser was launched in 2009 by Jeff Freedman, owner of Boston-based brand consultancy Small Army. In the Form 990 for its nonprofit arm, Small Army for a Cause, the nonprofit describes its mission as “To help medically related causes through unusual fund raising [sic] events.”

Small Army co-founder Mike Connell died of cancer in 2007. Since its inception, Be Bold, Be Bald has raised nearly $1.5 million for more than 50 local and national cancer-related charities.

However, the event this past October was faced with pushback from individuals, including patients and survivors, who indicated using chemotherapy’s hair-loss side effect as part of its fundraising appeal was over the line, according to Medscape.com, an information website geared toward medical professionals.

On Twitter, the most genteel response to this year’s event was from @huckle3erry, who wrote “Please don’t do this. Chemo is not a lark.” A poster identified as @OvariesRotten tweeted “please reconsider doing this again. If you care about cancer patients make a meaningful donation to a cancer centre or to cancer research. When I was bald I was just trying to stay alive. I wasn’t bold. It wasn’t fun.”

From there, the responses were more direct — and incensed. “Love this idea. How about they offer lots of options for the whole experience, like a pill to simulate cancer scanxiety while they look for recurrence or spread, or a “nonstop fatigue from treatments” option or maybe a “scars from cancer surgery randomly firing off pain” option?” wrote @bill_mayville, referencing a term used for a time of worry around having an examination or receiving the exam’s results.

Another poster, @littlekbomb, was even more direct, writing “No. No. No. just no. Wtf is wrong with you. The baldness is because of chemo which causes your hair to fall out because it’s basically poison. Where’s your “give yourself diarrhea for 6 months” kit. Or your ‘make it feel like your (cq) walking on glass neuropathy socks’?! Get it?”

In response, Small Army called off the event and shuttered most of the Be Bold, Be Bald social media presence. The event’s website now features only a message to the community:

THANK YOU.

To all of those who have participated, donated, volunteered or been a part of this event since its inception in 2009, we thank you from the bottom of our hearts. And to all the cancer organizations we have supported over the years, thank you for your continuous efforts to help change the course of this terrible disease. It has been an honor to support you.

However, after 12 years, we’ve made the decision to end this program. We are currently considering what comes next and will update this site when we have more information to share.

Small Army did not respond to requests for comment.

The online pushback may have been only part of the reason for the event being shuttered. In Small Army for a Cause’s Form 990 for the year ending Dec. 31, 2019, it listed a revenue deficit of $32,942, as opposed to net revenue of $215,415 during the previous year. Similarly, its net assets had fallen from $114,605 to $81,663.

As we celebrate our 36th year, NPT remains dedicated to supplying breaking news, in-depth reporting, and special issue coverage to help nonprofit executives run their organizations more effectively.


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