Cookies for Kids’ Cancer: Leveraging Ecommerce to Expand its Non-Profit Mission

Learn how two compassionate parents have turned to ecommerce to educate the public, mobilize volunteers and raise funding for childhood cancer research.


Cookies for Cancer

Since 2008, Cookies for Kids’ Cancer has harnessed the power of volunteer led grassroots events to expand awareness and raise money to fund research for new, less toxic therapies for childhood cancer. As a national non-profit organization, Cookies for Kids’ Cancer has inspired over 5,000 grassroots events in all 50 states and 15 countries around the world, hosted by “Good Cookies” of all age groups.

The Story of Cookies for Kids’ Cancer

As this successful non-profit focuses on a future of changing lives, its beginning stemmed from a cancer diagnosis of a little boy named Liam. It began on a late night in February 2007, when Larry and Gretchen Witt learned that their son Liam had  cancer. Prior to the diagnosis, Liam’s parents had no idea of that in the United States, cancer is the leading cause of death by disease in children. A key reason for this sobering statistic is the surprising lack of funding. In fact, the National Cancer Institute allocates less than 4% of its multi-billion dollar budget toward childhood cancer research.

Fast Facts

  • Childhood cancer is the US’ leading cause of death by disease in children
  • Over 40,000 children are actively battling cancer today in the US
  • Of the children who survive the initial disease, 2 out of 3 suffer from long-term side effects from the treatments that helped save their lives
  • The National Cancer Institute allocates  less than 4% of its budget to childhood cancer research
  • There are dozens of  different types of childhood cancer impacting children today
  • The types of cancers children battle are different than those of adults

While Larry and Gretchen supported their young son as he underwent months of chemotherapy, radiation and major surgeries, they realized a desire to make a difference for all children battling cancer. After Liam was cancer free, Gretchen decided to hold a fundraiser that no one could resist – what better way than cookies?

With this idea in mind, Gretchen began rallying support and getting volunteers to help. Together during the 2007 holiday season, they baked and sold over 96,000 cookies to individuals nationwide. 72 hours after launching their free ecommerce site through Volusion’s Stores to Change the World program, they sold all 96,000 cookies, raising more than $420,000 to donate directly to a research hospital. The money was designed to help physicians develop a promising new childhood cancer therapy.

In this moment, Cookies for Kids’ Cancer struck a chord of success. Unfortunately for young Liam, his cancer returned and after multiple relapses, he ran out of treatment options. Sadly, he lost his battle in January 2011, and even more tragically, the initial treatment they funded back in 2007 became available just 7 months after Liam’s passing.

Since then, the non-profit team has placed extra emphasis in working as hard and fast as possible to raise money to fund more treatments and create opportunities for kids to not only survive cancer, but live healthy, fulfilling lives.

Enabling Growth through Ecommerce

As the organization experienced rapid growth, Gretchen and Larry had to strike a balance between expanding Cookies for Kids’ Cancer and maintaining their daily lives, including full-time jobs. Since they couldn’t bake cookies around the clock for a living, they decided to flip the business model around: instead of baking the cookies themselves, why not activate people to host bake sales and other grassroots events in their own communities and send in the donations? This approach would allow the husband and wife duo to focus on working with the best researchers in the country to ensure each dollar goes directly into funding the most promising research.

Championing their call to action for supporters to “Be a Good Cookie,” the non-profit organization leveraged their ecommerce site to make a bigger impact – they didn’t want to simply open their hands to donations, instead they wanted to give supporters something in return.

With their Volusion store, Cookies for Kids’ Cancer was able to provide an online service by becoming a retail shop, meaning they could sell cookies, offer merchandise and directly accept donations 365 days a year.

Key tactics that have driven their online growth and can be implemented by other non-profits include:

  • Merchandising: Having the ability to showcase products with multiple images helps increase conversion by fully demonstrating what shoppers will receive with their order.
  • Paid Search: Google Grants gives Cookies for Kids’ Cancer advertising dollars every day to bid on certain keywords, which drives new visits directly to their ecommerce page.
  • Custom Event Pages: Using a tool called RallyBound, the organization empowers supporters to create personalized landing pages that help drive significant donations.

Their ecommerce site alone represents 15% of the organization’s annual revenue, but more importantly, it allows Cookies for Kids’ Cancer to not just educate supporters, but give them the option to make a difference by taking action. By selling their t-shirts and event starter kits, their website also reinforces branding and makes it easy for those wanting to host an event to plan and execute a successful bake sale.

Creating Hope in the World of Children’s Cancer

As Cookies for Kids’ Cancer continues to receive worldwide publicity in top magazines, newspapers and TV programs, they’re also aligning with large corporate partners to extend their mission and raise critically needed funds. Their focus on ecommerce remains strong, as they look to further optimize their site and grow revenue contributions from custom event pages, which also currently stands at 15% of their yearly revenue.

Overall, the heart and soul of the team’s efforts is to reach more people, connect with large groups and tell their story. They also look forward to working with a new generation of supporters in their early twenties – with an audience that’s ripe with enthusiasm to give back and make a difference, the future of Cookies for Kids’ Cancer serves as a bright beacon of hope in the fight against childhood cancer.

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