Fighting the good fight
The American Cancer Society (ACS) is a non-profit organization devoted to working toward the elimination of all forms of cancer. The organization was founded in 1913 by ten physicians and five lay persons as the American Society for the Control of Cancer. Now incorporated, and consisting of over two million volunteers, ACS continues to further its mission through cancer research, public awareness campaigns, and treatment services provided for millions of patients. The organization is directed by the National Society, which administers the Society's research grants and also oversees the chartered divisions throughout the country.
The ACS has recorded a string of victories in its long struggle against the deadly disease. When the U.S. Congress officially began the War on Cancer, the ACS threw in its support. Years later, ACS efforts helped to bring about the airline smoking ban. Through its annual Great American Smokeout, about one quarter of smokers quit for a day, and over two million dedicate themselves to doing so permanently (in recent years, the goal of the program has been expanded to keep young people from starting to smoke). The organization's work in the last decade has proven fruitful as well. In 1996, the Society reported a drop in the nation's death rate from cancer for the first time in history. But far from being content, it has passionately continued to trudge on in the uphill battle.
The ACS vs. Big Tobacco
Most notably, the Society's work has meant taking on the formidable forces of Big Tobacco, tobacco use being "the number one preventable cause of death in the nation," according to one ACS division president. Helping the cause are millions of volunteers, as well as millions of dollars in donations (in 1997, Americans donated a record $488 million to the ACS for cancer control programs). Anti-tobacco measures can be hard to come by, but the Society believes that it is moving in the right direction. For example, in December 1998, at the ACS's urging, the Michigan senate passed a bill banning tobacco billboards on all roads and highways in the state.
Part of the fight against the tobacco industry is fought on the public relations front. To this end, the ACS made a major move in September 1998, launching a $5 million advertising campaign. Stating its intention to "expose the lies of the tobacco companies and re-engage the public in the public debate," the Society crafted a series of television commercials that put a much different spin on such staples of tobacco industry ads as Joe Camel. Still, despite the power of the campaign and its relatively widespread penetration, the $5 million price tag pales in comparison to the $50 million that Big Tobacco paid for its most recent promotional push.
The battle goes on
Of course, the American Cancer Society is far from alone in the anti-tobacco effort. Many other organizations have also taken on the industry, securing highly-publicized multibillion dollar settlements (40 states settled with the tobacco companies for $206 billion in 1998). Interestingly, the ACS has come out against such settlements, charging that the figures do not hold tobacco companies accountable for enough damage, and that other sanctions are ineffective and unenforceable. Instead, the ACS is pushing for federally legislated measures such as FDA regulation of tobacco products and increased funding for research and prevention programs. In January 1999, President Clinton gave an indication that his administration had similar interests, calling for a lawsuit brought by the Department of Justice and a 55 cent per-pack increase in the cigarette tax. None of these benefits will help though if the ACS does not continue to get its two most important resources in the fight against cancer - money and volunteers.
The American Cancer Society offers a wide spectrum of medical and non-medical employment opportunities in both the national home office and local division offices. The organization stresses that applicants should have not only the requisite expertise but also be able to demonstrate a history of community involvement. Consult ACS' web page, located at www.cancer.org, in order to find out about current job openings and to obtain contact information.
Candidates must apply to ACS through the specific location at which they are interested in working, since "there is virtually no direct communication betweem the National Home Office in Atlanta and the individual branch offices." Explains one insider, "Everything goes through the division office. It seems to work well that way." In some offices, says another, many "jobs are filled as a result of people responding to ads in the paper. I [also] know a couple people that were referred . . . A lot of people send their resumes in cold, but that's usually a long shot."
Applicants need not sweat over interviews, although intensity and duration vary by location. The process has "very little structure. For the most part, it's not highly organized and somewhat laid back." Comments a source, interviews "tend to be very friendly, which is a reflection of our work environment. Also, you often have a chance to meet a lot of the staff." Questions are "not too tough . . . Unless you are applying for a job that requires specific medical knowledge, of which there are only a few, the questions mostly focus on your experience." One additional word of (somewhat unsurprising) advice: "Being enthusiastic about working for the organization and convincing the human resources folks that you have a good work ethic is worth a whole lot."
ACS culture is hard to pin down, since "though it may seem like one coherent organization, it is actually a collection of 17 regional divisions that are incorporated separately." One uniting characteristic, however, is that "the staff is very dedicated to the cause. Almost everyone who works for ACS has been affected personally by cancer in some way, either being a survivor themselves or having a loved one affected by it." Employees stress the satisfaction they derive from striving to reach the Society's goals. "Every day brings new things and I sleep well at night knowing that I have helped someone," one program director comments. Good works are not confined to the office, either: "We're a very charitable organization. Almost 100 percent of the employees volunteer for other charities on the side or donate to [The] United Way out of every paycheck."
Varying office policies
Most facets of work life "depend on the division you work for. Each one has different rules, as they are each a separate corporation." Divisions often take their cues from the National Office (for example, there is a standard business casual dress code). "You can dress how you like as long as it is reasonable and appropriate. However, whenever we are meeting with someone outside of the organization or with a client or customer, we are encouraged to wear business attire." Officially, employees are required to work 37.5 hour weeks. "If you are a non-exempt employee, as most service and entry-level jobs are, you get paid for overtime for all time over 40 hours a week. Exempt employees . . . are paid a salary and do not get overtime." Overtime opportunities are rare in most offices, but some, like Washington DC, do require employees to put in relatively long hours.
Below average pay, above average benefits
Compensation at ACS is a mixed bag, says one employee. "In general, the pay is OK, but it's definitely less than you would get in the private sector. It is a nonprofit organization, after all." On the other hand, the benefits are hard to beat. "At national they give two weeks paid vacation, one week personal time, and one sick day a month during your first year. In most cases you are eligible for health insurance and dental insurance right away once you become an employee. They also offer a selection of IRAs for retirement as well."
A woman's world
Diversity is one of the organization's strong suits. "Minority and female employees have very little problems working for ACS. Diversity is highly touted by our Human Resources staff. It's not to say that you would have an advantage over anyone because of your race, but you certainly wouldn't be disadvantaged." Women are clearly "in the majority;" in fact, in some areas male employees are few and far between.
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