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by Marc Cannon | March 11, 2016
Whether it has happened in the workplace or at home, sadly, most of us have been touched by cancer. Nearly three years ago, my company, AutoNation made a commitment to direct its charitable resources towards the race to beat cancer. We partnered nationally with Indy 500 Champion Ryan Hunter-Reay and Racing for Cancer to spread the word about the importance of early detection in prevention and treatment. We then asked Associates in our markets from coast to coast to select local cancer charities to support. We anticipated an enthusiastic response but had no idea it would reap so many positive outcomes. By putting our charitable giving program in the hands of our employees, we empowered them as brand ambassadors in community relations across all of our markets. Here's what we did and why it mattered.

With nearly 250 locations and more than 26,000 employees, AutoNation is America's largest automotive retailer. Our stores employ thousands across 15 states and we recently made history with the sale of our 10 millionth car. But as a leader in the industry, AutoNation wanted to make a bigger impact on our communities. With cancer as our charitable focus, we gave our employees the opportunity to choose which local cancer-related charity their dealerships would sponsor and support through awareness-building, employee-volunteer programs, and funding. This employee-driven initiative has been tremendously successful for each community cancer-related charity while building morale, loyalty, and engagement in our markets from coast to coast. 

Our charitable, associate-driven initiative began in 2013 after a meeting between Mike Jackson, AutoNation chairman, CEO and president, and Ryan Hunter-Reay, Indy 500 champion. Sadly, they both had personal experiences with cancer affecting loved ones, and wanted to do more in the race to beat cancer. This initial partnership grew over time in to our "Drive Pink" initiative that has raised more than $6 million for the cause. Our associates are proud of this mission.    

For example, Atlanta is one region in which AutoNation plays a big role in cancer charities. Our associates selected CURE Childhood Cancer, a nonprofit dedicated to conquering childhood cancer through funding targeted research and through support of patients and their families. Because of their lean operations, variety of programs and events, and focus on pediatric cancer research funding ($2.5 million annually) - CURE Childhood Cancer makes it possible for our employees to volunteer their time across skillsets and because the name communicates clearly their objectives - we knew an awareness-building campaign could be quickly communicated and understood by our customers, suppliers, and partners. 

We encouraged our teammates in all of our markets to connect with local cancer related non-profits. In Atlanta, our associates participate by helping serve meals to hospitalized children and parents, providing holiday gifts for children with cancer and their siblings, whose parents are struggling financially because of the treatment burdens; large-scale 500-associate participation in CURE's signature events Lauren's Run and the CURE Childhood Cancer Annual Picnic, of which AutoNation is Presenting Sponsor; raising money to fund research; and providing special services to affected families. We recently donated 30 iPads for distribution to children with cancer and hospital social workers, child life specialists, and school teachers. AutoNation's commitment to the community, to CURE and to build awareness for finding a cure for all kinds of cancer, is important to all of us at the company. 

AutoNation associates are very proud to be a part of our race to beat cancer. Since we launched our partnership with Ryan Hunter-Reay, we've raised millions of dollars through the efforts of our associates and customers from coast to coast. It's a win-win. Our efforts generate millions of dollars to help the fight and our associates are proud to be part of it.

Marc Cannon is chief marketing officer, senior vice president of communications and public policy for AutoNation, the nation's leading auto retailer, with 297 locations and 26,000 associates. With over 30 years of executive-level experience as an automotive industry communications, branding, advertising, and public policy professional, he directs the company's broad range of communications, including the direction and growth of the company's philanthropic initiatives. He can be reached at cannonm@autonation.com.