Decent Humans

Decent Humans: Ben Kaplan at American Cancer Society

on August 13, 2018

Decent Humans is what we call the incredible community we witness on CrowdRise each and every day doing amazing things for good. And each month, we’re going to highlight a Decent Human in the nonprofit world that’s devoting their time and passion to giving back and making a difference. We hope that by sharing their stories of aid, altruism, and passion, others will be inspired to make an even greater impact on the world we live in.

This month we had the chance to talk to Ben Kaplan over at the American Cancer Society. We dug into how career changes are a good thing, why avocado toast is king, and how virtual reality has a place in the nonprofit world.


When the opportunity arose at the American Cancer Society to head up digital product management and marketing, Ben Kaplan knew it was time to make a change.

He’d always been in the software and mobile technology space, just never working for a nonprofit. So when he decided to make the jump, he was excited to do more than just sell products. He was ready to give back and use his expertise to do something good.inBlog_1_headshot_v2On his role at the American Cancer Society

My high level role at ACS is to drive revenue through the use of digital technology. I also focus on mission-related activities, which is to help lead the global fight for a world without cancer, and we do that through attacking cancer from every angle.

So, from a day-to-day basis, I lead the digital product team to execute on product strategy, which entails bringing new digital revenue-generating products to market, as well as focusing on how we digitize our mission. As an example, my team leads the development and roadmap for our mobile app, which our Relay For Life and Making Strides Against Breast Cancer event participants use to raise money for the organization. It's a fully functional mobile app that scans checks, scans credit cards, takes Apple Pay, Android Pay, and tracks your event fundraising progress.  

On the role of technology at ACS

We're managing a product portfolio that helps drive revenue, yet we're also managing initiatives around our mission.

We have some virtual reality initiatives with Children's Healthcare of Atlanta where we have kids put on virtual reality headsets during chemotherapy. There's a great body of evidence that suggests that when you are in an immersive experience like VR, pain and anxiety are reduced because the mind is so distracted from the external world. So we have a really great program there.

We're also trying to be more innovative and relevant to a consumer base who really demand it. And so that's been a great thing because we're able to test new technologies that you wouldn't actually think a nonprofit would participate in.

On the #1 reason he gets out of bed each morning

I think for me, especially working for the American Cancer Society, I really believe in the mission, which is, again, to save lives, celebrate lives, and lead the fight for a world without cancer. And so everything I do is based on that goal and that mission. It's pretty easy to get out of bed every morning when you know that the things that you're doing really are making an impact.

Even with technology... So, I'm not a doctor, but I'm helping raise money for research and helping people get access to care, like helping people get rides to treatment. That's a pretty easy thing to get out of bed for.inBlog_2_avocadoOn breakfast… simply put

I make avocado toast every day.

On the reaction he gets when he tells someone he works at a nonprofit

The number one reaction I get is a little bit of surprise and people thinking, "Oh that's great." But then I think people start thinking about what I do and they're like, "Well, what do you do there? I mean, you're a product manager, what do you do?" And then I tell them that I do the same things that I've always done, which is build great technology products for consumers. And then I tell them about all of the initiatives that we have, and they get it.

On what he wishes supporters knew about ACS and the work they do

That's a good question. I think one of the things we are trying to get people to understand is that we’re more than just research and content. We do all those things, but we also provide services and really do attack cancer from multiple angles.

We give people rides to cancer treatment who don't have a car or don't have a ride. We provide free places to stay. We have a 24/7 cancer help line where people can get all types of information, whether you're newly diagnosed with cancer or you're a caregiver. If you need financial assistance, we have specially trained staff that are really amazing and have this depth and breadth of knowledge that really makes a huge impact to the person calling us.  inBlog_3_bookOn the last book he read

I just read a book called, "10% Happier" by Dan Harris. He's been around television for a really long time. The book really focuses on his journey through his career progression and his personal life, and that he was always super stressed out with just getting ahead in the cutthroat world of television and broadcasting.

It's really about being focused on where you are today and what you positively can do to make your day a little bit better. And so it shares his journey of how he changed his philosophy for life in general, which impacted his work and his personal life.

It's a good way of thinking about things in the sense that you can't really change the past. Stay focused on today. You're never going to have another minute like this minute right here and now. Make the best of it. And so I've tried to kind of incorporate that into my life a little bit.

On the drink that gets him through the day

If I'm not drinking coffee, I'm drinking La Croix. I mean, I can drink eight La Croix a day. I’m into lime and I also like mango.

On the feeling he gets when he hears how much ACS means to someone

I mentioned that we're working on this virtual reality initiative with Children's Healthcare of Atlanta. So, we were in there yesterday filming what we're calling a “sizzle video” that highlights the collaboration we have with Children's Healthcare of Atlanta. We interviewed the patients as they were going through the virtual reality experience, and we talked to the moms and the parents of the children. We also interviewed some doctors and some child life specialists who actually run the program for us.

The reaction that we got from the parents was incredible. They all were crying, saying obviously their children are very sick and cancer is horrible, but they were so appreciative of the fact that, even for 15 minutes, their children were just a little bit happier. They were appreciative that we could provide them with something that distracted them from the chemotherapy that was going through their veins, which can be very painful and definitely cause a lot of anxiety. Again, the immersive experience of virtual reality just kind of makes them forget about it for a little bit.

It was very touching to hear them talk about the impact that the program has had on them. That definitely made my time here all the more worthwhile.


Thanks so much Ben. The work you, your team, and your organization are doing is so inspiring. We love hearing how ACS is weaving technology into their mission and, we can honestly say, we’re 10% happier just from talking to you.

To learn more about how ACS is hitting cancer from all sides and enabling their supporters to get inventive in the way that they fundraise, check out American Cancer Society's Raise Your Way program.

Allison Capaldi

Allison Capaldi is the Brand Manager at CrowdRise. She lives and breathes branding and marketing and in her past life was the brand manager for Moosejaw Mountaineering. Her goal is to never write a blog post without including at least one food analogy.