At our San Francisco meeting next Saturday, SWOG’s board of governors will vote on whether or not we change our name. Obviously, it’s a decision of great significance. We’ve gone by SWOG, in one form or the other, since our founding in 1956. Names matter. That’s why I wanted to share with you some background on the issue and explain the details of the vote.

Discussion about the SWOG name began almost exactly a year ago. The topic actually arose in a meeting of The Hope Foundation Board. Hope board members had concerns that were, largely, two-fold. How could potential donors and partners easily find Hope online, if its name doesn’t include either “cancer” or “research?” And should there be a clearer connection to SWOG via the Hope name? Thus, concerns about public confusion, and lost opportunities, prompted that board to launch a conversation about a potential name change for the foundation.

As chair of the Hope board, and chair of SWOG, this discussion really got me thinking.  What about SWOG? Our name doesn’t link to “Hope” – or include “cancer” or “research.” Our name no longer reflects our location and scope – we’ve long since expanded beyond the American Southwest. Our name, in its abbreviated version, no longer describes us as an oncology group. In short, over time, our name has lost much of its literal meaning and its connection to our charitable arm. It can also be a liability. No, not swag. No, not bog. How many of us have had to explain our acronym to friends or family? On the other hand, I didn’t want to lightly dismiss 60 years of history, not to mention instant name recognition by experts in the cancer research world.

For all these reasons, my leadership team and I agreed to begin a name change exploration to run in parallel with Hope.  Working with Phire, an Ann Arbor, MI creative agency, we got what all research organizations are after: Data. 

Phire conducted phone interviews with 44 stakeholders and distributed an online survey taken by 40 of those stakeholders, which included 10 committee chairs, eight executive officers, senior staff, office staff, patient advocates, statisticians, CRAs, Hope board members, and partners from OHSU Knight, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Cancer Research and Biostatistics, and iFactory, our web developer. What we learned: There’s a wish for a better connection between SWOG and Hope. However, stakeholders were split on a name decision – 52.5 percent wanted a name that keeps SWOG, another 47.5 percent wanted a name that drops it. 

Phire contracted with the global research firm Qualtrics to conduct a statistically significant and demographically representative public survey. Through that tool, they polled 7,917 Americans from all 50 states. Not surprisingly, most of those surveyed had never heard of SWOG or Hope. Many had a negative feeling about the SWOG name, and almost all still felt negatively about it, even after hearing about our six-decade history. Most importantly, respondents were asked their preference for names that included SWOG, Hope, and Impact. Respondents liked Hope best, then Impact, then SWOG. Here’s something I really want the board of governors to weigh: Respondents said they’d be less likely to take part in a trial or donate to a charity if the organizing group’s name included SWOG.

The Hope Foundation executive committee has expressed support for a name change for SWOG, as well as broadening their name to include the term “cancer.” They will also discuss it further at their meeting next week in San Francisco. 

In January, I presented the stakeholder results to my executive advisory committee. Today, I presented them with the public data. By secret ballot vote, the executive advisory committee agreed, with about 69 percent supporting this position, to no longer include “SWOG” in our name. However, when asked what the new name should be, the vote was close – 56 percent chose the Hope Cancer Research Network, while 44 percent preferred the Impact Cancer Research Network.

Now it’s up to our board of governors. On Saturday, April 14, at their regular meeting in San Francisco, the BOG will be asked the same questions. It will be a paper ballot, so members can cast their votes privately.

What our board decides is anyone’s guess. But I can tell you two things for certain. Regardless of the outcome, there will be some angry members. There already are! Some on my senior leadership team want to keep the SWOG name – and all the tradition, excellence, and achievement that has come from that name. Others want to change it. They want us to start a new chapter, one that takes the public into account. Regardless of how the board votes, I can tell you this: This group will be fine. Our mission to help those touched by cancer will not change. Investigators will continue to do right by our patients.

Per group meeting tradition, we won’t have a Front Line next week, as we will all be gathered in San Francisco. However, on Monday, April 16, I will send out a special Front Line that announces the board of governors vote. I’ll be back soon with the big news.