Last Friday, I received a phone call from Michelle Kirkwood, Senior Director, Strategic Communications and Media Relations at the American Diabetes Association.  We had a candid discussion about the email that was sent out last week from the ADA with the subject line “Cause of death:  Diabetes“.  I shared my concerns with Michelle about the doom and despair approach, and we talked about the fine line between inspiration and conveying urgency.  I asked if the ADA could send over a response to their email last week, and Michelle sent me a letter from William T. Cefalu, MD, Chief Scientific, Medical and Mission Officer at the American Diabetes Association over the weekend.  

Below is his response in full.

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January 21, 2018

From William T. Cefalu, MD, Chief Scientific, Medical and Mission Officer, American Diabetes Association (ADA):

Please Accept Our Apologies.

Thanks to your blog, Kerri, it came to our attention that on Wednesday night you received a fundraising email from the ADA with a devastating headline. We apologize for this headline and for upsetting you and anyone, especially those living with diabetes and their loved ones. That was not our intention. We hear you, and we’re truly sorry.

The email was sent as part of a fundraising series to the general public, not specifically to people with diabetes and is not at all related to our advocacy alerts or any other specific emails to which you have subscribed from ADA. In order to fulfill our mission, the ADA solicits donations from the general public and serves many diverse audiences, which challenges us to walk a very fine line in all our communications and work. Specifically, it is our mission to raise awareness about the seriousness of diabetes in such a way that the public will donate. But, how do we heighten awareness and at the same time impart hope and positivity for the millions of people living with diabetes, particularly given the tremendous progress in diabetes care made possible by innovative research efforts? In some messages, we may push the envelope to raise awareness and urgency about the diabetes epidemic and the seriousness of this chronic illness, which is often invisible and misunderstood by people who do not have diabetes or who do not have first-hand knowledge about the 24/7 care diabetes requires. One step in either direction can be devastating to the recipient of the message, as you have clearly pointed out; we very much understand and appreciate this.

Thank you for your feedback and insight. We have since reevaluated the email series and are updating the messages accordingly. We have also instituted a new approval process to ensure every email is reviewed more critically and with multiple perspectives considered, including those from outside the intended audience. This team includes diversity from among our staff as well as personal connections to diabetes—individual with diabetes, parent of a child with diabetes, spouse, caregiver and loved one.

As you know, the ADA has gone through significant organizational changes in the past few years, and we are turning the corner. The staff are among the most committed group of people I have worked with in my nearly 40-year career. We welcome comments at every level and take every criticism seriously, and we are all committed to doing better. We are not perfect and we never will be. However, we are committed to doing everything we can to earn and deserve your trust, the trust of the more than 30 million individuals with diabetes and the more than 84 million with pre-diabetes, and the public’s trust every day.

Thank you for allowing us the time to explain, and we ask for your grace to not let this mistake define your support of the ADA. We need individuals like you to help us in this fight.

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The email from the ADA was upsetting to me, and while I don’t get all riled up all the time, it did make me angry.  I am not a fan of the outrage machine that rears its head often online, and I’m sorry to have contributed to it, but I do hope this discussion is useful, even if it started awkwardly.  I appreciate the ADA addressing this discussion head on, and I hope people at advocacy organizations and in the diabetes community alike can continue to share their perspectives and work together to advance efforts to improve quality of life for people with diabetes.  I’ll do my best to reach out before rage-responding.  

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