Komen for the Cure and Planned Parenthood

Published 2012-02-01

As a non-profit fundraiser, Komen really gets my dander up. This has nothing to do with their decision to drop support for Planned Parenthood, which is actually an obvious move given their fundraising strategy, at least as I understand it.

Komen Foundation is this relentless corporate fundraising machine. They basically invented Cause Marketing i.e. “x% of proceeds from sales of Product Y will benefit Charity Z.” They’ve trademarked the phrase “___ for the Cure” and particular images of pink ribbons. (No one can copy the concept of a pink ribbon, however.)

They have a slick partnership package that lets businesses “fundraise” for them (aka “pinkwashing”). For a certain fee, a food company or what have you can slap pink ribbons on their packaging, and proclaim that buying their product supports cancer research.

So its unsurprising that Komen’s fundraising model colors their program choices. For example, they probably aren’t too interested in lifestyle/diet prevention research because this could threaten partnerships with food and car companies.

It’s unclear to what extent their programs are actually separate from fundraising, because most of their “programs” are aimed at “raising awareness” or “education” (and seriously, who isn’t “aware” of breast cancer in 2012?) which means events like “Race for the Cure” can be accounted as programs not fundraising. Even disregarding this accounting sleight-of-hand, administration & fundraising make up 20% of their budget — about twice the ratio of international NGOs like Mercy Corps (my employer).

Komen don’t conduct any original research AFAIK, but I’ve hardly researched it. They’re a foundation, so their non-education programming is mostly about giving grants. About 20% of their budget is a pass-through for cancer treatment research at various institutions. About 5% of their budget goes to support women who have breast cancer, and their families.

Individuals writing checks to Komen is probably a small sliver of their fundraising pie, compared to the huge honking wedges of [Event] for the Cure and corporate partnerships. Your threat to withhold donations to Komen was probably weighed against a notional multimillion dollar corporate partnership.

Komen isn’t evil, and they aren’t particular pro-life. What they are, is pro-the-side-their-bread-is-buttered-on. I was frankly surprised, given their (small-c) conservative fundraising strategy, that they had program support for Planned Parenthood in the first place.