Friday, February 3, 2012

A Black Eye For Pink Ribbons

When I first heard Susan G Komen for the Cure (Komen) was disqualifying Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PP) from future grants, I was disappointed. I've been a supporter of both organizations, and I respect the work Komen has done to bring awareness, education, and research to breast cancer. I've sponsored people in the 3-Day and I've bought "Pink" products. I've always been a vocal supporter of their work.

I also respect and value the work of PP and do not wish to see their funding cut. They provide access to valuable sexual health services, information, and education for more than 3 million of people annually. Let me state that I am not in favor of abortions. However they are legal, and I believe they should be legal in most of the circumstances where they are now legal. You may hold a different opinion, but I invite you to read on. This post isn't about abortion.

I did a lot of research the past couple days, here's what I found:
  • Despite claims to the contrary, abortions represent only 3% of the services PP provides and only ~10% of their patients. 97% are non-abortion services and 90% of PP patients do not receive an abortion. PP isn't just about abortion, it's about all those other services.

  • The grant from Komen to PP affiliates was for less than $700,000 annually. It's less than 1% of the budget of either organization. It's less than the combined salary of the Presidents of the two organizations (more on that later). Given the size of these two organizations, it's not really worth arguing about. It's a tempest in a tea pot.

If it's not worth arguing about, then why am I bothering to write about it? Because I found out a lot more:
  1. Because of the publicity around this, PP raised more than an extra $1M in 48 hours, completely offsetting the annual loss from Komen in 2 days. In reality, PP doesn't need any funding from Komen.

  2. PP was using those dollars to provide additional breast examinations. A lot of examinations. Komen grants paid for approximately 170,000 of 4,000,000 breast exams performed by PP over the time that Komen has been giving grants to PP. 6400 of those resulted in a referral for Mammogram. That's a lot of exams, and a lot of lives that may have been saved. So, by any measure, I think it was worth the money.

  3. In FY 2008 and 2009, PP spent 16% of it's revenue for management, general, admin, and fundraising expenses (non-service expenses). 1% for international family planning services. 17% for domestic non-medical services. The remaining 66% went for providing medical services those who need it. In FY2008, PP and it's ~ 100 affiliates had total revenue of $1.1B (revenue for just the national office was $106M).

    The President's compensation was $384,295 (based in NY with a high cost of living).

  4. In 2007 Komen spent 60.3% of revenue on (grants for) research, education, and treatment of breast cancer. That means 39.7% went for admin, fundraising, office expenses, travel, and other overhead. In 2008, it was worse, less than 49% went to (grants for) research, education, and treatment, over 51% went for overhead. In 2008, only 40% of the revenue went to research.

    Komen had total revenue of $159M. The President's compensation was $558,607 (based in Dallas with a much lower cost of living).

That's right, only around half the donations to Komen went toward the very things they're raising funds for, and less than half actually goes toward finding treatments or cures.

How can the President of Komen face families and friends of breast cancer patients and ask them for their time and money, knowing that she is earning more than 10 times the national household income, knowing that she earns 5, 10, or 20 times as much as the very people shes asking to donate money, while it's those very donations that pay her salary?

To me, that is unconscionable. She may fit in with the wealthy donors and large corporate donors, but I can't see how that's at all consistent with the mission of Susan G Komen for the Cure. I've been a business owner, I know you need to hire quality people, and you may have to pay more for them, but the discrepancy between the pay of the Presidents of these two organizations highlights how inefficient and cavalier Komen has been with our donations.

Why Komen was wrong:
Two days after it started, Komen put out a video explaining their position and reasoning. They had adopted rules that prevented people or organizations that were under investigation from applying for new grants. While that sounds like a prudent way to protect funds of the charity, there is a serious flaw. An investigation does not mean any law or policy has been broken, it just means some official agency has started an investigation. In this instance, one Senator started an investigation of PP based upon pressure from anti-abortion groups.

PP has not been accused of or charged with a crime, much less been found guilty. And that is the major flaw with Komen's new policy. PP was being punished without even being accused, charged, or given a chance to defend themselves. Innocent until proven guilty, and they should at least remain eligible until they've been formally charged with a crime.

The Future:
Today, Komen reversed their decision and will be revising their new policy. But for me, it's too little, too late. See, I've already done the research, and I don't like what I found. I can no longer support Komen, they're too wasteful with donations. They also appear to be driven by political factors rather than by the needs of the patients. That's not what I expect from an organization who claims to be "for the cure".

Another problem with Komen is that we no longer need to raise awareness of breast cancer. You can't drive down the street, or walk through a store without seeing pink ribbons and other pink products. We're all very aware now. It's time to cut back on the advertising and awareness, and focus the money on research and treatment.

Komen has been the center of several other recent controversies. So called "pinkwashing" - putting a pink ribbon on unhealthy products, and threatening other charities and organizations over using the phrase "for the cure" or "for a cure".

This incident has shined a light on the darker aspects of Komen. If they "clean up their act", get the overhead costs down to a reasonable level, including significantly reducing the pay of the President and other officers or board members to be in line with other such organizations, then I'll reconsider. I'm still in support of finding effective treatments and cures for all types of cancer, including breast cancer, but until I see a major change, Komen is off my list of charities that I support.

Komen did the right thing, for the wrong reasons:
Numbers 3 and 4 above point to a fundamental problem with charities funding charities. Komen takes 40%-50% for overhead, and PP will have another 16% overhead. The result, only about 40% of people's initial donation is actually going toward these breast cancer screenings. Even if the percentages are smaller, you're still going to see double overhead. For that reason, and that reason alone, Komen should deny future requests from charities, including PP. PP can perform their own (more efficient) fundraising, making even more money available for patient care.

Update 2014-01-06:
Komen has changed many executives, slightly lowered pay for the replacements, but they're paying $475K/yr to their new CEO. Still very high compared to PP and most other large charities. They also had 22% lower revenue.

Related links:

No comments:

Post a Comment