Susan G. Komen for the Cure

Susan G. Komen, formerly known as Susan G. Komen for the Cure and originally as The Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, often referred to as simply Komen, is the largest and best-funded breast cancer organization in the United States.[4]

Susan G. Komen
Formation1982; 38 years ago (1982)
FounderNancy Goodman Brinker
Founded atDallas, Texas
TypeNonprofit organization
Legal status501(c)(3)[1]
Headquarters5005 LBJ Freeway, Suite 526
Dallas, Texas 75244
United States
Paula Schneider
Chief Scientific Adviser
George W. Sledge Jr.
Chief Scientific Officer
Jennifer Pietenpol
Peter D. Brundage
Revenue (2016–7)
Expenses (2016–7)$99,203,184[2]
Employees (2018–9)
Volunteers (2016–7)

According to the Harris Interactive 2010 EquiTrend annual brand equity poll, Komen was once one of the most trusted nonprofit organizations in America.[5][6] Komen's 2012 decision to discontinue funding for Planned Parenthood was controversial and brief, attracting widespread media attention and a significant decline in donations and participation at fundraising events.[7][8] Komen almost immediately reversed its decision and resumed its funding of breast cancer screening and other programs at various Planned Parenthood locations.[9][10] The organization has also been criticized for executive pay raises, administrative costs, affiliations with certain sponsors and claims that it used misleading statistics in advertising.[11][12][13] Between 2011 and 2017 revenue declined by about 80% and a number of affiliates merged or dissolved.[14]

In March 2013, Komen's ranking on Charity Navigator dropped from four stars (the highest rating) to three stars, going to two stars in 2014.[15] As of June 2016, Komen was back to three stars, with a score of 81 out of 100.[16]


Susan Goodman, later Susan Goodman Komen, was born on October 31, 1943, in Peoria, Illinois. She was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 33.[17] She died of the disease at age 36 on August 4, 1980.[18][19] Komen's younger sister, Nancy Brinker, believed that Susan's outcome might have been better if patients knew more about cancer and its treatment, and promised Susan that she would do everything she could to end breast cancer.[18][20] To fulfill that promise, Brinker founded the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation in Komen's memory in 1982.[20]

In 2008, the 25th anniversary of the organization, the name was changed to Susan G. Komen for the Cure and trademarked a new logo in support of its promise "to end breast cancer forever."[21] The new logo is a pink ribbon that resembles a runner in motion[21][22] and is meant to reflect the importance of Komen's signature Race for the Cure event,[22] the world's largest fund-raising event for breast cancer education and research.[23] The logo symbolically associates the organization with the values of breast cancer awareness ("pink ribbon culture"): fear of breast cancer, hope, and the charitable goodness of people and businesses who publicly support the breast cancer movement.[4]

In December 2009, Brinker was appointed CEO of the organization.[24] Judith A. Salerno became CEO in 2012. In November 2016, the organization announced that Salerno would step down as CEO the following month.[25] In 2017, former fashion executive and breast cancer survivor Paula Schneider took over as CEO.[26]


Komen's Mission Statement: Save lives by meeting the most critical needs in our communities and investing in breakthrough research to prevent and cure breast cancer.[27]

Komen's Bold Goal: Reduce the current number of breast cancer deaths by 50% in the U.S. by 2026.[27]

Komen's philosophy mixes education, action, research, and community involvement. It has funded more than $800 million in breast cancer research.[28] Patient navigation is a main focal point for Komen, especially in recent years. Most recently it was in D.C. to advocate reducing insurance barriers to breast cancer treatment.[29] In line with its Bold Goal, Komen partnered with to create a new tool to help people living with metastatic breast cancer find clinical trials.[30]

Many scientific reviews have criticized Komen for overpromoting mammography. They concluded that indiscriminate screening mammography for middle-aged and older women, regardless of each woman's risk of developing breast cancer, results in overtreatment of some women whose cancer would never harm them. For every woman whose life is saved by screening mammography, 250 to 500 will be told that they might have breast cancer when they don't (false positives), 125 to 250 will have biopsies performed, and between two and ten will receive unnecessary treatment.[31][32][33]

Other organizations like the National Breast Cancer Coalition follow a "medical consumerism" model in which physicians educate women about their options and encourage them to make individualized, evidence-based decisions about their health care.[34] Other organizations advocate more research into the environmental causes of breast cancer and cancer prevention.[34]


Use of fundsEdit

Komen's 2009–2010 Expenses

  Research (20.9%)
  Public health education (39.1%)
  Health screening services (13.0%)
  Treatment (5.6%)
  Fund-raising costs (10.0%)
  Administrative costs (11.3%)

In the 2009–10 fiscal year ending March 31, 2010, Komen reported approximately $400 million in earnings. Of this, $365 million (91.3%) came from contributions from the public, including donations, sponsorships, race entry fees, and contributed goods and services. Approximately $35 million (8.8%) came from interest and dividends and gains on investments.[35]

That same fiscal year, Komen reported approximately $360 million in expenses. $283.2 million of this went to program services: $75.4 million (20.9% of total expenditure) went to research, $140.8 million (39.1%) went to public health education, $46.9 million (13%) went to health screening services, and $20.1 million (5.6%) went to treatment services. The other $76.8 million went to supporting services, including $36.1 million (10% of total expenditure) for fund-raising and $40.6 million (11.3%) for general and administrative costs.[35]

The Komen CEO's salary in 2010 was $459,406.[36] Komen paid founder and CEO Nancy Brinker $417,712 in 2011.[37] After the Planned Parenthood controversy, donations dropped and the foundation canceled half of its Races for the Cure, but Brinker received a 64% increase to $684,000 annually, which drew flak and was considered "extremely high" by Charity Navigator's CEO.[38]

Komen reported that its CEO earned $565,048 of compensation from the Foundation and related organizations during 2016 on its Internal Revenue Service tax return.[2] It also reported that 14 other employees each earned more than $175,000 of compensation, bonuses, retirement benefits, and other benefits during 2016.[2]

Grants and awardsEdit

Since its foundation in 1982, Komen has provided funding for basic, clinical, and translational breast cancer research and for innovative projects in the areas of breast health education and breast cancer screening and treatment. It has awarded more than 1,000 breast cancer research grants totaling more than $180 million.[39]

As of 2007, research grants are available for basic, clinical, and translational research; postdoctoral fellowships; and breast cancer disparities research.[40]

Komen awards three-year postdoctoral fellowships to people working under experienced cancer researchers to recruit and retain young breast cancer researchers. In addition to funding research, Komen and its affiliates fund non-duplicative, community-based breast health education and breast cancer screening and treatment projects for the medically underserved.[39]

Since 1992, Komen has also annually awarded work in the field of cancer research with the Komen Brinker Award for Scientific Distinction.

In recent years, Komen has cut by nearly half the proportion of fund-raising dollars it spends on research grants, according to a 2012 Reuters analysis. In 2011, the foundation spent $63 million (15%) of its donations on research grants and awards.[37][41][42]

Global activitiesEdit

Around 458,000 people worldwide die of breast cancer every year.[43] Komen works with local communities and organizations to develop culturally appropriate programs.[44]

In 2006, Komen joined the US-Middle East Partnership for Breast Cancer Awareness and Research, a Middle East Partnership Initiative program. Komen has programs in Egypt, Israel, United Arab Emirates, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia.[45][46]

In 2010, Komen was active in over 50 countries, with its largest affiliates in Italy and Germany.[47]

On October 28, 2010, Jerusalem held its first Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, with over 5,000 Christian, Muslim, and Jewish participants.[48] Before the race, the Old City's walls were illuminated pink by Komen's founder Nancy Brinker, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, and the Prime Minister of Israel's wife Sara Netanyahu.


Cause marketingEdit

Komen raises over $36 million a year from over 60 cause marketing partnerships. These include prominent campaigns, such as those with Yoplait, which runs the Save Lids to Save Lives program, and a partnership with Delta Air Lines.[49]

Cause marketing allows Komen to associate the breast cancer brand with its organization. By promoting the "fear, hope and goodness" associated with the brand, Komen can promote itself, breast cancer awareness, its sponsoring corporations, and conscientious consumption.[50]


The Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure is the world's largest fundraising event for breast cancer.[51] It consists of a series of 5K runs and fitness walks to raise money for breast cancer, to raise awareness of the disease, to celebrate those who have survived breast cancer, and memorialize those who have not.

The first race was run in Dallas, Texas in 1983, with 800 participants.[52] The race's 25th anniversary was celebrated in 2008. In 2009, it was renamed the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure.[53] In 2010, there were about 130 races worldwide.[54] Also in 2016, over 1.6 million people participated in the race, which had over 100,000 volunteers.[55]

The race's primary source of revenue is donations collected by the participants. In 2011, Komen said that three-quarters of the event's proceeds were being used locally to pay for community outreach programs, breast health education, and breast cancer screening and treatment projects run by the Komen affiliate, with the remaining quarter sent to the central organization.[54]

Komen's other nationwide events include:

A group participating in a Komen Race for the Cure event
  • Susan G. Komen 3-Day for the Cure – a 60-mile (97 km) walk for women and men: participants walk 60 miles (97 km) in three days to help raise millions of dollars for breast cancer research and patient support programs
  • Susan G. Komen Marathon for the Cure – a grassroots fundraising program offering fitness enthusiasts the chance to join in the fight against breast cancer by running or walking a full (42.2 km or 26.2 mi) or half (21.1 km or 13.1 mi) marathon.
  • Susan G. Komen Passionately Pink for the Cure – a year-round fundraising and education program allowing participants to choose any date, invite friends, wear pink, have fun and raise money for the cause.
  • Susan G. Komen Bowl for the Cure – a year-round fund-raising and breast cancer awareness initiative founded in 2000 and sponsored by USBC[56] and The Bowling Foundation.[57]

Mobile fundraisingEdit

In October 2008, Komen launched a mobile donating campaign, allowing supporters to donate money by texting.[58]

Top organizations include:

Controversy and criticismEdit


Komen is a key entity in the controversy over "pinkwashing". The term has been used to describe two different situations: (1) organizations getting disproportionate publicity for donating very little, and (2) organizations that use the pink ribbon to promote products that may be carcinogenic.

Ribbon Branded Stadium

Donation criticismsEdit

Komen benefits from corporate partnerships, receiving over $55 million a year[59] from 216 corporate sponsors.[60] Critics say many of these promotions are deceptive, benefiting the companies more than the charity, and promoting products that may cause cancer.[61]

Some campaigns require that consumers mail proof of purchase for a promoted item before the manufacturer donates a few cents per purchase to charity; some have a cap on the maximum amount donated, with all sales beyond this limit benefiting only the company, not the promoted cause.[62] Since its Save Lids to Save Lives campaign began in 1998, Yoplait has donated more than $25 million to Komen. In 2010, its annual maximum commitment was raised to $1.6 million.[63] In return, a major sponsor such as Yoplait obtains an exclusive contract; no other yogurt manufacturer (such as Dreyer's, which inquired in 2000) may use the branding.[64] In 2002, credit card operator American Express launched a "Charge for a Cure" campaign that claimed that "in the search for a cure, every dollar counts." The amount donated per qualifying transaction, regardless of the purchase amount, was one penny.[65]

In 2006, Major League Baseball partnered with Komen by selling and donating amounts from pink MLB Louisville Slugger bats, pink baseballs, and necklaces sold. On Mother's Day, breast cancer survivors were eligible to be bat girls in games where pink bats were used. MLB, a $1.2 billion industry, donates around $100,000 a year.[66]

Health criticismsEdit

Bisphenol A is primarily used to make plastics, such as this polycarbonate water bottle.

Several water bottle retailers have partnered with Komen.[67][68] Water cooler bottles made of polycarbonate may contain BPA, which has been linked to breast cancer tumor growth.[69] For the 2008 model year, Ford Motor Company built a branded limited edition of 2,500 Ford Mustang motorcars with a "Warriors in Pink" package[70] as part of its long-running association with Komen;[71] an additional 1,000 were offered for 2009's model year.[72] A longitudinal study found that women employed in the automotive plastics industry are almost five times as likely to develop breast cancer before menopause than women in a control group.[73][74]

In April 2010, Komen paired with fast food restaurant chain KFC to offer "Buckets for the Cure", a promotion in which fried and grilled chicken was sold in pink, branded buckets. The collaboration was criticized by media outlets, including The Colbert Report[75] and Bitch magazine,[76] and raised questions about promoting unhealthy eating habits; KFC chicken is known to contain carcinogenic chemicals.[77][78] KFC contributed over $4.2 million to Komen, the largest single contribution in the organization's history.[79] The partnership with KFC, which has since ended, allowed Komen "to reach many millions of women that they had been unable to reach before", said Brinker.[59]

In April 2011, Komen introduced a perfume brand, "Promise Me", promoted by Brinker on the Home Shopping Network,[80] only to encounter opposition due to its potentially harmful ingredients coumarin, oxybenzone, toluene and galaxolide. Komen said it intended to reformulate the perfume but did not withdraw existing stocks of the "Promise Me" product from distribution.[81]

In October 2014, the Houston-based oil field services company Baker Hughes was reported to have produced 1,000 pink drill bits to raise breast cancer awareness. The bits are used to break up geologic formations in oil patches for hydraulic fracturing.[82] These ties have been criticized, because more than a third of the more than 700 chemicals used in fracking are endocrine disruptors and at least a quarter increase the risk of cancer.[83]

Legal battles over trademarkingEdit

In 2007, the organization changed its name to Susan G. Komen for the Cure and trademarked the running ribbon as part of its branding strategy.[84] Komen has come under fire for legal action against other organizations using the phrase "for the cure" in their names. An August 2010 Wall Street Journal article detailed a case in which Komen told the organization Uniting Against Lung Cancer no longer to use the name "Kites for the Cure" for its annual fund-raising event. Komen also wrote to the organization to warn it "against any use of pink in conjunction with 'cure.'"[85] More than 100 small charities have received legal opposition from Komen for use of the words "for the cure" in their names.[86] Among the offending organizations and events were "Par for the Cure", "Surfing for a Cure", "Cupcakes for a Cure" and "Mush for the Cure".[86]

Komen says that the organization protects its trademarks as a matter of financial stewardship to prevent confusion among donors; others suggest that the trademark issue is more about dominating the pink ribbon market.[87]

Critics have also asserted that the slogan itself implies the majority of Komen's funds go to research, specifically research to cure (and not merely treat or detect) the disease. But by Komen's own figures, 21% of the total budget goes to research.[88] In the words of cancer survivor Alicia Staley,[89] "an organization that is actively pursuing other small charities over the use of the term 'for the cure' does not spend the majority of their own funds towards research for a cure."[90]

Relationship with Planned ParenthoodEdit

Beginning in 2007, Komen granted money to pay for 170,000 clinical breast exams and 6,400 mammogram referrals at the Planned Parenthood Federation of America and affiliates.[91][92] Komen had said its affiliates provide funds for screening, education and treatment programs in dozens of communities where Planned Parenthood is the only place poor, uninsured or underinsured women can receive these services.[93][94]

On January 31, 2012, Komen stopped funding exams provided by Planned Parenthood, citing a congressional investigation by Representative Cliff Stearns and a newly created internal rule about not funding organizations under federal, state or local investigation.[95] While conservative religious and anti-abortion groups applauded the move,[96] it was denounced by several editorials, women's health advocacy groups,[96][97][98][99] and politicians.[100][101]

In the 24 hours after the news broke, Planned Parenthood received more than $400,000 from 6,000 donors,[96] followed by pledges of a $250,000 matching grant from New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg[102] and a $250,000 gift from a foundation run by the CEO of Bonanza Oil Co. in Dallas to replace the lost funding.[103]

Four days later, Komen's board of directors reversed the decision and announced that it would amend the policy to "make clear that disqualifying investigations must be criminal and conclusive in nature and not political".[104] Several top-level staff members resigned from Komen during the controversy.[105][106][107] In August, Brinker announced she would leave her CEO role.[108] The number of participants at various Komen fundraising events dropped 15–30% in 2012.[8][109] The Susan G. Komen 3-Day for the Cure fundraising walks were scaled back to seven US cities in 2013, from 14, due to a 37% drop in participation over the preceding four years.[110] In January 2014 it was reported that the foundation saw a decline of 22% in contributions in the year following their decision to cease (and then continue) funding for Planned Parenthood.[111]

Karen Handel, the Brinker protégée whose opposition to abortion was at the center of the Planned Parenthood controversy, resigned and has published a book on the controversy titled Planned Bullyhood.[112]

Embryonic stem cell researchEdit

In 2006, Komen wrote in its newsletter that embryonic stem cell research had promise for curing breast cancer.[113] One such grant recipient was Robert A. Weinberg, Ph.D. through Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research at MIT.[113][114] In 2011, the anti-abortion Coalition on Abortion/Breast Cancer said that Komen gave $12 million to institutions such as Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and the U.S. National Cancer Institute that funded stem cell research, which the Coalition considered to be abortion. In 2012, Komen said that it did not fund stem cell research and never has. then published an article saying that Komen had stopped funding stem cell research. According to Science magazine, Christopher Umbricht got nearly $600,000 from Komen for molecular marker research at Johns Hopkins that includes stem cells.[115][116][117]

CEO salaryEdit

According to Komen's 2011–12 IRS Form 990 declarations, Brinker made $684,717 that fiscal year,[118] a 64% raise. Komen said the last CEO salary hike had taken place in November 2010.[119] Charity Navigator continued to give Komen very favorable overall ratings[15] on the basis of figures Komen had declared to the IRS,[120] but Charity Navigator president and CEO Ken Berger called this compensation "extremely high".

This pay package is way outside the norm. It's about a quarter of a million dollars more than what we see for charities of this size. This is more than the head of the Red Cross is making for an organization that is one-tenth the size of the Red Cross.

— Ken Berger of Charity Navigator, a group that evaluates and rates charities[119]

After the release of this information, Judith A. Salerno was named CEO, with Brinker named Founder and Chair of Global Strategy.[121]

See alsoEdit


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Further readingEdit

External linksEdit