Ten things I’ve learned from the missteps of Susan G. Komen For The Cure

  1. A health organization that partners with a fast food chain has its priorities out of whack. In the case of Susan G. Komen For The Cure, a choice like that can lead to very poor optics in the media.
  2. A non-profit executive’s salary should be at least somewhat commensurate to a similar position in the private sector, all things being equal, in order to attract  talent and ultimately benefit the organization. At the same time, there are also reasonable limits, beyond which a salary becomes outrageous given the organization’s need. Nancy Goodman Brinker’s salary of almost half a million dollars tests those limits.
  3. An organization such as Planned Parenthood is inherently political. Whether you fund or de-fund that organization, it is disingenuous to suggest that your choice had nothing to do with politics.
  4. I have worked in the charitable sector for years. There have been times where my personal politics have been challenged in my work, or I have had to keep my beliefs to myself in conversations with donors or stakeholders. I believe very strongly that you must keep your own beliefs separate from the important work that you do.
  5. One event a year, like the “Run For The Cure”, can raise insane amounts of money for an organization. That being said, events are incredibly time-consuming, and a large percentage of charitable fundraising events tend to break even or even lose money.
  6. Susan G Komen For The Cure spends a million dollars a year suing or legally warning other charities who use “For The Cure” or “any use of pink in conjunction with ‘cure’”. They spend donor dollars to sue charities.
  7. You have to be very cautious as a charitable organization about advocacy or political statements or decisions that do not necessarily directly align with your mission statement. There is a certain power in neutrality. If I wanted to raise awareness about animal rights, for instance, I would not work for PETA; I don’t like their ad campaigns, nor do I agree with many of their stances on eating meat, wearing leather, etc. I believe in sticking to your knitting, to quote a friend.
  8. Susan G. Komen spends over 21% of its yearly revenue on fundraising and administration costs. That is roughly $77 million dollars per year. That’s a lot of pink KFC buckets.
  9. When one charity does something bad, they make everybody look bad. That hurts donor trust and confidence in all charities.
  10. I truly, honestly hope that Susan G. Komen helps to find a cure for breast cancer. They have done a tremendous amount to raise awareness and fund research around ending breast cancer. I take issue, however, with any organization that betrays the faith of its staff, donors, and clients through questionable ethics or poor decision-making. I’m not talking about making mistakes (every charity/business/person does that, all the time), but willingly making decisions that are at odds with your core mission and principles, and the more general ethical principles that guide the actions of charities.

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About Josh Bowman

Josh Bowman is a professional fundraiser, story-teller, comedian, and blogger. He has worked and consulted in Vancouver, New York, and now Toronto for almost a decade. Josh improvises around Toronto, including regular shows with Opening Night Theatre, and also blogs for the Huffington Post. You can email Josh or follow him on Twitter. If you want to submit a guestpost or know more about Josh, check this post and this post out first.

Comments

  1. My disdain for the Susan G Komen foundation is unimaginable. People think I’m insensitive but it has become a big business more than a charitable organization.

    • Taking issue with the actions of Susan G. Komen does not mean that you aren’t in favour of raising awareness and funding around breast cancer research. I also have issues with PETA; doesn’t mean I’m against animal rights.

  2. Excellent post. Thank you for sharing. I can already hear people saying it’s wrong to speak out against this organization…as if doing so makes one unsporting of all efforts for a cure. As if anyone would be.

    Anyhow, great blog! Glad I found it!

    • Thanks so much! I am absolutely all for raising $ for Breast Cancer research, but there is also a code of ethics we have to follow in the charity world. Thanks for the post… :)

  3. You should be sure to check out Pink Ribbons, Inc., a documentary about the pink ribbon movement and its links with the coporate world.

    http://www.nfb.ca/playlist/pink_ribbons_inc/

  4. You make some good points but I disagree with two:
    1. $450,000 isn’t a crazy salary to pay an ED at a $135,000,000 organization. It is definitely on the high end, but given the size and complexity of the org, it is reasonable.
    2. A 21% fundraising and admin rate is reasonable for a nonprofit.
    I would also qualify your point ‘I believe very strongly that you must keep your own beliefs separate from the important work that you do.” Not in every instance, and maybe not in a lot of instances. We get into nonprofits because we are passionate about the work. But I would agree that you shouldn’t force everyone to agree with every part of your worldview in order to work with them.

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