Pink ribbons, empty meaning

In light of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge trend which swept social media this summer, United States non-profit organizations are under fire for the portion of money they dedicated towards research.

Specifically, Susan G. Komen – a non-profit breast cancer education, research and advocacy organization – has come under scrutiny for donating 18 percent of their budget to breast cancer research.

Organizations like Think Before You Pink and Breast Cancer Action have led a platform to push for transparency of organizations like Susan G. Komen. However, according to Susan G. Komen Spokesperson Joni Avery, the organization strives to be transparent.

“I think the most important thing is that we are there for the women and men that need us,” Avery said. “And so there will be people who have different perspectives on whether or not those things are appropriate. We actually strive to be transparent with our consumers.”

During the 2012-13 fiscal year, Susan G. Komen donated approximately 18 percent of its $325 million revenue to research, according to an audited financial statement. However, the majority of its revenue is allocated for additional educational resources and services.

Although 18 percent is Susan G. Komen’s total revenue is donated to research, approximately $218 million – 65 percent of revenue – was funneled into public health education, health screening services and treatment services in 2013. Only 6 percent of its revenue is allocated towards administrative costs, according to Susan B. Komen’s financial and impact overview for fiscal year 2013.

Susan G. Komen came under fire in 2012 for a decline in its research donations from 17 percent of its revenue in 2009 and 2010, to 15 percent in 2011. Avery said the decrease comes from a direct impact of the economic recession the U.S. was experiencing at the time.

“I think it’s no secret that non-profit donation suffered from the economic downturn in 2008 through 2010,” Avery said. “It’s been difficult for every non-profit and industry to raise the funds they are used to.”

However, Avery said Susan G. Komen is the leading contributor to breast cancer research outside of the United States government.

One of the organizations that has criticized Susan G. Komen is Breast Cancer Action’s project Think Before You Pink. The project launched in 2002 to call for transparency and accountability “by companies that take part in breast cancer fundraising, and encourages consumers to ask critical questions about pink ribbon promotions.”

Of the issues Think Before You Pink addresses is its “Stop the Distraction” campaign regarding pink ribbons. According to its website “pink ribbon products spread empty awareness.”

“Awareness has failed to address and end the breast cancer epidemic,” its website states. “Who isn’t aware of breast cancer these days?”

Other breast cancer awareness organizations include the National Breast Cancer Foundation, American Breast Cancer Foundation and the Avon Foundation.

Despite criticisms of transparency, Susan G. Komen joined New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman to implement marketing standards for charitable organizations in 2012. The standards are geared to promote transparency for cause marketing programs to give “consumers better information and a clearer understanding” of where their money is going.

Avery said Susan G. Komen’s transparency has resonated with its consumers, especially those who participated in the Race for the Cure events.

“I think a lot of consumers are just people who participate in our races,” she said.  “They know or they are learning that the money raised at a race stays in that community and it is funding things in their communities.”

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