So I’ve decided to write a post trashing the Susan G. Komen Foundation, the gigantic charitable endeavor that fights breast cancer. “What?!” I hear someone scream. “Are you pro-breast cancer?” No, I am not. I very much hate breast cancer. I would not want anyone to get it, and would not want to prevent anyone who has it from being cured. In that regard I would hope that everyone who reads this agrees.
I am going after the Susan G. Komen Foundation because of the way it operates. There’s been a change in how charity gets done in America over the past generation or so. The overall amount of charity, relative to the economy, has been fairly constant, but the sociology of how it operates is changing, and Komen is out in front of the negative changes in a big way. So on to the reasons.
Komen beats up on smaller charities. The foundation claims that it can use the words “for the cure”, and no one else can. It would be a violation of trademark, don’t you see? Yes, the tiny charitable venture known as “Kites for the Cure” that raises money for cancer by letting children fly kites is a mortal danger to the Komen behemoth. Honestly. That’s why Komen needs to send big-league lawyers to harass anyone who uses the words “for the cure” in their name. But what exact threat does any other charity pose by using those words. Businesses obviously want to beat other businesses, but should a charity seek to beat other charities?
Komen doesn’t spend much on research. If you only have a casual knowledge of Komen’s activities, you’d think that their primary purpose is to raise money for actual research towards a cure. Actually it isn’t. Fundraising and administrative costs take up roughly twenty percent of their budget, including more than half a million in salary for the foundation’s President and ritzy travel expenses for other bigwigs. That’s not actually very bad; most charities are in the same ballpark.
No, the problem is that the Komen Foundation’s doesn’t actually spend the bulk of its money on research, but rather on education. There’s nothing wrong with education, of course, as long as it’s actually educational. Much of Komen’s output is not, as the link above demonstrates. Which leads us to the third reason.
Conflicts of interest. The best ways to prevent breast cancer from even forming are the same as the best ways to prevent cancer overall. Eat a good diet, avoid carcinogenic chemicals, and exercise. Yet the Komen Foundation doesn’t focus on these things in its advertising, instead emphasizing the need for screening and preventive medical care. There’s nothing wrong with screening, of course, but a healthy lifestyle should be the primary focus if we really want to cut the disease down to size. Moreover, Komen either gets money from or invests in companies that make unhealthy products such as packaged meats.
Tackiness and ugliness. Komen has been remarkably successful at getting its signature pink ribbon and other symbols plastered onto anything and everything, from tents and huge inflatable markers to yogurt and paper products. Yesterday I bought a can of ordinary table salt and found the ribbon on it, which is what inspired this post.
That, of course, is only the beginning. The foundation seems to have an obsession with sticking its logo everywhere, much as Nike did with the ‘swoosh’ when I was a kid. I find this ugly and distasteful. I find most advertising ugly and distasteful, but few campaigns have been taken to such extremes as the Komen campaign. Pursuing a cause, even a good cause, does not require that we cover every available square inch with garrish decorations. Most people, I’m sure, don’t want to say this, lest it look like they value aesthetics above saving lives. I do not. Saving lives should come first, of course, but this carpet-bombing with tacky advertising and fundraising does not save anyone’s life. Komen could be just as effective–perhaps more effective–if they showed some restraint.