Today marks the beginning of the annual National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, a fact marked by the sudden influx of special pink merchandise at every price point hitting the store shelves. Credit for that ubiquitous pink ribbon symbol largely goes to Susan G. Komen For the Cure, the famous national nonprofit who handed out the ribbons at its race in 1991 and spurred on its widespread use soon afterwards.
Unfortunately, the pink ribbon and special merchandising has been much abused in a phenomenon dubbed “pinkwashing,” a term coined by the San Francisco-based nonprofit Breast Cancer Action. As that group and many journalists have pointed out — like Amy Westervelt did here in Forbes — very often, little of the purchase cost of special-edition pink goods actually goes to breast cancer charities.
In a cruel bit of irony, in fact, many of the products bearing the pink symbol during October often boast ingredients linked to cancer. Grab a random, symbol-bedecked drugstore beauty product, for instance, and check the back for parabens or phthalates. (Of course, there was also the infamous partnership with KFC in 2010, in which the pink ribbon bedecked buckets that often wound up filled with the chain’s signature high-fat, white-flour-battered, deep-fried, factory-farmed chicken.)
Meanwhile, we can’t ignore the recent stunts pulled by Komen for the Cure itself. It’s true that no other national group has pulled off such an effective marketing coup for breast cancer awareness. But the “awareness,” it seems, is where the group’s activities often stop under its current leadership.
To briefly recap, let’s rewind back to earlier this year, when, under pro-life pressure, the organization decided to de-fund Planned Parenthood. Since 2007, Komen had been granting Planned Parenthood the money to pay for over 170,000 breast exams and 6,400 mammogram referrals for women who needed it most — those without insurance who couldn’t pay full price for preventive services.
Luckily, the public outcry was swift. Not only did private donors step up to donate hundreds of thousands of dollars to Planned Parenthood (including a $250,000 personal matching gift from New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg), and then Komen’s board of directors quickly reversed course. In the controversy’s wake, Komen co-founder Nancy Brinker stepped down from her CEO role, and then-VP for public policy Karen Handel resigned, later announcing she planned to write a book about these events to be titled, oh-so-neutrally, Planned Bullyhood.
For now, Komen’s funding for Planned Parenthood remains in place. That could still change, though. And those in charge still seek to politicize cancer detection and research, and profit from its ostensible “awareness.” Not only does Komen continue to use donations to litigate other nonprofits, but in 2011, just 15 percent of those donations went to actual research, down from 17 percent in 2009 and 2010. Only 12 percent went to screening, and only five for treatment. Also that year, Komen de-funded grants for embryonic stem cell research, one of the major frontiers of cancer breakthroughs. All of that is ironic, indeed, for a nonprofit which changed its name in 2007 to include the ever-hopeful word “cure.”
All of this has naturally made many, many of us re-consider their annual donation to the Komen organization, or to friends’ well-meaning entries into its popular 5k race series. But with breast cancer rates rising, and the lack of a proper “cure, especially for metastatic breast cancer, women can’t afford to back out of the cause now. Luckily, there are plenty of other organizations to which you can donate which work towards the cause on both a micro and macro level. Here are five you may consider this month. Of course, this by no means an exhaustive list.
It bears repeating — Planned Parenthood remains one of the most accessible places for low-cost or free breast cancer screening, and one of its largest health centers in the South Florida area is its new health center in Wellington. Walk-ins are welcome, and besides breast exams, the center offers mammogram referrals, cervical cancer screening, and other preventive women’s health testing and treatment. There are several other centers offering similar services throughout Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties as well.
According to CharityNavigator.org, the local Planned Parenthood branch spends a laudable 80 percent of its donations on actual programs, including a day just last week where the Wellington center offered free walk-in clinical breast exams.
We’ll note that this organization also uses the much-abused pink ribbon. But the massive nonprofit, founded by the late Evelyn Lauder, scores a rare four out of four stars from Charity Navigator, with over 91 percent of its funds going to its programs. In 2012 and 2013, BRCF will support more than 197 dedicated breast cancer researchers at institutions around the country, and the fund’s grants have led to dozens of studies finding critical links to the disease’s causes and cure.
This Texas-based organization focuses on community outreach and early detection efforts for low-income women, providing free and low-cost mammograms. The group also funds continuing education programs and support groups, spending more than 83 percent of its donations on programs. Notably, its president and CEO, Janelle Hall, drew a salary of just over $177,000 in 2011, a relative pittance in the flashy breast cancer charity world, and less than half of what Komen’s Nancy Brinker took in paychecks that same year.
This organization functions largely as a lobbying force in Washington, seeking to influence public policy and federal funding allocation. As Jezebel pointed out earlier this year, while the Komen Foundation has raised $1.9 billion for breast cancer over 30 years, the NBCC convinced Congress to award $2.1 billion to research last year alone. According to CharityNavigator, the group spends more than 83 percent of its funds on programs, and in 2010, its president, Frances M. Visco, drew a relatively modest salary of just over $193,000. Most saliently, the coalition has given itself a deadline of 2020 to eradicate the disease. That’s just a little over seven years to go!
In an environment of forced cheerfulness about the realities of breast cancer, the group that created the term “pinkwashing” aims to truly educate. While Komen and its ilk spend money on “awareness,” no one has yet been able to pinpoint breast cancer’s exact causes. This is the aim of Breast Cancer Action, which treats the issue as a public health concern and aims to educate on the environmental factors which might lead to the disease, as well as the false marketing of the breast cancer industry. This is the organization behind the “Think Before You Pink” campaign, which gives the straight truth on pink ribboned products as well as ineffective drugs from Big Pharma.
One reason the group needs support is that its annual revenue has fallen below $500,000 in public support, which means it isn’t evaluated by CharityNavigator. But click here to learn more about Breast Cancer Action and Think Before You Pink, and click here to donate.