Recovering from Komen-maggedon

It’s been a rough week. Of course, it’s probably been rougher for the folks at the top of the Komen National HQ, but they deserve all they get for having been so monumentally stupid as to make a high-profile change to their grant “eligibility” without having spin doctors at the ready. That’s just Marketing 101, folks.

So, now we have a problem. How do we still donate to breast cancer-related organizations? How do you know who you can trust to be a good steward of your money? They’re tough questions, but the latter – in particular – can be applied to any philanthropy, really, and this is just as good a time as any to be reminded of that.

Having been a regular of the Komen Races for the Cure for 16 years, having raised thousands of dollars for Komen (mostly for DC, but some in Massachusetts), and having encouraged friends to donate their money or their time to the cause, this whole s**tstorm puts me in a bind. So, I’ve had to re-evaluate things. Thankfully, an interview last night on WGBH with the Executive Director of the MA Komen affiliate triggered my memory and that cleared my head A LOT on the subject.

What she explained is that the affiliates – the regional arms of the Komen organization – are licensees of the Komen name, but they’re locally operated and they give locally. When you do a local RFTC in, say, Massachusetts, your fundraising efforts go to the MA Komen. That means that 75% of what you raise stays in YOUR neighborhood/area. (I knew this but was conveniently forgetting it, because I do the Global/National one most frequently, and the sheer size of it throws me off sometimes.) The other 25% goes back to National to fund research and other grants.

WHAT THIS MEANS: if you want to give local, one option is to do the local RFTC or donate to the local Komen. Some of your money will go back to the National organization. The local Komen affiliate SHOULD have a list of who receives grants from them. For example, the MA Komen was extremely forthcoming in putting out their list of grant recipients. If your local Komen doesn’t have that list, don’t be shy about asking…if you still want to.

But what if you’re just ready to burn your pink ribbons and don’t want to deal with Komen? That’s okay, too. Again, I shall refer you to the aforementioned list of grant recipients. You can always donate directly to them, bypassing the middle-man and getting your funds to exactly the organization you want to benefit. This is one of the reasons I always duck-and-cover, if not belly crawl, away from United Way fundraisers – I’d much rather give directly to the organization I want to fund than a larger organization whose overhead costs I question.

As someone who frequently gives to charities and who does typically 2-4 fundraisers a year (some of which are in-kind donations, like food drives), I always encourage people to know who they’re giving to and who will benefit. If you can’t get the answers that satisfy you and actually ANSWER your questions, move along. There are plenty of other organizations that are very transparent and forthcoming because they know that’s more likely to get them donations than if they just do a bunch of handwaves and tell you not to worry about how they’ll spend your hard-earned cash.

Another way to make sure that you’re an informed donor is to check out what others say about a charity you’re considering donating to. Charity Navigator is fantastic for that; it has objective ratings of charities based on their overhead costs, how transparent they are, etc. It also allows for people to post their feedback on interactions with the charities – good, bad and indifferent.

I’ll leave you on this one last note: not all Komens are bad. National has its issues (perhaps a newsstand full of them), because they’ve changed their mission and don’t know exactly how to express that without stepping on more landmines. I still think that National has lost its way and the only way I’d want them involved in things related to my uterus is if they suddenly expand the organization’s mission to include uterine cancer. Otherwise, they have no business getting involved in politics related to abortion. Period. That said, the local Komen affiliates have minds of their own and many of them (including the MA one) were fighting behind the scenes to get National to reverse course on the “new eligibility” requirements that suddenly cut out Planned Parenthood’s grants. Please do consider donating locally – whether to the local Komen affiliate, the local Planned Parenthood clinic, or some other worthy organization.

No matter what, please don’t get the impression that the breast cancer riddle has been solved or that there’s only one way to donate to help those in need; it’s just not the case. We still have plenty of work to do, and there’s no requirement that anybody put their money into an organization they don’t trust to be good stewards with those funds. So choose wisely, but please continue to choose. Many people still need help, and it would be a shame if people were turned off giving to a fight that’s not over yet…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *