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…

How Komen isn’t “for the cure” anymore

So, this is one of those posts where I’m going to rant a little. My apologies in advance. It’s just that I’m really ticked off now, and I feel the need to get some of this off my chest.

Since about 1996 (excepting only 2 years), I’ve done the Race for the Cure down in my hometown of Washington, DC. When I couldn’t make it down, and even in some of the years when I did, I also tried to do the Boston Race for the Cure, although that’s been less frequent due to all kinds of other things cropping up on my schedule. The RFTC at home is my chance to pull together a bunch of friends – plus my family – and do the Race in a crowd. I’ve even pulled together a team with one of my BFFs, and we’ve raised thousands of dollars for Komen over the years.

But not anymore.

I was thrown off a little by seeing things bathed in pink and wondering whether Komen was taking it a little too far to have Kitchenaid stand mixers that had “a portion” of the sale going “to the cure”. Anything that could be painted pink, short of a poodle, seemed to be – and there was always that “portion” going “to the cure”. It seemed a little opportunistic, perhaps a lot whorish, but I was willing to give them the benefit of the doubt because it was all going to the right cause: to raise funds in support of research to stop breast cancer and to provide services to men and women who had been diagnosed with breast cancer. When you have friends and family touched by this awful disease, it seems like low-hanging fruit in terms of fundraisers. Everybody knows SOMEBODY who’s had it.

I was peeved when I heard that Komen had started to sue other charities and fundraisers that used the term “for the cure” because they deemed it infringement on their brand. I could understand some of why this could be an issue, since I’ve seen things that look dodgy that have “for the cure” that are certainly not going to Komen…and people who aren’t familiar with the organization may just assume that anything with “for the cure” is going to them, even when it’s not. But still, you don’t see the Minute Maid people using bulldozers to take out kids’ lemonade stands.

But then I saw a story from the Washington Post that said Komen was cutting off further grants to Planned Parenthood, under the guise of a new internal regulation that barred grants to organizations under investigation by Congress. Since some of the more conservative members of Congress are hellbent-for-leather on driving Planned Parenthood out of business, OF COURSE it’s under investigation. Thus, Komen cuts off grants. That means that life-saving breast cancer-related services (like, say, mammograms) provided for free or at a discount via local Planned Parenthoods just got defunded. In other words, the pro-life agenda is actually turning pro-death: by turning womens health issues into some kind of moronic political hockey match, poor, uninsured and underinsured women will no longer be able to get the services they need from Planned Parenthood and will risk having cancer go undetected or untreated.

WAY TO GO PRO-LIFERS IN CONGRESS: you just got Komen to do some of your dirty work for you.

And WAY TO GO KOMEN: you were stupid enough to think that playing politics with womens health is an okay thing to do.

So, here’s what I plan to do about it: I’m not going to raise one red cent for Komen until they fix this mess.

I will continue to do the walk with my family (although the money that goes into my registration basically covers the cost of my participation and the event itself; they rely on the fundraising to help get them in the black). I will raise money BUT that money will be directed to Planned Parenthood. I will set up a site via FirstGiving that allows me to accept donations online (securely) that will go straight to Planned Parenthood with a minimum of fuss. I’ve already checked out the site, and I’ll be setting up my page in a few weeks, as my plans for the Race start to come together.

I’m so angry I can’t even describe it in words that will make sense. When someone says that it’s okay to defund medical services to women – especially poorer women – they’re saying that those women are acceptable losses. I’m here to say that’s not the case. This isn’t about abortion. These grants weren’t going to pay for abortions. These grants went to help detect and treat breast cancer. And I’m offended that it got politicized by people who apparently only pay lip service to the notion that they’re trying to be “for the cure”. What the hell can you cure if you cut off services? Nancy Brinker et al, should hang their heads in shame. Komen was supposed to broaden access, not choke it off.

It blows my mind.

And I’m done. Until Komen removes its head from its rear-end, I refuse to raise money for the organization. I will encourage my friends and family to donate to Planned Parenthood to keep those services available for women in need. Somebody has to. Because, honestly, that’s “for the cure” so much more than any pink ANYTHING in the world.

Consider this Race this year the Race for Access. The Race for Non-Stupidity. The Race for Non-Assholishness by Organizations That Should Know Better. The Race to Keep Medical Facilities Open For Medical Needs.

In the meantime, if you want to donate to your nearby Planned Parenthood, you can donate to a regional PP via the Planned Parenthood web site.