RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) – The breast cancer charity Susan G. Komen for the Cure is known around the world for its ability to raise billions of dollars for breast cancer research, education, and treatment.
For over 30 years, the name Komen and the pink ribbon has been the envy of fundraising for disease and illness research. Its signature event, the Race for the Cure, held annually in cities around the country, raises millions of dollars for scientists.
But this year, controversy has diminished Komen’s strong brand and stellar track record for raising money. Linda Tiller, director of the Central Virginia affiliate of Komen, says it’s been painful to have the charity’s image tarnished, and to realize the Komen name is not as trusted as it once was.
Tiller’s affiliate has just received boxes of hats and keepsakes for Richmond’s 2012 race which will be held May 12 on Brown’s Island. She acknowledges local affiliates have not escaped the fallout from Komen’s decision in January to eliminate most of its funding of breast cancer education and screening at Planned Parenthood after a Republican congressman began an investigation into whether the women’s health organization spent public money on abortions. Such expenditures are illegal under federal law.
Tiller says her work this year has been very tough. And she’s not alone. This month, race organizers in Arizona, Florida, and Indiana reported 30% fewer people have registered. Tiller says Richmond’s numbers are down as well, some 25% from this time last year.
And donations are off 35% from 2011.
Tiller says there’s no question that the event has taken a hit even though the national Komen organization ultimately reversed course and restored its funding of Planned Parenthood after agreeing it had made a bad decision.
Komen founder Nancy Brinker later apologized, and told local affiliates they could allocate funds to Planned Parenthood. But the damage was done, even to affiliates like Richmond that don’t give money to Planned Parenthood.
Tiller says the Central Virginia affiliate does not fund Planned Parenthood simply because it never applied for funding. And she says even though the social media firestorm is over, she believes many local supporters are still angry. “People are not participating in the race,” Tiller said. “They’re probably just keeping it quiet, but just not participating. Maybe it’s a quiet protest.”
Tiller worries about how this will affect local programs that depend on Komen’s grant money to help underinsured and uninsured women get the screening and treatment they need. She says the Richmond Komen provides, through 13 different grantees this year, mammograms, education and treatment to women who don’t have insurance and don’t have the ability to get that treatment otherwise.
“If fundraising doesn’t come up this year, we will not be able to provide as many services next year,” said Tiller.
Former board member Vernal Branch says it will take a lot of time for Komen to regain people’s trust both on the national and local level. “[The charity] has learned a valuable lesson, but it will be hard to get the trust back,” said Branch.