Money, Marketing, and Ethics: Can They Work Together?

According to Breast Cancer Action Montreal the answer is YES…If there are sound guiding principles.

Breast Cancer Action Montreal (BCAM) is a non-profit group directed by women who have been sensitized to the trauma of breast cancer and who are committed—long-term—to eradicating the disease. BCAM believes that the focus of breast cancer research must move beyond its current emphasis on treatment to also embrace a serious search for the causes of the disease and its prevention.

In today’s essay Susan Hertzberg, Vice-President of the BCAM Board of Directors and member since 1998, and Editor of the BCAM Bulletin, explains why BCAM’s operating principles are important to her personally and why they are vital to the eradication of breast cancer.

In 1997 I was celebrating a significant milestone and decided to turn my personal celebration into “doing something useful.” I planned to organize a fun fundraising event but was not affiliated with any non-profit or charity organization. Because a close friend had been diagnosed with breast cancer, I decided to find a cancer organization to be the recipient of all money that would be raised. When I began researching the high-profile cancer organizations, I was shocked by the obvious amount of money spent on glossy advertising-like “informational” material – and I could only imagine how much was spent on total administration costs. An activist friend suggested finding a “grass-roots” organization to be my recipient. I found Breast Cancer Action Montreal (BCAM, est.1991) in a reference work listing all Canadian non-profit and charity organizations. When I spoke with a BCAM board member, I immediately decided that this was the type of organization I wanted to help – one that needs community support to get out a message that did not encompass the mainstream point of view about cancer.

Inspired by the work of Breast Cancer Action (San Francisco, est.1990), BCAM was already questioning the perspective of the cancer establishment in Canada and emphasizing the conflict of interest (i.e., “two-timing”) regarding pharmaceutical companies that make money from cancer-treating drugs while also producing cancer-causing chemicals.

Another concern was that the wealthiest and most visible breast cancer charities were linked to their corporate supporters largely through cause marketing, defined as a partnership between a for-profit company and a non-profit organization that increases sales while raising money and visibility for a cause. Certain cause marketing relationships raised further concerns about pinkwashing as well as a lack of transparency about how much is being donated, and to whom.

Finally, the wealthiest and most visible breast cancer organizations rarely mentioned crucial issues such as primary prevention (i.e., stopping breast cancer before it starts) or the potential environmental links to breast cancer, forcing speculation that perhaps these issues were being ignored because environmental toxins could be traced to poorly regulated chemicals used in products made by their corporate sponsors.

At the time, a de facto corporate donations policy was in place that did not allow BCAM to receive money from pharmaceutical and chemical manufacturing companies. In March 2001 BCAM’s board formalized a Policy on Corporate Contributions. The introduction states:

Breast Cancer Action Montreal (BCAM) recognizes that the effectiveness of its work in public education, advocacy and coalition-building depends on the organization’s credibility, particularly in the eyes of its members and the people it serves. The funding sources of any advocacy organization can appear to affect its political legitimacy, particularly in situations where corporate support raises the possibility, inference or perception of a conflict of interest. BCAM’s corporate contributions policy aims to reconcile the need to ensure the long-term financial health and longevity of the organization with the desire to avoid potentially real or perceived conflicts of interest related to corporate giving.

The policy establishes three principles to guide BCAM’s corporate fundraising strategy. They are broadly elaborated in the policy statement, but briefly they are:

  1. BCAM will not accept financial support from corporate entities whose products or services are known to BCAM to include cancer diagnosis or treatment;
  2. BCAM advocates the precautionary principle (see definition in last paragraph);
  3. BCAM cannot endorse organizations or events that accept funding from sources unacceptable to BCAM, but is willing to cooperate when goals are similar.

The policy goes on to list seven specific categories of corporations from which BCAM will not knowingly accept funding: pharmaceutical companies, chemical manufacturers, biotech and agri-business, oil companies, tobacco companies, private cancer diagnosis and treatment facilities, and companies that develop and market cancer-related technology. In addition, the policy states that,

BCAM will continue to focus its fundraising efforts [including social media campaigns] on individual giving, either through direct contributions or through workplace giving programs, as well as corporate donations from industries other than those listed.

Importantly, the BCAM policy also recognizes the need for BCAM to periodically evaluate new information about corporate donors and determine the implications of that information.

BCAM board members were resolute in their support of these principles, but found that they were very much alone within the Canadian breast cancer milieu. At various times, BCAM took the opportunity to emphasize the reasoning behind this policy when interacting with other breast cancer organizations that accepted pharmaceutical, chemical or tobacco company funding. On every occasion, its perspective fell on deaf ears. Corporate donations from any business that offers support is apparently viewed as an acceptable way to guaranty the implementation of programs and services.

I am glad to report that BCAM has survived and grown while maintaining its position. Entering its twentieth year, ongoing efforts to bring important – and often elusive – information into the mainstream have been sustained by working very hard to encourage support from members, friends and businesses and by applying for foundation and government grants. These sources of funding are often difficult and time-consuming to access. But the resulting constituent group is genuinely, passionately interested in the issue of breast cancer and the broader range of issues related to this disease, including the politics of cancer.

The downside of this longevity is that the need continues for BCAM to exist because cancer has not been eradicated. Environmental pollution is just beginning to be acknowledged as an important contributor to the incidence of cancer throughout the world. The mainstream cancer establishment has finally added information about environmental contaminants to their warnings about “lifestyle changes,” which have historically only mentioned diet, exercise and smoking. Until the precautionary principle (i.e., when an activity raises threats of harm to the environment or human health, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established) becomes the standard approach to developing new products and manufacturing processes, until the public agrees that shopping won’t prevent or cure cancer – despite the efforts of cause marketers, until there is much more government regulation of toxins in the environment to support the imperative of people before profits, BCAM will maintain its Policy on Corporate Donations – and, unfortunately, still have reasons to exist.

Brief Biography: Susan Hertzberg has a Master’s Degree in library science, and her expertise is in fundraising, marketing, and meeting facilitation.

Announcement: Breast Cancer Action Montreal presents The Seventh Lanie Melamed Memorial Lecture with Dr. Samantha King, author of Pink Ribbons, Inc., on Thursday April 14, 2011 at 7:30 pm. Dr. King will discuss “Public Health/Private Interests: Breast Cancer Profiteering and the Struggle for a Prevention-First Approach.”

For details, click here.

Be Sociable, Share!

"women urged to get screened because it might save their lives. But that’s only 1 possible outcome, and it’s the least likely one" @cragcrest

“Pink Ribbon Blues”

Paperback includes a new Introduction on fundraising controversies and a color insert with images of, and reactions to, the pinking of breast cancer (2012).

Praise » 

Flyer »

Press Release »

Hardback Cover »

Paperback Cover »

Request Review Copies »

Order the Paperback »


"Seeing clearly through the pink haze" Toronto Sun

*Sad face*: Being happy does not help you live longer" New Scientist

How should we address breast cancer when norms continually change? The Guardian

Your Fun 'No Bra Day' Photos Are Overshadowing Terminal Breast Cancer Patients Broadly

Backlash against “pinkwashing” of breast cancer awareness campaigns BMJ

Breast Cancer to Rise 50 Percent by 2030? Hey, Not So Fast! Health News Review

Breast Cancer: The Flaws in the Cause

How to Make the Biggest Impact With Your Breast Cancer Donations Money

The Very Pink, Very Controversial Business of Breast Cancer Awareness Racked

NFL, Pink Ribbons Not Enough to Win over Women CNN

3 Questions We Need to Answer for Breast Cancer Awareness Month Chronicle of Philanthropy

The problem with National Breast Cancer Awareness Month Women's Health Magazine

Pink Ribbon Envy: Living with an Uncool Cancer The Nib

A Year After Bombings, Some Say 'Boston Strong' Has Gone Overboard NPR, All Things Considered

Canadian Mammogram Study KCRW, NPR Affiliate

Time to Debunk the Mammography Myth CNN

Breast Cancer: Awareness, Activism & Pinkwashing NPR Charlotte

Buying Pink Al Jazeera's The Stream Watch »

The Pink Backlash Orlando Sentinel

Why Jolie's Test Costs So Much CNN

Preventative Mastectomies: Disease and Deception BlogTalkRadio

Angelina Jolie and the 'Breast Cancer Gene' KCRW

Our Feel-Good War on Breast Cancer The New York Times Magazine.

The Story Behind the Pink Ribbon Campaign Sisters Talk Radio

WISH Interview Women's International Summit for Health

Making Cancer About The Patient, Not The Body Part CBS Pittsburgh

Sexy breast cancer campaigns anger many patients USA Today

The perils of pink The Daily

Komen pink campaign creates breast-cancer blues for some Dallas Morning News

A yellow flag for the NFL's pink New York Daily

Gayle Sulik named #7 in SharecareNow’s Top 10 Online Influencers in Breast Cancer

Breast cancer cancer causes so easily derailed Philly Inquirer

Komen Charity Under Microscope for Funding, Science Reuters

The Fight Against Cancer - And Abortion?

Susan G. Komen For the Cure defunds Planned Parenthood. In Deep with Angie Coiro

Amid Breast Cancer Month, Is there Pink Fatigue? NPR's All Things Considered

How is Breast Cancer Culture Undermining Women's Health? America’s Radio News Network

Pink Ribbon Culture and Breast Cancer The Kojo Nnamdi Show

The Big Business of Breast Cancer
Marie Claire

Does Breast Cancer Awareness Month Crowd Out Other Diseases? Slate

Pink Inc. Has Many Starting to See Red The Sacramento Bee

Get Your Pink Off Ottawa Citizen

Komen Pink Ribbons Raise Green and Questions USA Today