23. Tracking the Big "K": An Analysis of Komen's Financials

Susan G. Komen for the Cure is the largest and most visible breast cancer nonprofit organization. Therefore, tracking its public relations campaigns, breast cancer programs, revenues and expenditures are important for understanding this one aspect of the breast cancer industry. While I’ve done my share of number crunching for statistical research, I rely on former public accountant turned metastatic breast cancer survivor to give me insight into Komen’s financial picture. The late Rachel Cheetham Moro of The Cancer Culture Chronicles reviewed Komen’s publicly available financial statements. The numbers tell an important story.

First, Rachel analyzed the audited financial statements for the six-year period beginning in 2004 and going through 2009 (ending March 31st). Komen’s total Net Public Support and Revenue for that period was $1.54 billion. She then calculated the total allocations to Komen’s “Program Services” for the same period. Allocations over those six years averaged the following (expressed as a percent of total Net Public Support and Revenue): Research 25%; Education 35%; Screening 11%; and Treatment 6%. The remaining 22% was used for Fundraising and Other Administrative Expenses.

The following chart illustrates that the Net Public Support and Revenue steadily increased, from $147 million in 2004 to $331 million in 2009; growth of 125%. The Education program increased from $44 million in 2004 to $135 million in 2009; a significant growth of 206%. By comparison, the Research program grew from $39 million in 2004 to $70 million in 2009; growth of 79%. The exponential growth of the education program compared to the research program is a good indicator of Komen’s priorities.

To determine which of Komen’s programs have been growing or shrinking at what rates, my accountant friend then examined how each of the programs are allocated in terms of their percent of Komen’s total revenues.

In 2004, 30% of Komen’s Net Public Support and Revenue was used to fund its education program. By 2009, the allocation rose to 41%. By comparison, the percent allocated to the research program (navy blue line) has barely changed since 2004. In fact, aside from a sudden increase in 2008, there appears to be slight downward trajectory in the research agenda. In 2004, Komen allocated 27% of Net Public Support and Revenue to the research program. This dropped to 21% in 2009.

After Komen released its 2010 audited financial reports, Rachel learned exactly what the final research allocations were for the full year in 2009. In 2009, the research program received $70.1M, or 21% of Komen’s Net Public Support and Revenue. The 2010 allocation was about $5M more than that, coming in at $75.4M. Slightly more money for research, yes, but with the increase in Net Public Support and Revenue that year of $389.3M, it represented only 19% of Komen’s revenues.

Adding in Komen’s 2010 financial picture, the priorities of the organization were even clearer. Revenues continued to go up, a lot. The education program, with a focus on “awareness,” continue to climb. Research allocations continued to fall.

Looking further into Komen’s $75.4M research program, only $62.7M was spent on research awards and grants. The remaining $12.7M was spent on professional fees ($6.3M); Salaries and Benefits ($2.8M); and other Operating expenses ($3.6M). Although the research program represented 19% of Komen’s total revenue, only 16% was used to fund actual research.

Whenever I hear a Komen spokesperson explain away corporate partnerships and pinking strategies because research is so expensive, I have to wince a little. Clearly, research is not Komen’s priority. The budget allocations say so. Yet, the “ask letter” my mother-in-law received from Komen stressed how Komen-funded research grants have “played a role in virtually every advance in the fight against breast cancer,” and how Komen has “made a promise to invest $58 million in grants for innovative breast cancer research this year,” and how their “single-minded focus on finding the cures is especially important,” and how we should “imagine detecting breast cancer with a blood test…treating breast cancer with personalized therapies…discovering new breakthroughs…and life without cancer.” This is a good strategy. If donors focus on the imaginary realm, we might overlook how little of Komen’s total revenues actual go toward research for “the cure.”

I appreciate my Rachel’s insight into Komen’s financial picture. For more details see her other analyses: (1)  Komen by the Numbers;(2) Komen by the numbers: 2010 and Still No Answers; (3) Komen by the Numbers: Education in Focus; (4) Komen by the Numbers: The Context of Research.

For more consciousness raising essays, check out “30 Days of Breast Cancer Awareness.”

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10 comments to 23. Tracking the Big “K”

  • There it is, in black and white! Er, purple and PINK…
    Thank you and Rachel C. for your tireless work.

  • Jen

    I had my doubts about Komen long before a dx of bc late last year. I had long been turned off by their association with Yoplait (really, who EATS that stuff and thinks it’s healthy?!) and couldn’t find where they were really doing much for anyone. Oh, well, wasting time and money suing smaller non-profits, but other than that.

    After my dx, they (ironically) stepped up their campaign to get money from me. Given that we are still paying back medical bills, this was less than pleasant. I felt like they should be sending me a check for my copays, my suffering (um, where’s my cure?), the God awful surgery I went through and no guarantee any of it would help. It took numerous letters and three phone calls from my husband to get them to stop haranguing ME for money. I will NEVER, EVER do a walk or support them in any way.

    I am NOT a survivor, just a normal person who had a medical blip. Please, stop the pink, the labeling of folks who had to deal with this disease and if Komen wants to do something, how about figuring out WHY this happens instead of wasting time on urban myth dispelling? The way they ignore environmental factors and develop a product that can CAUSE cancer is frightening!

  • As this so clearly points out, Komen’s revenues continue to climb. The funds allocated for education/awareness continue to climb. Research allocations continue to decline. That pretty much says it all doesn’t it? Komen should change its priorities or else its name because clearly “cure” is not where most of the dollars are going. Thanks for “Tracking the Big K.”

  • Well done Gayle and Rachel. This one’s a public service broadcast of the highest order. And makes me deeply glad Komen aren’t operating over here in the UK.

  • Gayle and Rachel,

    Thank you so much for stating the facts so clearly and so well. I will be sharing this widely! What a wonderful outcome if your voices influence people to truly support research and not simply “pinkitude.” You’re firmly establishing yourselves as heroes with this work!


  • Bravo! Thank you for this heroic wake up call.

    Your work to help us (no “we” and “them” thinking here) see clearer reminds me of a parable I heard shared by author, scientist, and cancer patient Sandy Steingraber. It’s about a tribe facing a life and death problem. She tells it like this:

    “A tribe noticed that several members of their village were floating face down in the river. They pulled them out and did things to help clear their lungs and recover. So many of their people were drowning. They put all their efforts into saving, rescuing and helping them recover. But no one walked upstream to learn the cause –that they were being pushed into the water by another tribe.”

    This parable makes me think about the craziness of SGK’s tremendous financial support and cure as a mission, and a chart of expenses that does not allocate a majority of funds to research and treatment!

    Gayle and Rachel, thank you for showing how SGK can truly be part of a (cure) solution.

  • Way to go raising awareness about “raising awareness!” These numbers are mind-boggling. As Nancy’s Point said above, maybe it’s time for Big K to change their slogan. Thank you Rachel and Gayle for the work that you do.

  • Nice work, Rahel and Gayle! This is a solid analysis that everyone should read.

    It makes me think – only 16% of funds are used for research at all? Since the federal average for metastatic funding is only 2-3% of the pie, I wonder what percentage Komen’s is? I’m sure that paints an even drearier picture for the 30% of survivors then diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer.

    Susan, I love your tribal analogy in the comments above – but wouldn’t the Komen role, with its focus on awareness and education, be more of the guy standing on the riverbank telling the villagers to look in the water?

  • Jennifer

    Dr. Sulik,

    I guess I don’t see what you want me to see. Using ONLY what you posted, SGK allocated more to education than research this year, and most years from 2004 to 2009. Research % went up from 2009 to 2010, but it “represented only 19% of total revenues.” Erm, okay. Well, research has remained around 20% of total revenues year on year for the past few years. In fact, if you look at the numbers you post, in 2004 57% went to research and ed, in 2009 it was 62%. Lest my eyes deceive me, or math has changed, that’s an increase. Education is taking about twice the allocations as research, but overall percentage allocations to both have gone up. One glaring absence from your post is how primary revenue growth is nearly 7%, but program expense growth is only 2% (source: CharityNavigator.com).

    I looked at SGK’s financial metrics and I’m not sure why your accountant is even using 2009 numbers. 2011 numbers FYE 3/2011 are readily available. Admin/fundraising expenses are at 17% of total expenses (or 16.8% of total revenues). Maybe it’s because the numbers weren’t as enticing in 2011 as they were in 2009, though to be honest they’re not as enticing as your tone would have us believe anyway. And really, it’s all in how this is worded, because the numbers aren’t nearly that scandalous. At all.

    SGK isn’t the best performer out there. But they’re certainly not the worst. I looked at the American Cancer Society for comparison since they run the other well known ‘race’ for breast cancer research, Relay for Life. They have an administrative and fundraising percentage of 29%. TWENTY-NINE. Who’s knocking on their door?

    I fully understand your point that SGK’s statements in fundraising materials could be misleading to the individual, but I hardly blame them for focusing on the portion of their program expenses that matter most to the audience at hand. But really, are their tactics of directing focus on what they want their audience to see any worse than your own in this article?

  • I think you’ve misinterpreted the percentages posted here, Jennifer. This is a compilation of materials from accountant Rachel’s analyses prior to the release of 2011 financials. Unfortunately, she died today from metastatic breast cancer and will not be able to include them in the next analysis.

    As for the ACS, you are correct that their overhead is high. Others have indeed taken them to task for it, as they should. Komen also embeds administrative costs within the program budget, which is why Rachel reviewed the percentages of total revenues used for each of their program categories.

    Directing the reader’s focus to show another side of the financials is the purpose of sound analyses in many spheres of the world besides breast cancer. It is not unusual to do so, and Rachel was very clear in how she analyzed the numbers that Komen would have an interest in embellishing.

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