We can do more than just pink: Organization should work toward solutions, not merely awareness

As you probably know, October was Breast Cancer Awareness Month. You saw pink ribbons everywhere, many products were available in pink, and there was even a trend for pink hair. It was Pinktober.

This penchant for pink is thanks to the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation. The problem is that none of this stuff really does anything toward wiping out cancer.

There’s nothing wrong with wearing pink, and that alone can increase public consciousness about an issue. But raising awareness isn’t the same thing as raising funds. And once the money is there, it doesn’t automatically follow that those dollars will be applied to medical research. It has been reported that the Komen Foundation spends only about 15 percent of its funds on research. (Contrast that with the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, which spends 92 percent on research.)

And that’s why Komen is not a good charity to support. What they say they want to do and what they actually do don’t match up. For one, it could be argued that at this point knowledge of breast cancer is commonplace and therefore continued spending to increase the profile of this issue is superfluous. One has to ask if the goal is to raise awareness of breast cancer — or of the Komen Foundation.

Also, the institution’s public education efforts do not include information about lifestyle changes that can help ward off cancer, such as diet choices, regular exercise, sufficient vitamin D, adequate sleep or stress management. Rather, they emphasize the importance of regular mammogram screenings. While this is essential to an early diagnosis, it does not cure cancer. Perhaps more funding should go toward research to discover how cancer can be eradicated, or prevented from growing in the first place.

I would expect as much from a foundation that has Cure in the title. For that matter, the charity is extremely proprietary, targeting smaller groups that use “for the cure” in their names, or pink in conjunction with cancer research. Potential donors should ask themselves if they want their financial contributions going toward lawsuits against other nonprofits.

Then there’s the high salary of the CEO. At one point the compensation package was more than the head of the Red Cross — for an organization that is only a tenth of the size of the Red Cross. Estimates put the income of the Komen leader at around $250,000 more than those at the helm of other charities of a similar size.

Next, there is a term known as pinkwashing. This refers to corporate sponsorships that result in huge levels of positive publicity for their association with Komen, while in reality donating very little to the foundation. That ubiquitous pink ribbon is slapped on an item. You buy it, thinking you’re doing some good for cancer research, but in reality you are merely enriching the corporation selling the product.

(This is also the idea behind slactivism. It is something that requires very little effort from you, such as posting on social media, that in reality has a low net result. With the purchase example above, you end up buying what you were going to get anyway, but now you can justify spending that money, even though it didn’t really result in any charitable giving.)

All this is not to discourage anyone from donating to a cause but rather to encourage you to do your research first to ensure your dollars will have the maximum impact. You can visit the website of the grassroots organization Breast Cancer Action to learn how to truly make a difference toward cancer research with your financial contribution: www.thinkbeforeyoupink.org.

Stephanie Haines is a writer from Greenfield who now lives in Bloomington. She can be contacted through her website, www.stephaniehaines.com.