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'Big charity' misspending leaves needs unmet
Picture by Elvert Barnes
May 14, 2012
Last October, a record 20,000 people gathered in uptown Charlotte to participate in the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure. The event honors those who have lost their battle with breast cancer, in addition to those who currently are battling the disease.
Participating in any charitable walk when there is a personal connection to the cause is an experience like no other; it is invigorating. Nothing speaks louder than thousands of people coming together for a common cause. Such a gathering signifies that – no matter what – those in attendance are all in it together.
And because charitable walks are such feel-good events, few participants stop to ponder where their hard-earned race donations end up.
After the walk October 1, WCNC reported that the race raised about $1.5 million, of which 25% was allocated towards national research, while the remaining funds would stay in the Charlotte area and would benefit programs that help local breast cancer patients and their families.
This depiction, as noble as it may sound, is an inaccurate account of how the funds were allocated. The unfortunate reality is that WCNC's calculations were a misconception, as all of the funds raised at the race will not, in fact, go towards research/helping families in need.
According to the foundation's website, in 2009, the Susan G. Komen Foundation generated around $300 million in revenue. That same year, the charity allocated only 20.2% of the total revenue towards Research for the Cure. It seems rather odd that a charity that has the word "cure" in its title and as part of its mission would allocate so little of its total revenue for finding a cure. In truth, funding research into cures is a relatively small aspect of the foundation’s spending in comparison to some of their other activities.
For example, one of its other budget items includes a long list of lawsuits filed in 2010, brought on by the Susan G. Komen Foundation. The lawsuits, which have been eating away at donor dollars, are aimed at other charities and events around the country that use any variation of "for the cure" in their names. According to Komen's general counsel, Jonathan Blum, around $1 million of donation money (close to what the entire Komen walk in Charlotte generated) is spent on lawsuits and legal activities annually. Blum also said the organization "sees it as responsible stewardship of our donor's funds."
I am fairly certain that, had they been given the choice, donors would oppose such spending -- by any charity. Especially considering that many of the other charities affected by the lawsuit all share a common goal: curing diseases.
Apart from the obvious deceit involved with using donor dollars to pay for lawsuits (from people who naively believed that their donations were helping someone afflicted with cancer, or that their donations were helping find a cure for cancer), there is an apparent lack of empathy from the Susan G. Komen Foundation.
It's not wrong to assume that empathy and charity should, in theory, be tied together closely - much more so than corruption and charity. Unfortunately, the reality is that many of the charities that the foundation threatened legal action against are small, grassroots organizations - many of which did not generate revenue, and did not spend donor dollars frivolously. The charities are much more closely in touch with their causes than the Komen foundation, and they also are providing people in need with the resources that they seek.
The time has come for our society to reject the 'big charity' mentality, and to instead embrace the concept of giving on a community level, or to smaller charities more in touch with their missions. Imagine how great our city/nation could be if our citizens came together to help a terminally ill neighbor, a homeless individual, or a family in need. Such efforts are the purest examples of charitable efforts, with all the impact and none of the “big charity” corruption.
Editor's note: Previous versions of this article ran in error that Komen generated $300 billion in revenue in 2009. The correct amount should be approximately $300 million.