News and analysis
February 07, 2012

Some Donors Flee Komen for Other Cancer Groups

Jim Rogash/Getty Images for Reebok

The Avon Foundation for Women, perhaps Komen’s biggest competitor, has been scrambling to respond to supporters who want to know if the two nonprofits are affiliated.

Charities that fight cancer are starting to receive phone calls and checks from donors who are bailing on the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation after the controversy over its support for Planned Parenthood.

But even as some breast-cancer charity officials say they are hearing from fed-up Komen donors, they also express concern that the Komen debacle could squelch giving to their cause altogether.

“People who have supported breast cancer will be looking around, and quite possibly they’ll be making different choices about what to support,” said Jeanne Rizzo, president of the Breast Cancer Fund.

So far, though, her group has seen support grow in the wake of the Komen-Planned Parenthood dust-up. One business that has worked with Komen told the Breast Cancer Fund that it is interested in switching its support, said Ms. Rizzo. She declined to name the company.

Her charity also got an unexpected gift of $3,000 from a group of firefighters in Alameda County, Calif., who had originally intended to give the money to Komen. Subscribers to the fund’s Facebook page jumped by roughly 1,000 in the past week, Ms. Rizzo said, and a few big donors contacted the group last week and this past weekend seeking to increase their giving.

The Breast Cancer Fund, which focuses on preventing the disease, doesn’t make grants to Planned Parenthood but works with the organization on efforts to fight toxic chemicals and tackle other environmental concerns.

Separate Charities

The Avon Foundation for Women, perhaps Komen’s biggest competitor, has been scrambling to respond to supporters who want to know if the two nonprofits are affiliated. Avon released a statement on its Web site last week stating that the charities do not work together and clarifying the organization’s position on Planned Parenthood.

Karyn Margolis, a spokeswoman for Avon, says the charity has no restrictions on giving money to Planned Parenthood. But it has received only one grant application from a Planned Parenthood affiliate in the past five years, and the affiliate did not end up getting the money.

Ms. Margolis says that Avon fundraising events held over the weekend, which were scheduled before the Komen brouhaha, performed well. Her organization has seen its Web traffic increase in the past week, she said, but it’s hard to tell if that’s a result of the fundraising events or the Komen controversy.

Likewise, the American Cancer Society says it’s too early to tell if the events of the past week have affected the organization’s fundraising. In the past, the group has given grants to Planned Parenthood affiliates for anti-smoking work.

But Breast Cancer Action, which received nearly 3,000 signatures on a petition protesting Komen’s decision to end grants to Planned Parenthood, says it saw some of those online supporters make financial contributions, too.

The charity has long criticized Komen for accepting money from companies that Breast Cancer Action says engage in activities that harm people’s health. The group also says Komen focuses too much on calling attention to breast cancer and not enough on policy change.

Angela Wall, a spokeswoman for Breast Cancer Action, says the controversy could prompt a broader examination by the public of charities’ strategies in the breast-cancer fight.

“People are reassessing what’s been going on in breast cancer and what’s being done to change the way this epidemic is currently being addressed,” she says. “The pink ribbon did a lot to get us to a place of awareness, but for a long time, we’ve been saying, 'We have enough awareness.’”