Buy a Pink Ribbon Lately? Where Your $$ Really Goes

Nancy Brinker
Susan G. Komen for the Cure Founder Nancy Brinker
As breast cancer awareness month winds down, the outcry over pinkwashing of America is only getting louder. And Nancy Brinker has had enough of it.

The founder of the Susan G. Komen for the Cure has come out this month to put an end to media reports that "buying pink" doesn't help the cause, and she's putting the money where her mouth is.


Cause-related marketing, the process by which a corporation emblazons its packaging with a pink Susan G. Komen ribbon to move product in exchange for a donation to the non-profit, brings in $55 million to the cause every year, Brinker tells The Stir.

"It's extraordinarily helpful to us," she says. "Not just because of the money, but because of the reach. We have very, very good partners. We vet them very carefully. We have programs that have structure."

They're structures that groups like Think Before You Pink vocally criticize, noting companies cap their donations to SGK, seemingly making more money than the non-profit off of the efforts.

"People often criticize and say they don't give enough money, but you don't look at the reach they have with their customers, their employees, in their communities, politically, every other way. We're saturating the public," is Brinker's answer. "If the AIDS groups had not saturated the public with red, do you think we'd have anti-retro-viral drugs?"

"There is not an advance -- hardly -- in the science of breast cancer that hasn't been funded by a Susan G. Komen grant over the last 30 years," she continues. "We have a portfolio of well over 600 or 700 million dollars in cutting edge science that we're funding at any one time. It rotates, it rolls over."

Another $8 to $9 million has been given to community outreach programs -- including covering the cost of screenings and education for women. One year of the cause-related marketing campaign can fund those programs six times over.

"Our mission is as much about funding the very best research as it is about translating and educating people," Brinker says. "If you don't do that, you end up taking care of a disease and some very wealthy people, but certainly not across cultures and not low resource people."

Even beyond the numbers, the challenge that women are already "aware" of breast cancer doesn't hold sway with Brinker.

"Awareness is still an issue. Every time there's a new article that comes out in the newspapers, like the hormone article recently, you've got to be able to translate it into lay language that people can understand," she responds. "Those reports are picked up, and they're translated by journalists who may not understand the issue."

"People are given information that's not complete. It causes fear, it causes a step backward, it gets people so confused they don't want to be part of it."

And the pink logo is there to encourage the camaraderie, to bring families into the fold.

"We have literally pinked the United States and the 40 other countries we are in," she says. "People want to be part of this. They're making their own promise to do this."

In doing so, they raise north of $300 million a year in grassroots funding for the cause. Combined with an income coming from other investments and the pink marketing, that helps the foundation continue to fund grants for breast cancer research each year.

"We have managed to almost eradicate death from very early breast cancer," Brinker says. "People sort of discard that, but 30 years ago the survival rate was 74 percent. Today it's 98 percent, and we're well on our way to the next piece, which is keeping people with aggressive forms of the disease alive longer and then discovering fully how to prevent, detect this disease."

"Susan G. Komen wasn't founded by a woman who left a billion dollars," Brinker continues. "It was a grassroots effort. It was a promise to my sister, a promise to a woman I loved very much."

That promise isn't just a bunch of pink ribbons.

Do these numbers surprise you?

Find out more about the woman behind the race for the cure.

Image via Susan G. Komen For the Cure

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