NPR

Komen Struggles To Regain Footing, And Funding

Participants at the 2012 Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure Southern Arizona in Tucson. As in several other regions, enrollment in the fundraising event was down this year. (NPR)

It's Race for the Cure season in many parts of the U.S. The signature fundraisers of the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation draw crowds of men, women and children dressed in pink to city streets around the nation each year.

The national breast cancer charity's decision to cut — and then restore — funding to Planned Parenthood created a firestorm early this year. The decision generated heated debate and led to the resignation of a number of the organization's top leaders.

Now, some local affiliates are feeling the impact of the controversy as well. While some cities are reporting Race for the Cure turnout in line with previous years, others are not.

Fundraising Challenges

Dallas-based Susan G. Komen for the Cure has held six of its signature Race for the Cure fundraisers since the Planned Parenthood controversy began in late January. The charity said Friday that it has had difficulty meeting fundraising targets in about half of those events.

Leadership Changes

Several executives have announced resignations since February. Some have cited personal reasons for leaving their posts.

  • Karen Handel, senior vice president for public policy
  • LaSalle Leffall Jr., chairman of the board (resigned chairmanship, but will remain on the board of directors)
  • Nancy Macgregor, vice president of global networks
  • Chris McDonald, CEO of Komen's Oregon and Southwest Washington affiliate
  • Katrina McGhee, executive vice president and chief marketing officer
  • Joanna Newcomb, director of affiliate strategy and planning
  • Dara Richardson-Heron, CEO of Komen's Greater New York City affiliate

Dallas attorney Robert Taylor will replace LaSalle Leffall Jr. as chairman of the board.

Source: AP, Reuters

In Tucson, Ariz., runners and walkers poured across the starting line of the Southern Arizona Susan G. Komen Race for the cure on Sunday. The walkers created waves of pink — the color of breast cancer awareness — with their pink T-shirts, pink ribbons and pink signs saying "Save the Tatas."

There were no protest signs, but there were fewer racers than usual: about 7,000 this year, compared with 10,000 in 2011 — a 25 percent drop.

Glen Caron walked with his wife and baby to support a co-worker with breast cancer. Like some other walkers, Caron was oblivious to the controversy. "We don't follow politics too much, so ... we're just focused on a cure for cancer. And this is our small part that we can do," Caron says.

Others, like Kay Chambers, were quick to respond when asked about the controversy. Chambers says she supports both Susan G. Komen for the Cure and Planned Parenthood.

"I think they're both important agencies and have great services for people. And it doesn't change my mind about the walk," Chambers says. "It doesn't change my mind about the purposes of the Komen folks. But it's just too bad that it had to work out that way."

Ofie Gonzales. who is undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer, joined the walk in a wheelchair pushed by her family. She says she's "disgusted" with the way Komen handled the Planned Parenthood issue.

"I didn't think they thought about it clearly," Gonzales says. "So, I think they just ... made a boo-boo."

People who were upset enough to withdraw, of course, didn't show up Sunday. Amarie Whetton, part of a women's health group from Raytheon Missile Systems, says fewer people raced on her group's team this year.

"Yeah, we did have a hard time getting people. We had to bring in people from the Susan G. Komen foundation to come in and talk at work to get them to sign up," Whetton says.

Jamie Leopold, director of the Southern Arizona Komen chapter, is the one doing the talking. She says she has spread the word about the fundraiser at local businesses, community groups and churches.

Her chapter depends on the race for 85 percent of its budget and uses those funds for breast cancer treatment, screening and education programs.

Planned Parenthood of Southern Arizona has not asked for money from Komen. But if it had, Leopold says she would have distanced herself from the national organization's original decision.

"We were very clear that you do not intrude on grants guidelines at the local level," Leopold says. "And we would have adhered to our grant-making process — that would have allowed any legitimate nonprofit into our grants competitive process."

Leopold says the national controversy upset people on both sides of the issue locally. And she says that's actually led to some valuable discussions.

"What we actually need in this nation is deliberative dialogue across the lines. I've been listening to people, whether they're pro-life or pro-choice," Leopold says. "They do not want to see politics in women's health."

While participation in the Southern Arizona Komen Race for the Cure is down, it's too early to tell how much actual donations to the group might drop. If there's a significant decline, the Southern Arizona chapter may have to look at cutting some grants.

If that comes to pass, Leopold says mammogram screening and cancer treatment would be the last to go. The first, she says, would be education programs.

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Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

In many parts of the country, it's the season of Race for the Cure. That's the event organized by the breast cancer foundation called Susan G. Komen for the Cure. Well, after a recent controversy, it appears fewer people may be participating in the races. A few months ago, the charity angered many by deciding to cut funding for Planned Parenthood. It later reversed that decision. Now, some cities are reporting turnout in line with previous years but others are not.

NPR's Ted Robbins was at this weekend's race in Tucson, where attendance was down 25 percent.

(SOUNDBITE OF COUNTDOWN)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMEN: Ten, nine, eight, seven, six...

TED ROBBINS, BYLINE: Runners and walkers poured across the starting line of the Southern Arizona Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure. Waves of pink, the color of breast cancer awareness, pink T-shirts, pink ribbons, pink signs saying, Save the Ta-Tas.

No protest signs, but there were fewer racers, about 7,000 compared with 10,000 last year. No one seemed to be talking about why and some, like Glen Caron, who walked with his wife and baby to support a coworker with breast cancer, were oblivious to the controversy.

GLEN CARON: No. We don't follow politics too much, so this is - we're just focused on a cure for cancer and this is our small part that we can do.

ROBBINS: Others, like Kay Chambers, were quick with a response when asked about the controversy. Chambers said she supports both Komen and Planned Parenthood.

KAY CHAMBERS: I think they're both important agencies and have great services for people. And it doesn't change my mind about the walk. It doesn't change my mind about the purposes of Komen folks, but it's just too bad that it had to work out that way.

ROBBINS: Ofie Gonzales was in a wheelchair being pushed by her family. She's undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer. She said she's disgusted - her word - with how Komen handled the Planned Parenthood issue.

OFIE GONZALES: I didn't think that they thought about it clearly, you know. So, I think they just - they made a booboo.

ROBBINS: People who were upset enough, of course, didn't show up. Amarie Whetton was part of a woman's health group from Raytheon Missile Systems. She says fewer people raced on their team this year.

AMARIE WHETTON: Yeah. And we did have a hard time, though, getting people. We had to bring in people from the Susan G. Komen Foundation to come in and talk at work in order to get people to sign up.

ROBBINS: Jamie Leopold has been the one doing the talking.

JAMIE LEOPOLD: Literally, I've been going to businesses, community groups, churches.

ROBBINS: Leopold is Southern Arizona Komen chapter director. The chapter depends on the race for 85 percent of its budget. With that money, it funds breast cancer treatment, screening and education programs.

Planned Parenthood of Southern Arizona has not asked for money from Komen. If it had, Leopold said she'd distance herself from the original national decision.

LEOPOLD: We were very clear that you do not intrude on grants guidelines at the local level, and we would have adhered to our grant-making process that would have allowed any legitimate nonprofit into our grants competitive process.

ROBBINS: Jamie Leopold says the national controversy upset all sides locally, which she says actually led to some valuable discussion.

LEOPOLD: What we actually need in this nation is deliberative dialogue, a chance to talk and listen to one another across the lines. And, actually, I've been listening to people, whether they're pro-life or pro-choice around, they do not want to see politics in women's health.

ROBBINS: While participation in the Southern Arizona Komen Race for the Cure was down, it's too early to tell how much donations might drop. If it's significant, the Southern Arizona chapter may have to look at cutting some grants. Jamie Leopold says the last to go would be mammogram screening and cancer treatment. The first would be education programs.

Ted Robbins, NPR News, Tucson.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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