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Colorado Livin' / Events / Health / Non-Profit

Your opinion: A (Pink) Bone to Pick with the Susan G. Komen Foundation

I was taken aback when I read that the Susan G. Komen for the Cure was canceling their three-day walk for breast cancer in Colorado because, according to their PR agency, “it just didn’t meet financial goals.”

Nevermind the thousands of dollars Denverites have raised in what has became one of our city’s most highly-attended and beloved charity events.

Well, the fundraising giant’s public relations staff will be working overtime over their latest controversy: They are threatening legal actions around any other event and charities that use any variation of “for the cure” in their name.

Isn’t it just swell to think of donor’s funds going to such a “worthwhile” cause?

According to a Huffington Post article:

So far, Komen has identified and filed legal trademark oppositions against more than a hundred of these Mom and Pop charities, including Kites for a Cure, Par for The Cure, Surfing for a Cure and Cupcakes for a Cure–and many of the organizations are too small and underfunded to hold their ground.

“It happened to my family,” said Roxanne Donovan, whose sister runs Kites for a Cure, a family kite-flying event that raises money for lung cancer research. “They came after us ferociously with a big law firm. They said they own ‘cure’ in a name and we had to stop using it, even though we were raising money for an entirely different cause.”

Donovan’s sister, Mary Ann Tighe, said the Komen foundation sent her a letter asking her to stop using the phrase “for a cure” in their title and to never use the color pink in conjunction with their fundraising. What bothered her most about the whole ordeal, she said, was that Komen forced her to spend money and time on legal fees and proceedings instead of raising funds for cancer.

So let me get this straight. Not only is the Susan G. Komen Foundation threatening legal action for using “for the cure,” but we’re not allowed to wear pink in association with fundraising?

Good thing I avoid pink because it clashes with my strawberry-blond hair.

I understand the importance of branding and trademark protection. Big corporations like Nintendo and Disney spend millions of dollars of dollars in the process. But doesn’t it seem like a charitable fundraising foundation shouldn’t be bullying other smaller, lesser-known charities that are just trying to make a difference for their unrelated causes?

According to Komen’s general counsel Jonathon Blum, the legal fees comprise “a very small part” of Komen’s budget but their financial statements say otherwise: Such costs add up to almost a million dollars a year in donor funds.

Susan G. Komen has indisputably raised a tremendous amount of money and has led the fight against breast cancer but it’s reports like this that make me feel like they’re getting too big for their britches. I have many dear friends who have had breast cancer and want to fight it as much as the next person.

But it won’t be through the Susan G. Komen Foundation.

Amber Johnson
Author: Amber Johnson

Amber is the founder and editor of Mile High Mamas, travel writer and former columnist for The Denver Post. She is a passionate community builder and loves the outdoors. She has two awesome teens and is happily married to a man obsessed with growing The Great Pumpkin.

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Amber is the founder and editor of Mile High Mamas, travel writer and former columnist for The Denver Post. She is a passionate community builder and loves the outdoors. She has two awesome teens and is happily married to a man obsessed with growing The Great Pumpkin.


  1. Like you, I don’t want to discredit Susan G. Komen foundation. My mom is a breast cancer survivor and we did the walk every year. When I heard the reason for pulling out, I was saddened. We raised thousands of dollars and I know we weren’t alone. But hearing something like how litigation happy they are re: small charities? Gimme a break. They need to focus on what they’re good at (raising money) and putting that money to good use, not useless lawsuits.

  2. There are so many other charities where money can be raised that help other cancers; The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training and DetermiNation for the American Cancer Society.

    Don’t fret. There are always great causes out there that need your $$.

  3. I’m not out to crucify the foundation because I know they do a lot of good. But stories like this just drive me crazy. You’d think they’d be supportive of other charities trying to raise money for their own causes?!

    Another thing that drove me nuts: several of SGK’s publicists were some of the rudest I’ve ever worked with. They just acted so entitled for people to give them promotion and when we did, they didn’t say even one word of thanks. I really would love to see them get back to their roots before they became such a powerhouse or to use the audience/following they’ve built for the good, not the bullying.

  4. So no one can strive “for a cure” b/c it’s trademarked? Seems more like a business than caring.

  5. I am with you, Amber. I am very dismayed that they go after mom and pop, small, local charities with their highly paid legal resources. Smaller charities don’t stand a chance. I understand they must protect their trademarks. I question whether they should have been granted a trademark on “for the cure” or pink ribbons in the first place.

    To me, it sends the message that marketing is of utmost importance. Look at all the pink junk that pops up in stores every October. I heard someone call it “pinkwashing.”

    There are so many great causes out there. I’d rather support a smaller charity because it’s far more likely the money raised will go directly to patients and/or research, not a lawyer’s bank account.

  6. Wow! I’ll make sure our money goes to a smaller charity before Susan G. Komen. That is just ridiculous!

  7. No I think since we are all fighting for a cure and they are just being petty.

  8. SGK is nothing more than a business venture masqueradi­ng as a charity.

    Our town has had Race for the Cure events for years. A few years ago, the local paper dug into the whole thing, and found that not a dime of money raised by the racers ever went to Charity…­It was all consumed by Tee Shirts, Organizing Fees, and (of course), the Organizers pay checks.

    When asked what the point was, the organizers replied that “They were raising Breast Cancer Awareness.­”

    As if people aren’t aware already.

  9. I’m a huge supporter of Komen for the Cure, as my family has had a rough history with breast cancer. I’ve done a lot of fundraising for them. But this does make me sad… I agree with the statement about “too big for their britches” in this scenario though. It just gives me a little concern for the future, the greed in our society is crazy.

  10. That HuffPost article also said the fundraisin­g powerhouse has a legal duty to protect its more than 200 registered trademarks­.

    THIS is where your Komen money is going. Why on Earth do they need 200 TRADEMARKS?

  11. Now I will be VERY CAREFUL when it comes to donating/ buying products that support big charity(?) groups like Susan G. Komen for the Cure. Like what everyone else says, I will always donate directly to local charity groups. Big charity groups can never be trusted 100%. All cancers are equally horrible and need any kind of help they can get. It’s really disappoint­ing to see them go after small charity groups trying to raise money to do good things. In my opinion, small charity groups are more trustworth­y than the big ones like Komen. If anything, they should be willing to help out other charity groups because they are such a huge group anyway. This is really sad to see.

  12. Great article as always Amber!

    I was stunned when I saw that they pulled out of Denver because our market wasn’t as big as others. Our money was just as needed to help the research, help women get mammograms every year and yes… the knowledge that they “get the word” out there is necessary, but the word is out.. why not put those funds to good use.

    I personally do the “Making Strides Against Breast Cancer” every year because it’s through the American Cancer Society. They don’t have a minimum to walk and I love getting money for them. If you are looking for a group to donate to this is worth it!

    If you want to donate/walk this year, I’ll be doing it again under Team Pink Lily.

  13. If anyone wants to donate to a WONDERFUL Breast Cancer non-profit, I would love to suggest Pennies in Action. They are serious about finding a cure for breast cancer – not just making money like some other foundations are. There link is:

  14. It’s amazing to me how much “overhead” eats up the donations. It’s sad. It’s my understanding that they’ll still be doing the Race for the Cure in Denver, just not the 3-day event, right?

    Either way, it’s too bad more of the money that is donated couldn’t actually be spent “for the cure.”

  15. I am quite sure every penny donated to Huntsman Cancer Center goes directly to research, just FYI. There are tons of charities out there, and you would really have to look into them to know exactly where the money goes.

  16. All of these walking/biking/running fundraisers spend money to raise money. Sadly, they do get people to raise more money than they might donate independently and they do raise awareness. And so, in that sense I support what they do, although I prefer if there was another method to raise lots of money and raise awareness for important causes like finding a cure for breast cancer.

    I think it is unethical to treat themselves like a trademark and sue smaller organizations trying to do similar work. I looked at their 990 form from 2009 ( for the national office and they spent more on bank fees than legal fees (about $600k on bank fees and about $500k on legal), while they donated about $75 million in grants that presumably went towards breast cancer research.

    So financially speaking, I’d say Komen is raising the funds and doing good like they should be…that said I think you are absolute right to voice your displeasure at their legal and trademark tactics. Constructive criticism is a good thing. Play nice, be nice, and have public discourse about what is ethical. If people like us don’t speak up, we are silently giving our consent for unethical activities.

  17. It is sad that a charity has morphed into a corporate bully. How is it possible that they can act like they own the color pink? Crazy! So much for doing good for honorable reasons.

  18. This really gets my dander up.

  19. That’s sad. Everyone is trying to make a difference any way they can. Way to ruin it!

  20. I’m with you – not only that but I think they have destroyed the kitchen gadgets industry…. what’s with the pink waffle iron?

  21. You’re not alone is this. Why would they act this way…seriously? Especially when people are only trying to help and raise money for their corporation. That’s messed up!

  22. “Not-For Profit” is big business. The CEO of Komen, Nancy Brinker makes just under $500,000 a year.” I’m sure they have many other well paid salaried employees that are paid 6 figures as well. It is their job to protect the organization that writes their checks. Many of these decisions are made by employees that care more about their jobs than the cause.

  23. Oh my, what!? Race for the cure is just a huge pharma-industrial medical cartel suckering gullible women into walking in a circle while opening their families (husbands) checkbooks to a multi- trillion dollar corporation? Silly me..

  24. Wonderful article, Amber!

    Like many, I’ve done the Denver RFTC and later Slept In For The Cure and it’s downright sad they’ve turned into a PR machine (with crummy attitudes to boot).

    I’m totally w/ BB: Please, no more pink gadgetry!

  25. Wow, I think the SGK foundation is absolutely disgusting. Not that it isn’t a good cause, but if they are wasting people’s hard-earned money we have donated to bully smaller charitable organizations, they aren’t getting another penny from me. Ever. I say, why not continue to do a breast cancer walk, and just send the proceeds to a different foundation? One that actually uses the money for research, not bullying?

  26. The Susan G. Komen for the Cure operates just as any large “for profit” corporation would opporate. They have built their trademark for the cure and the pink ribbon and have worked very hard to build the brand into what it is. It is thru this brand building that they have been able to give very large sums of money for programs and research for the prevention and cure of breast cancer. Although some of the aspects of running an organization like Komen may seem to be unfair, or be clasified as corporate bullying, they are trying to protect what they have worked so hard to build. If we were running a business and one area of that business wasn’t making us money, would we continue with that area… no we wouldn’t. If someone were trying to build their “business” off of our tagline would we be upset? Sure we would. It’s not personal… it’s business.

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