Growing up, I always knew I wanted to be a writer. I express myself through words; writing is my art. In spite of my creativity, the logical side of my personality is heavily understated. As much as I grew up writing poetry, I also was born and raised as the accountant’s daughter. I was working in my father’s CPA office beginning at the age of 13. By the time I graduated high school, I was managing all of my father’s client invoices. When I was studying for my MA degree, I enrolled into graduate-level stats and econometrics and conducted my masters thesis research. And now for my day job, I work at a public polling and research consulting firm. I’m sometimes sifting through hundreds of pages of raw survey results in order to analyze trends emerging from the data. Math might not be my strong suit, but I’ve worked hard to build my logical reasoning skills over the years.
Personally, what I love about numberical data is that unlike words, none of it can be bullshit. And particularly, in the wonderful world of accounting, if you try to bullshit your financial statements, then the IRS is going to audit your ass.
That being said, I’d like to segueway into my main topic for this week’s blog post: the Susan G. Komen Foundation and their program funding. Over the last five years, especially after they tried parting ways with Planned Parenthood, the Susan G. Komen Foundation has faced public scrutiny regarding its finances. How are fundraising dollars really being spent? When I buy something that has a pink ribbon on it, where is the money actually going? I mean, the whole hype of all these damn pink ribbons is to develop research that finds a cure for breast cancer…right?
Well, I wanted to investigate a little, and so yesterday morning I visited their webpage where they have their financial reports listed (because what else would I do while I’m eating breakfast). At first, I consulted their 2015 fiscal year annual report, which is all nice and polished looking, including pictures of scientists in lab coats engaging in high stakes research. In regards to their research impact, they talk about the millions of dollars that have been spent on biomedical research. And I sat there scratching my head, thinking to myself, “No, no I want to see the real dollars and cents here, because there’s some bullshit here, I can feel it.”
Sure enough, I then consulted their 2015 – 2016 audited financial statement, which I’ll admit, I applaud them on making the document easily accessible on their website. There’s so much about that statement I still want to analyze, but what struck me was page 6, their consolidated statement of functional expenses. The expense report is broken down into two main subcategories: Program Services and Supporting Services. Within their program services there are four categories: Research, Public Health Education, Health Screening Services and Treatment Services.
Want to guess which of the four program services was the lowest?
If you guessed research services, well you’re wrong. Treatment services was the lowest at approximately $13 million. Health screening services were the next lowest at approximately $27 million. Research services scrapped up around $34 million. And health education? Try $105 million.
From there, out of all the itemized expenses listed within health education finances, marketing and communications costs were the highest, reporting at $38 million. That alone cost more than what the Susan G. Komen Foundation spent on all their total combined expenses related to research!
When I discovered all this, my jaw dropped. If education accounts for more than three times of their expenses than research services, not to sound cold-hearted but what is so important about all this education? And why are they spending oodles and oodles of cash on marketing their health education services? Curious, I returned back to their 2015 annual report, and learned that their education program in essence entails providing information about general breast health, support and resources via a telephone hotline, their website, community canvassing and a corporate sponsorship with Walgreens. In short, that’s basically breast cancer awareness.
Ok, that sounds nice and all, but apparently I’m not the only one that’s skeptical of the health education funding. In the critical words of Gayle Sulik, sociologist at the University of Albany and author of the 2011 book Pink Ribbon Blues: How Breast Cancer Culture Undermines Women’s Health, published in Reuters back in 2012, “What they’re (Komen) best at is awareness, which you could also call publicity. Getting out the word that breast cancer exists is what they excel at – that and raising money.” The article goes on to state that health education funding equates to awareness funding. Similarly, other blogs that look into these expenses on public education, which you can see here and here, come to the same conclusion — health education funds merely translate into effective advertising.
We don’t need more pink ribbons shoved down our throats from intense marketing strategies done in the name of health education. We certainly don’t need more pink in this world if it’s primarily just all an advertising campaign for the Susan G. Komen Foundation in disguise. Rather, it’s imperative that if we really want to end breast cancer, there must be more funding allocated towards quality research that assesses not only how to better diagnose and treat breast cancer, but how to prevent it and address its causes. Health education alone will not achieve this goal. With this in mind, we need to hold the Susan G. Komen Foundation accountable for their program expenses, because otherwise, all these pink ribbons mean absolutely nothing.
I know that sometimes it might seem like I’m criticizing the Komen Foundation and the pink ribbon movement because I’m spiteful that my mom passed away from this disease fifteen years ago. And maybe that’s true to a certain extent. But after reading this post, I hope you’ve scratched your head in skepticism at least once, because regardless of my own personal feelings, these expense reports certainly raise some real questions about how much research is actually being accomplished.