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One of the biggest cancer charities is also one of the ugliest

Far from in the pink

If you’ve ever sweated through a 10K “run for the cure,” or if you’ve ever donated to Susan G. Komen for the cure, you probably did it because you want to help women beat breast cancer.

But what if I told you that a large chunk of the money you raised or donated goes to beat something else… Mom & Pop, grassroots charities?

Legal threats for a cure

Granted, some of the donations collected by Komen provide free or low-cost mammograms for women who are under-insured. (I wish they would promote safer, non-radiation screening methods, but at least when you donate or raise money for Komen, you know those funds are supporting early detection of breast cancer and cancer research.)

That is, PART of the funds.

According to reports in the Wall St. Journal and Huffington Post, Komen keeps a team of lawyers busy filing trademark oppositions. Komen attorneys have contacted more than 100 small charities, insisting they change the names of their organizations or their fund-raising events.

Yes, Komen wants to find “the cure”–but only as long as they’re the ones who find it.

You see, Komen owns the rights to the phrase “for the cure.” Or they act like they do. So according to Komen, organizations with names like Juggling for a Cure, Blondes for a Cure, Surfing for a Cure, and Cupcakes for the Cure are infringing on the Komen trademark.

Seriously! Cupcakes! How low can you go? Komen attorneys are actually strong-arming people who make and sell cupcakes to raise a few dollars to fight cancer!

That’s outrageous. But here’s what’s infuriating: That legal leaning often pushes these small operations into financial ruin.

Meet Sue Prom. She heads up a small breast cancer organization called Mush for the Cure. Her fundraising consists of an annual sled race in a small town in Minnesota. Or at least it did…until she heard from Komen lawyers who told her to change the name of the event or face an expensive legal challenge.

Prom told Huffington Post that she, her husband and a friend pay for expenses out of pocket. “We have t-shirts, sweatshirts, domain names, posters, stationery, all with ‘Mush for the Cure’ on it. What do we do with all the materials now?”

Komen doesn’t care what Prom does with the materials, as long as they’re not used.

And if you’re going to try to sneak in the phrase “for the cure” you better make sure there’s not a spot of pink. Because Komen apparently owns that, too. So any of these shoestring operations that use pink stationery, pink shirts, etc., are ordered to cease and desist. (I’m going to stop wearing my favorite scarf just to be safe. Technically, the color is called “lily pad” but I don’t want to risk it.)

Here’s the million dollar question (since that’s about how much money Komen devotes to legal fees each year): Is this really how you fight cancer?

Komen collects thousands of individual donations. But instead of devoting as much money as possible to research — you know, “for the CURE”–they use a large portion to fund legal attacks against charities with the same goal. Then all that litigation depletes the resources of small
charities–resources that could have been devoted to research–again, “for the CURE”!

You know, you can put a pink ribbon on a pig (with permission from Komen, of course) but it’s still a pig.

Sources:
“Susan G. Komen Foundation Elbows Out Charities Over Use of the Word ‘Cure'” Laura Bassett, Huffington Post, 12/7/10, huffingtonpost.com
“Charity Brawl: Nonprofits Aren’t So Generous When a Name’s at Stake” Clifford M. Marks, Wall St. Journal, 8/5/10, online.wsj.com

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