Are the Komen critics right?

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The lime green meme makes two bold claims that fly in the face of month that is awash in altruistic pink: Breast Cancer Awareness Month. 

“Think before you pink,” it warns. The viral image goes on to claim, “Susan G. Komen only gives less than 20% of donations to cancer research.” The fourth and final line says, “Their CEO makes $684,000 a year.”

The unsigned photo calls into question the finances of the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, the most visible and inarguably best-funded of breast cancer organizations.

The criticism is easily sharable. But is it accurate? Our answer is: Yes and no.


We reviewed Komen Foundation’s IRS forms, which charities are required to file yearly. In the 2011/2012 fiscal year, founder and CEO Nancy G. Brinker was paid $684,000 plus $11,430 in “other compensation.”

After her salary drew fire, Brinker stepped down as CEO in 2013. She remained on the payroll with a salary of $480,000 until May 2015 when the Wall Street Journal says she resigned from her paid post.

Brinker remains in an unpaid role as a “top volunteer.”

Brinker founded Komen in 1982 after her sister, Susan G. Komen, died of breast cancer. She told the Journal that she was unpaid for the first 27 years she led the organization.

The Komen Foundation’s new CEO, Dr. Judith Salerno, is paid $475,000, according to the Komen website.

Komen’s federal tax forms list several other “highly compensated employees.”  Sixteen workers are paid more than $150,000 each; five are paid more than $250,000 annually.

LINK: Read the disclosure (PDF)

In a “special disclosure” regarding executive compensation that is posted on the Komen website, the foundation said its compensation structure “reflects the need to competitively attract and retain employees who can steward and grow our mission programs and raise the funds that support our work.”


Komen told the IRS that its mission is “ending breast cancer forever by empowering people, energizing science to find the cures and ensuring quality care for all people, everywhere.”

Through pink-clad fundraisers, Fortune 500 partnerships, highly-publicized weekend walks, as well as traditional donation drives, Americans contribute more than $100-million to Komen annually. Contrary to the meme that claims it only spends 20 percent of donor dollars on cancer research, records indicate most of what people give is spent supporting Komen’s core mission.

According to Charity Navigator, an independent website that objectively tracks and rates non-profit organizations, 80.3 percent of Komen expenses are program-related, such as health education, grants, and cancer research.

For comparison, program spending at the American Red Cross is 90 percent of contributions; the Smithsonian Institution is 77.9 percent; the Wounded Warrior project is 59.9 percent.  And some of the non-profits listed in Charity Navigator’s “Consistently Low Rated Charities” spend less than 10 percent on programs – devoting 90 percent to administration and fundraising.

At Komen, 8.9 percent of its expenses are listed as administrative in nature, while 10.7 percent of its spending covers fundraising costs.


Consumers should never give blindly. Always check a charity into charity’s finances before donating. Names are sometimes deceiving, so don’t let your generosity fund a fraud. We recommend using either of these free sites to do your homework.

Florida Gift Giver’s Guide:

Charity Navigator: