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The Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation Business Information, Profile, and History

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Our mission is to eradicate breast cancer as a life-threatening disease by advancing research, education, screening and treatment. For more than 20 years, the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation has led our nation's charge in the fight against breast cancer. Nancy Goodman Brinker founded the Komen Foundation in 1982 to honor a promise she made to her older sister Susan Goodman Komen. Suzy was just 36 years old when she died of breast cancer. At that time, breast cancer was rarely discussed in public and little was known about the disease.

History of The Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation

The Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation is a leading advocacy group in the fight against breast cancer. The Komen Foundation is one of the nation's largest private funders of cutting-edge research, which has led to scientific breakthroughs such as the discovery of the BRCA-1 gene. The Komen Foundation promotes awareness of breast cancer in the United States and abroad. Komen is a textbook study in cause-related marketing. Marketers of consumer goods ranging from yogurt to cars have launched special promotions to support the Foundation. More than half the group's donations come from the well-known Komen Race for the Cure Series. More than a simple fundraiser, the Series is an educational vehicle to get people active and involved in the cause. Participants are invited to wear pink back signs in honor and memory of loved ones who have fought breast cancer, while survivors are encouraged to celebrate their survival by wearing pink caps and T-shirts. The Komen Foundation also supports public education, screening, treatment, and advocacy.

Formed in 1982

The Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation was started by Nancy Brinker in honor of her sister who had died of the illness. A former model and homecoming queen, Susan Goodman Komen passed away on August 4, 1980 after fighting breast cancer for three years. She was just 36 years old. Her sister, Nancy Brinker, had promised her she would do something to help other women with the disease. Susan had apparently died after poorly considered treatment options, and patient education would be a key part of the Komen Foundation's mission. The group was launched in Texas in 1982 by Brinker.

Brinker was not the first advocate for breast cancer patients. First Lady Betty Ford had prompted a surge in mammograms in 1974 after she told the country she had breast cancer, helping to open a dialogue about the disease. At the time, there was a taboo about discussing breasts in public. Ford became an enthusiastic early supporter of the Komen Foundation.

Brinker was perhaps ideally qualified for her role as advocate. She relates in her book Winning the Race that at age six she had helped her sister stage a neighborhood variety show to raise money for the Polio Association. She was married to Norman Brinker, an entrepreneur who had launched the national restaurant chains Steak & Ale and Chili's Inc. In addition, notes PR Week, Brinker had picked up some marketing sense from her former boss, Neiman Marcus founder Stanley Marcus. Brinker was ranked one of the 20th century's most important women by Ladies Home Journal.

The Komen Foundation was started with just $200 and a shoebox full of names. One of the earliest fundraising events was a polo tournament that raised $30,000 to benefit Houston's M.D. Anderson Hospital. By the end of 1983, the Foundation had raised $150,000, according to Winning the Race. Brinker later told Business Week the local oil boom had helped the Foundation's early fundraising efforts.

In 1983, Brinker decided to hold a 5K road race, tapping into the popularity of jogging to get people involved. The first Komen Race for the Cure was held on October 2, 1983 in Dallas and drew 800 people. Though the Race started as a simple community involvement experience and annual mammogram reminder, it later evolved into the Komen Foundation's signature event. Peoria, Illinois, hometown to the Goodman sisters, held its first Race for the Cure in 1985, when 1,250 women participated. Nineteen years later, in 2004, it drew 30,000 people, or one-fifth the town's population, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. Peoria was also home to one of the first branches of the Komen Foundation's Affiliate Network.

In 1984, Brinker herself was diagnosed with breast cancer, adding "survivor" to her many roles. Her diagnosis did not appear to slow her down. "She is one of the most outstanding and effective women I know," Ross Perot told The Dallas Morning News, which published a detailed profile of Brinker in December 1987. By this time, the Komen Foundation had raised more than $4 million and had 400 volunteers.

While cause-related marketing had been practiced by the March of Dimes and other charities, the Komen Foundation took the concept to new levels. Early attempts to place mammogram reminder tags with new bras were repulsed by marketers unwilling to associate their products with the disease. However, Brinker recalled in a memoir, changing demographics were on her side. Women's participation in the job market was increasing, bringing them new importance as consumers. Companies eventually warmed to the cause as a way to connect with female buyers.

Nearby Baylor University Medical Center joined the Komen Foundation on a number of projects including a toll-free information line. By 1990, the two were developing a $12 million cancer hospital and research center in partnership with the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.

Advancing the Cause: 1990-2000

Komen Race for the Cure events were held in nine cities in 1990. Runner's World published a profile of the series in its July 1991 issue. The Foundation had assets of $3 million by this time, and the group was raising more than $1 million a year. There were four prongs to its mission. Besides raising money for breast cancer research and promoting greater awareness of the disease, it also funded screenings and treatments for low-income women. By the mid-1990s, the Komen Foundation had funded more than 170 grants. The Race for the Cure Series, which had spread to four dozen cities, was the chief funding source. Susan Braun, a veteran of Bristol-Myers Squibb, became the Foundation's CEO in 1996, and more professional staff were hired.

Federal government spending on breast cancer research was also growing, quadrupling to $400 million in four years, noted the Houston Chronicle. Komen's advocacy efforts went beyond calls for more federal spending. It successfully lobbied for passage of quality standards for mammograms. The Mammography Quality Standards Act became law in 1992. In earlier years, the group had successfully pushed for state legislation requiring insurance companies to pay for mammograms for women over 35.

The retail sector also stepped up its involvement during the 1990s. Manufacturers of women's clothing and household items were incorporating more of the color pink in their collections as they rolled out lingerie and other items to raise money and promote breast cancer awareness. In 1996, Lee Jeans began sponsoring another big fundraiser, Lee National Denim Day, in which employees at participating companies donated five dollars in exchange to wear blue jeans to work. The program, launched in the mid-1990s, brought in $1.5 million its first year. Yoplait USA, Inc. began its highly visible Save Lids to Save Lives campaign in 1997. The company, whose marketing was geared toward women, made a donation based on the number of specially printed pink lids mailed in by consumers.

By the end of the 1990s, scores of consumer brands, such as American Express and Ford Motor Company, had cause-related marketing tied to breast cancer. One survey reported that such promotions reached one-quarter of American women in 1998. Major retail chains such as Nordstrom's were providing funds and hosting events such as talks by survivors in their stores. J.C. Penney Co. was a national sponsor of the Komen Race for the Cure.

Yoplait became the national presenting sponsor of the Komen Race for the Cure Series in 2001. By this time, the Komen Foundation had more than 40,000 volunteers and 1.3 million participated in the Race for the Cure. (The first international Race had been held in Rome in May 2000; it drew 5,600 participants.)

20th Anniversary in 2002

At the time of its 20th anniversary in 2002, the Komen Foundation had raised more than $400 million and awarded more than $68 million in research grants. Corporate partners included American Airlines, BMW, Hallmark, Johnson & Johnson, the Kellogg Company, and Pier 1. The Komen Race for the Cure had grown to about 100 events worldwide. The U.S. government's annual spending on breast cancer research, treatment, screening, and education had increased to $766 million.

The Komen Foundation had more than 100 affiliates, which retained up to 75 percent of the funds they raised for local education and screening. The affiliates were sponsoring outreach programs to make screening and education accessible to underserved populations, including African-American and Hispanic communities. In 2004, nearly 1.5 million people took part in the Komen Race for the Cure, which brought in $97 million from the United States and abroad. By this time, noted Business Week, the Komen Foundation had raised a total of $630 million. Of this, $180 million was invested in research grants.

More than three million people visited the website, komen.org, in 2004, while the National Toll-Free Breast Care Helpline fielded 61,000 calls and 1,600 e-mails. In the fiscal year ended March 31, 2005, the Foundation and its affiliates had total revenues of more than $200 million. Three-quarters of that figure was spent on research, public health education, screening, and treatment services.

The cause continued to gain momentum, enlisting support from a variety of corporate partners and sponsors. Quilted Northern, New Balance, and Pier 1 all continued successful programs promoted during National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. A number of other special products tagged to donations were unveiled by makers of home goods, cosmetics, and a wide range of other products, including pink M&Ms candies. General Mills was extending the popular Yoplait mail-in lid program to its Country Hearth bread; Yoplait was also sponsoring its second annual Champions program to acknowledge leaders in the fight against breast cancer. In 2005 Nancy Brinker was honored with the esteemed Mary Woodard Lasker Award for Public Service in recognition for her unflagging efforts to eradicate breast cancer. By late 2005, the Komen Foundation and its affiliates had raised over $750 million to fund research, education, screening, and treatment for breast cancer.


  • Key Dates
  • 1982 Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation established.
  • 1983 First Komen Race for the Cure 5K race held in Dallas, Texas, with 800 participants.
  • 1990 Pink ribbons are distributed at the very first Komen National Race for the Cure in Washington, D.C., as a way to recognize breast cancer survivors.
  • 1997 Yoplait launches Save Lids to Save Lives.
  • 2000 First international Race for the Cure held in Rome.
  • 2004 Race for the Cure raises nearly $100 million.

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