In the past 10 years, Susan G. Komen has faced challenges that only befall a nonprofit behemoth of its size and impact. Since it was founded in 1982, the international breast cancer nonprofit has contributed almost $1 billion in research, invested more than $2.2 billion in education, and has served communities across 60 countries. But since 2012, when Komen announced it would stop providing funds for programs at Planned Parenthood, and then quickly reversed that decision, Komen’s popularity has decreased. Add the criticism over how it distributed its funding and perhaps the over-saturation of all things pink, and it was clear that Komen was becoming a victim of its own success.
More recently, Komen seems to be taking an aggressive approach to recovery. Affiliates across the country are merging, including the affiliate in Central Texas. Last year, the regional affiliate, now called Susan G. Komen Greater Austin & East Texas grew to 58 counties and now includes Tyler and Waco. It’s foregoing office space, now working out of a co-working space in South Austin, and saving $40,000 a year on rent. And it has a new executive director, Jeannine O’Deens, who was promoted in January. Not only that, Austin Komen put an end to the Race for the Cure.
“The revenue from our biggest fundraising had been dwindling for a while,” said Elizabeth Green, the Austin Komen marketing and communications manager. “So we recognized that to turn this around, we’re going to have to band together and pull our resources. So what we’ve done is not just mergers, but we’ve completely changed that event.”
In 2019, the Austin affiliate joined others in replacing the famous Race for the Cure with the More Than Pink Walk. More than 4,500 people came out for the walk last September raising more than $500,000. The move from a run to a more social walk not only saved them expenses in closing streets and operating a timed race, it also refocused the events on the mission. “With the race, we found that the people who were most invested in the cause were walkers, not runners,” said Green. Komen also added educational and memorial elements to keep the event focused on the cause. “The response was really positive,” added Green.
With a 58-county coverage area and a nine-person staff, Austin Komen executive director O’Deens said, “Our strategies for community engagement are going to be critical for building our capacity. We’re going to be returning to our grassroots strategy of and invite community leaders across our region to join us in mission delivery and fundraising.”
Komen affiliates had an advocacy win in the most recent Texas legislative session with the passing of a bill that required health insurers to cover diagnostic imaging for mammograms. Before that, if a mammogram revealed a breast lump, the imaging to diagnose the lump was an out-of-pocket cost. It also continues to partner with clinics to provide free mammograms and education for low-income patients, and contributes to the global Komen research fund. “We’re transition to a focus on relationships,” said O’Deens. “And as we evolve, we also have to be more efficient with our mission delivery and our operations.”
NOTE: This article also appeared in the Austin American-Statesman on January 17, 2020.