For more than 30 years, the Susan G. Komen foundation has been a behemoth in breast cancer philanthropy, inventor of two iconic marketing tools: the pink ribbon and the Race for the Cure.
But as revenues decline and expenses go up, the branding is getting a makeover.
Komen’s Philadelphia affiliate on Tuesday announced it is replacing its Race for the Cure — a 28-year Mother’s Day tradition attended by tens of thousands of pink-clad racers and walkers annually — with the Dallas-based organization’s new event, the More Than Pink Walk. By next year, all of Komen’s 66 affiliates will make the switch, according to the national headquarters in Dallas.
The Philadelphia walk will loop from the Art Museum and Eakins Oval — always the hub of the Race for the Cure — down the Parkway and around Logan Circle. The route will be cordoned off by bike-rack barriers and, unlike at the race, security guards will try to restrict the event to participants who have paid the registration fee, which tops out at $40. Early-bird registration lasts through Jan. 31 and costs $20.
Attendees can also register on-site or at the Philadelphia 201 Hotel on May 10 and 11.
The event will also start later in the morning than in previous years, ending around noon instead of 10 a.m., with the traditional parade of survivors down the steps of the Art Museum. After the walk, attendees can enjoy the “festival” portion of the event at the center of the oval.
More than half of Race for the Cure attendees in recent years did not register or donate, Komen Philadelphia officials said. Last year’s event still raised $1.1 million, but that was less than a third of the best-ever year, and $500,000 of that total went to cover production expenses. Only 500 attendees ran the 5K, while 9,500 opted to walk.
“We saw a real need … to move away from the fun-and-festival atmosphere that attracted people who weren’t necessarily motivated by the mission,” said Elaine Grobman, Komen Philadelphia’s chief executive officer. “As more and more people attended without registering, donating, or raising money, we had to rely more on sponsor dollars to cover the cost of accommodating and providing security for those huge crowds. So fewer dollars remained to support our mission.”
The famous pink — branding that has been criticized for years as stressing marketing over mission — won’t be mothballed, but Komen is trying to diversify its messaging. Tents, commemorative T-shirts, and “rally cloths” will be, well, more than pink.
“We will always be that pink vision, but we are more," Grobman said. "We are adding the strength of different messages identified with different colors. Research is purple. Caring is green. Community is blue. Orange is action.”
Former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, who has attended all 28 previous Race for the Cure events, said that the race became a victim of its own success because in his view, some people have lost sight of how urgent the race to find a cure for breast cancer is.
“These changes are changes for the better because we must continue to educate people,” he said during a news conference Tuesday. “I look forward to the day I can sleep in on Mother’s Day because no one is dying of breast cancer. We’re winning, but we might win the battle with more soldiers.”
Lorelei McGlade, a breast cancer survivor who has participated in the Race for the Cure for the last 10 years, said she appreciated Komen’s efforts to pursue new avenues of revenue for breast cancer research.
“As a survivor, mother, daughter, and a Latina, I thank them for not just being satisfied with the ways that things are going,” she said.
Metastatic breast cancer patients, who have traditionally felt overlooked amid the whimsy and optimism of the Race for the Cure, will get berry-colored T-shirts. Participants who register and raise at least $100 will get More Than Pink Walk shirts — a gray background splashed with all the new colors.
The changes may dismay some supporters, conceded Courtney Bugler, national director of the Race for the Cure/More Than Pink Walk. But she added that rebranding was needed since the races “haven’t been performing as well as in the past.”
“What we’ve seen in other markets that have pushed the More Than Pink Walk out, there are more people who are inspired than detractors,” Bugler said. “People understood better where our money goes. And they also raised more money.”
Komen says it has “invested more than $2.2 billion in research and life-saving community programs” in the U.S. and “through partnerships in more than 30 countries.” It is rebooting at a challenging time for disease-related charities in general and breast cancer in particular.
“I do not know if races and runs have the same support as in the past. It may just be that the approach is no longer attractive to the public,” said Fran Visco, of Philadelphia, president of the National Breast Cancer Coalition, an advocacy organization. “And there is much more competition among issues and across the many, many breast cancer organizations that have arisen.”
The advent of online crowdfunding sites such as GoFundMe and Kickstarter also has transformed fund-raising, said Jean Sachs, chief executive of Living Beyond Breast Cancer in Bala Cynwyd.
“We’re all starting to struggle with how do we create a loyal donor base,” she said. “People don’t want to be on your list. They don’t want to get your email.”
Komen, however, has weathered some especially rough patches. Its network has shrunk from more than 100 affiliates to 66. Its coffers took a big hit after the 2012 announcement that it would stop giving grants to Planned Parenthood for breast health services. (It quickly undid the decision, but the public relations fallout lingered.)
Komen also has been publicly faulted by some breast cancer activists for turning the movement into a cuddly, commercialized crusade — one that is still nowhere near curing a disease that annually strikes about 260,000 American women and kills 40,000.
For her part, Grobman is as galvanized as when she launched Philadelphia’s first Race for the Cure. She believes the changes will be well-received.
“I think we’ll get a minimum of 10,000 [walkers],” she said. “I’m hoping for 15,000. In my mind, I’d like to make $2 million.”