Officials at Komen Maryland say they're $1M short of fundraising goal

Facing a year of financial trouble that started with a national controversy over dropping monetary support for Planned Parenthood, Komen Maryland told its donors on Friday that the organization is $1 million short of reaching its current fundraising goal.

Brittany Fowler, spokeswoman for the Maryland affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, said cancer patients and survivors in the state could lose services, such as prepared meals, breast exams and aqua therapy, if the organization misses its local $3.1 million target by the end of the current fundraising year, which closes March 31, 2013.

Komen Maryland will decide in about six weeks what grants it can afford to award in the new year, Fowler said. More than two dozen programs received $2.2 million from local donations during the current year for a mix of breast cancer education, screening, treatment and support services.

"These services are pretty vital to this community," Fowler said. "Everyone knows someone who has been affected by breast cancer. It could help their mother, their sister, them, a family member, a co-worker, a neighbor.

"If Komen Maryland isn't able to grant as much money, we will have programs that won't have the capacity to offer the services they did last year," she said.

Fowler said the economy, coupled with the impact of the Planned Parenthood flap, is to blame for the organization's fundraising slump.

In early 2012, the national organization announced that it would stop pumping donations into Planned Parenthood centers, where breast cancer screenings — as well as abortions — are performed for women in low-income households. Komen quickly reversed its position, and officials in Maryland noted that the local affiliate has never received an application from Planned Parenthood for grant dollars.

Now, Komen Maryland must work to rebuild the public's trust and do more to communicate information about how the organization spends the money that's donated, Fowler said.

"When people feel that an organization is not being transparent, they are not inclined to make a donation," she said. "Planned Parenthood is a hot topic for a lot of people, and some people were automatically turned off and you had people who were a little bit confused or lost a little trust."

Brad Stevenson, a computer scientist from Essex, said that in the past, he went out of his way to support Komen by purchasing products or services with its signature pink ribbon, but he said he stopped backing the group when its leadership let personal politics get in the way of its mission.

"It felt like it was a crusade," Stevenson said. The Planned Parenthood decision was widely attributed to Komen's senior policy adviser and Maryland native, Karen Handel, who has since resigned her post.

Stevenson said the group's fundraising challenges aren't a surprise given the controversy.

The group had 30 percent fewer participants at its signature fundraising event, Race for the Cure, in October, Fowler said. Donations for the race were down 40 percent.

In addition to funding local Komen initiatives, 25 percent of the money raised by Komen locally goes to the national office for cancer research.

"Your gift is more than just a way to support your community; it is a way to build a better future," the organization told its donors in an email on Friday. "Each dollar helps provide services that are improving and saving the lives of women battling breast cancer and funding research to find the cures."

Jan Wilson, executive director of the Red Devils, one of the programs that receives grant dollars from Komen, said the Komen dollars help her group provide "rapid response to the day-to-day obstacles" local cancer patients face. The Baltimore-based group received $85,000 from Komen in the past year.

"Without the substantial grant support the Red Devils receives each year from Komen Maryland we would not be able to make an immediate impact on the quality of life for Maryland breast cancer families," Wilson said in a statement. "Patients who rely on us for transportation to treatment, meals and groceries, medical expense assistance and other emergency support service will have nowhere else to turn."