Suing for the Cure?

You’ve heard of the race for the cure. But what about kayaks for the cure, barks for the cure, blondes for the cure or kites for the cure? Recently, these and other charities have sprung up, making use of the popular phrase “for the cure” in breast cancer fundraising efforts. And while imitation is thought to be the sincerest form of flattery, leading breast cancer charity Susan G. Komen For the Cure thinks otherwise.

Leaders at Komen, the nonprofit that made “for the cure” a staple in fundraising vernacular, are none too happy with other charity groups capitalizing on what they claim is their phrase. In addition, they are warning cancer charities to stay away from using any pink in marketing efforts. To drive their point home, they recently announced a lawsuit to protect their marketing phrase and color use.

Amidst this legal battle, an interesting question arises: Is it ethical for a nonprofit to sue another nonprofit over a branding issue?

Some would say no, absolutely not. Komen is in the wrong because the issue here is mission, not money. Therefore, Komen should recognize and respect the fact that these kayakers, blondes, and other “for the cure” groups are all on the same team in the universal fight against breast cancer. After all, finding a cure is really what’s at the heart of all of these legal and branding issues, right?

Right. But to me, Komen’s legal pursuits make perfect sense-and actually do have the mission at heart. For-profit companies engage in trademark battles to protect their brands all the time. But when a nonprofit does it, it risks alienating the public it’s trying to serve. Not fair, I say. Komen is merely operating as a responsible financial entity-just as a business would-in an attempt to positively impact their bottom line. Which, in this case, is finding a cure.

Jonathan Blum, Komen’s general counsel, argued in a recent Wall Street Journal article, “We see it as responsible stewardship of our donor’s funds.” Makes sense. Having proved itself as a socially and financially responsible organization since its inception in 1982, Komen aims to ensure proper financial management of donations for the cure-that is, for the universal fight against breast cancer. Perhaps unspoken in these legal motions is the notion that these younger, less experienced organizations, while well-intentioned, might not be able to deliver the same kinds of financial returns to the cause as Komen, their fundraising elder.

Furthermore, logistically speaking, if confusion among names might cause a sizable donation intended for Komen to land on another charity’s books, then who can blame Komen for being so adamant about the trademark?

Komen is being seen as a bully. But in my opinion, they are just being business-minded. A perfectly fine quality; one that more nonprofits should embrace.

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