Lawsuits "for the cure?" That's Wrong

Cranky, self-serving competitiveness can undermine values-driven enterprises and waste a lot of scarce resources.

Yes, it's Susan G. Komen for the Cure again but Komen's flaunted, vaunted pink is just the most noticeable example.

An update: It has come to light that $1 million of donations to cure cancer is instead paying lawyers to sue other cancer-fighting organizations who use "for the cure" and/or pink ribbons.

I'm surprised the organization isn't trying to copyright the color pink. Well, actually, it is. Its lawyers apparently threatened to sue a nonprofit that raises funds for lung cancer if it ever used the color pink.

Stephen Colbert, a self-proclaimed supporter of Komen, ridiculed the organization's action. 

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Those sued are small organizations usually started, just like Komen was, by families trying to offset the pain of a loved one's death from cancer. They raise money through bake sales and kite-flying contests. They are not using the phrase or the color to promote commercial ventures (like fried chicken or something).

Donor funds to take legal action against other nonprofits with the same mission?

That's just wrong!

Joe Sullivan just wrote about the plethora of overlapping organizations that confuse the public rather than further causes. He envisioned a 2011 movement in which entities such as JUMO,, Care2 and WiserEarth would link up to bring the real people who care about similar causes together in person, thus creating the power to make real change.

But then there's Geoff Livingston, who asks "How will a cancer org separate itself from LIVESTRONG, the American Cancer Society and Komen to stand out and really make a difference for those interested in resolving cancer?"in a plea for differentiation and competition.

Differentiation is great if you are different. But using lawsuits and artifice to give the impression of differentiation is a waste of money that nonprofits cannot afford.

The passionate kite-flyers and cupcake bakers want to spread the word about cancer prevention, advocate for more cancer research, and provide support in local communities.

Komen could have spent $1 million to provide handouts with information about cancer prevention, early detection or support groups along with tips for running a successful fundraiser. With a Komen logo on the corner of the handouts, such collaboration would build awareness and goodwill for Komen as well as serving Komen's mission.

It would have been a collaborative effort but would not have stifled competition or prevented innovation.

That approach is deemed "socialist" and "utopian" by Livingston, rather strong Glenn-Beckish words. I hope his attitude doesn't portend the kind of differentiated gridlock that Beck advocates.

There is redundancy out there, one example of which is JUMO vs. crowdrise vs, as Sullivan said. Are other nonprofits wasting money on overlapping functions or are they each different enough to justify their existence?

Of course competition is good, but in the values-driven world, competition is good when it brings truly new solution, not just replications of old ones with new graphics. Or lawsuits. The key is to know when to collaborate and when to light your own fire.

I want collaboration, not absorption, sharing resources rather than reinventing the wheel. One email in my inbox about raising money for cancer research (with maybe a check box for specific cancers) instead of 15 which then become unread spam.

I think not.

Is collaboration the road to mediocrity? Will innovation die if nonprofits work together? What's your experience?

Out of Context

Boy, that was a sensational misrepresentation of my post on differentiation. Please consider the context of the original post. It had nothing to do with Komen.

I totally think Komen has completely prostituted itself. They are the classic demonstration of why nonprofits should not be run like a business. Whether it's suing people for $1 million or licensing their name to Smith & Wesson, Komen has no sense of its real purpose.

It's not about Komen

Komen was an example only. Just because one nonprofit has misused business principles,  we need not assume that others cannot use good business practices while still focused on mission. Social enterprises do it all the time.

Collaboration Is Key

"I want collaboration, not absorption, sharing resources rather than reinventing the wheel." I completely agree with this statement. Even in grade school we were taught that collaboration was the key to creating win win situations rather than zero sum gains. Many don't understand or realize that not every transaction or action has to be a win lose situation. My family used to have prepaid cell phones and every few months to a year new phones kept on coming out. Companies just want your money and they make "new products" so that you will have to keep buying the newer versions (Eg iPad 1, 2, 3 etc.) Collaboration is the key to success, but many people are too greedy for collaboration ever to work on a larger scale.


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