Susan Komen CEO's Salary Draws Fire as Donations Drop

Nancy Brinker, Founder, Susan G. Komen for the Cure.
Karen Bleier | AFP | Getty Images
Nancy Brinker, Founder, Susan G. Komen for the Cure.

When the Susan G. Komen Foundation announced last week that it was canceling half of its three-day races next year, the charity blamed the economy. But it also acknowledged that its decision to stop providing funds to Planned Parenthood was a factor.

In early 2012, Komen announced it was pulling its grants for breast-cancer screenings from Planned Parenthood, drawing an immediate backlash from Komen supporters and abortion rights advocates. Within days, Nancy Brinker, the group's founder and CEO, reversed the decision to defund the organization. Then, in August, Brinker announced that she would be stepping down.

But 10 months later, Brinker still holds her position and tax documents reveal that she received a 64-percent raise and now makes $684,000 a year, according to the charity's latest available tax filing. Komen said the raise came in November 2010, prior to last year's controversy.

Ken Berger, president and CEO of Charity Navigator, which evaluates and rates charities, called Brinker's salary "extremely high."

"This pay package is way outside the norm," he said. "It's about a quarter of a million dollars more than what we see for charities of this size. ... This is more than the head of the Red Cross is making for an organization that is one-tenth the size of the Red Cross."

The American Red Cross had revenue of about $3.4 billion, while Komen's was about $340 million last year. Red Cross CEO Gail McGovern makes $500,000, according to the most recent financial documents available for the charity.

Komen Foundation spokeswoman Andrea Rader told NBC News via email that Brinker "did not receive a pay increase in 2011 and did not accept one in 2012, nor will she receive one in 2013."

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"Our CEO pay reflects the comprehensive and global nature of our work," she said. "We fund research; we grant to thousands of community health and breast cancer patient support programs; we advocate for access to cancer care through our public policy programs, and we're active in breast cancer programs in 30 countries, with an emphasis on serving women in low- and middle-resources nations."

Stacey Tillman of Sandusky, Ohio, donated a few hundred dollars a year to Komen, but she stopped after the Planned Parenthood announcement.

"It just seemed a betrayal of what I wanted them to represent, denying those women that use Planned Parenthood from breast cancer screening and mammography, so it angered me a great deal," Tillman said.

(Read more: Rich Don't Give More to Charity)

The fact that Brinker still heads the organization further upsets her.

"It just all seems very misleading," Tillman said. "They will tell the public what they think they want to hear, but I don't feel they're being honest."

Rader, also speaking on Brinker's behalf, said the search for Brinker's replacement is continuing.

"We said last August that she would step out of the CEO job when a new CEO or senior leader is named. That search is continuing, so she remains in the CEO position, just as we said she would," Rader told NBC News.

The Susan G. Komen Foundation, the nation's largest breast cancer charity, was founded in 1982. Since its first race of 800 people in Dallas, the series grew to 138 races with 1.7 million participants around the world. In 30 years, the charity said it has raised more than $2 billion for research and community programs. But the recent drop in race participation has hurt the bottom line.

The announcement of the race cancellation in seven cities around the country, posted on the 3-Day Facebook page, said the decline in participation levels "made it difficult to sustain an event of this magnitude in 14 cities."

NBC News has learned that many of the charity's affiliates across the country have also suffered financially and that participation in local Race for the Cure events has dropped significantly.

In Fort Worth, Texas, for instance, race registration fell from 13,780 in 2011 to 8,558 this year. The overall total raised, including sponsorships, dropped by $400,000 in two years.

Seattle expects to raise $500,000 less from this year's race than it did in 2011. Participation fell from 14,000 two years ago to about 8,500 this year.

The New York City affiliate was down 41 percent last year, but is hoping for a rebound for the race this fall.

Komen acknowledges that the decreased revenue has affected the charity's grant-making ability.

The Global Race for the Cure in Washington, D.C., which funds programs in the nation's capital and around the world, had a 50 percent decline in race revenue, down from $5 million two years ago to $2.5 million this year. The affiliate issued $3,726,276 in grants in 2012 and $1,577,790 this year.

For the first time in five years, Dr. Sandra Swain did not receive a Komen grant for a program to help low-income women complete breast-cancer treatment in the nation's capital. Swain, who is the medical director of Washington Cancer Institute at MedStar Washington Hospital Center, wasn't given a reason why she did not get the grant, but she said Komen's decreased revenue could have played a part.

"I think the numbers speak for themselves," she said. "The fact that less people are involved in the races, and they're donating money to other sources, I think that really tells a lot. I'm really hoping that people will understand how important that these funds were for the breast cancer patients that Komen provided."

Swain hopes Komen can come back from its current troubles, but Bergen of Charity Navigator suggests it may get worse before it gets better.

"When donors realize that (Brinker's) salary is so high and so out of comparison to what it normally would be, I am certain there are going to be some donors who are no longer going to support this organization because they have lost trust in its decision-making."

—By NBC News' senior investigative correspondent Lisa Myers and Talesha Reynolds