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The Race for $2 Billion

Susan G. Komen for the Cure runs Oracle’s PeopleSoft Financials in pursuit of an ambitious fund-raising goal.

by Monica Mehta, February 2010

Nancy Brinker had a promise to keep. In the late 1970s, as her sister Susan Komen neared the end of her two-and-a-half-year battle with breast cancer, she asked Brinker to find a way to end the disease. Brinker took this request to heart, and a few years later, with just US$200 and a shoebox full of names, she founded Susan G. Komen for the Cure.

“Our mission, even back then, was to eradicate breast cancer through the funding of education, screening, research, and awareness,” says Brinker, now CEO of the charity that bears her sister’s name.

Last August, Brinker—who also serves as goodwill ambassador for cancer control for the United Nations’ World Health Organization—was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States’ highest civilian honor. “What began with $200 and a list of friends has become a global Race for the Cure, a campaign that has eased the pain and saved the lives of millions of people around the world,” said President Barack Obama as he awarded her the medal.

Today, Susan G. Komen for the Cure is the world’s leader of the breast cancer movement, with more than 100,000 volunteers. Since its inception in 1982, the organization has invested nearly US$1.5 billion in the fight to end breast cancer, making it the U.S.’s largest private funding source for the fight against breast cancer. In 2008, the organization awarded US$100 million in research grants—the largest annual amount slated for research to date.

Healthy Margins
As with all charitable organizations, one of its management team’s most important goals is reducing Komen for the Cure’s administrative and overhead costs so a larger percentage of donations can go directly to the mission of ending breast cancer. The organization has one of the best administrative expense ratios in the industry—80 cents of every dollar donated goes toward research programs and mission services. Charity Navigator, an organization that evaluates charities’ financial health, has given Komen for the Cure its highest rating of four stars for three years in a row. Fewer than 12 percent of all charities maintain that rating for three years or more.

“Well-managed charities spend less money to raise more, keep administration costs within reasonable limits, and direct the vast majority of their spending toward the programs they exist to provide,” says Sandra Miniutti, vice president of Charity Navigator. “Susan G. Komen for the Cure does a great job at directing the bulk of its budget toward its programs and services. Donors can be assured that their contributions will be efficiently directed toward Komen’s mission.”

Much of Komen for the Cure’s administrative expense goes toward managing its central office and wide network of domestic and international Komen Affiliates. Each of its 122 domestic affiliates and three affiliates in Germany, Italy, and Puerto Rico is an independent, 501(c)(3) organization that administers its own programs. Komen for the Cure has pledged to invest another US$2 billion in breast cancer research during the next 10 years, meaning that its financial systems and internal controls must be as effective as possible. As part of this goal, the organization’s management needs to minimize the amount of time the affiliates spend pushing paper and maximize the amount of money they raise. It also needs to decrease the amount of time it takes to close month- and year-end financials, perform internal audits, and respond to external audits.

To meet those challenges, Komen for the Cure is relying on Oracle’s PeopleSoft Enterprise financial management applications. “In order for us to reach our very ambitious goals, our entire organization, including the Komen Affiliate Network, must be focused on fund-raising,” says Brinker. “Administrative tasks such as bookkeeping and financial reporting take away from that. Our partnership with Oracle streamlines financial accounting and administrative processes and allows us to use our valuable time to work more directly on our investment.”

Building a Global Organization
As Komen for the Cure grew into a large and complex global organization, it had become increasingly difficult for managers to close year-end financials in a timely manner. Each affiliate works to address its community’s needs in unique ways. As a result, the affiliate network funds thousands of revenue-generating, educational, and screening programs. Using an enterprise version of QuickBooks for the Komen Affiliate Network and different software for headquarters, with the fiscal year ending March 31, the books for the previous year often wouldn’t be closed until August. The complexities involved with rolling up and auditing the financials for 125 separate organizations with so many programs caused the year-end process to take as long as five months to complete.

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