The chief medical officer at the American Cancer Society (ACS) has stepped down reportedly in a disagreement regarding commercial partnerships.
Otis W. Brawley, M.D., had been executive vice president and chief medical officer for more than a decade.
“When Otis joined us in September 2007, he became the face of cancer science and medicine for the American Cancer Society,” CEO Gary Reedy said in an email message to staff and volunteers that was provided by ACS. The message indicated that Brawley would be leaving Nov. 2 to “take a position at a majority university,” with details to come when an announcement is made by the university in the coming weeks.
Len Lichtenfeld will serve as interim chief medical and scientific officer until a nationwide search to fill the position is completed. According to the ACS Form 990 for the Fiscal Year Ending 2016, the most recent available, Brawley earned total compensation of $797,320, including base compensation of $447,984.
The New York Times reported this week that one of the reasons for the resignation was a concern about some of the charity’s commercial partnerships. “The only thing we can offer is what’s in Gary’s message,” a spokesman said.
Citing people close to Brawley, The New York Times report indicated the doctor “had become uncomfortable” with the charity’s reliance on “donations from businesses with questionable health credentials” to burnish their images. One example was Herbalife International, which donated $250,000 and started selling co-branded, pink water bottles, with proceeds going to the charity.
Herbalife is a multi-level marketing corporation that develops, markets and sells nutrition supplements and weight management products. The company settled with the Federal Trade Commission in 2016, agreeing to pay $200 million and restructuring its business.
While revenue was still more than $830 million for ACS in 2017, it’s been waning over the past decade. In 2008, ACS reported almost $1.1 billion, followed by several years above $900 million before dipping to $850 million in 2014. ACS ranked 24th on the 2018 NPT 100, a study of the largest nonprofits in the country that derive at least 10 percent of revenue from public support.
The Atlanta, Ga.-based charity remains among the largest and oldest in the country but like any established national organization has faced its challenges in recent years. Public support was reported to be $736 million in 2017, down $149 million, or 16 percent, from $885 million in 2013.
Revenue from its signature Relay for Life events has declined over the past decade as have charity fundraising events generally. ACS reported $356 million in revenue from Relay for Life five years ago but last year reported $211 million – a decline of $145 million, or 40 percent.
The annual “Peer-to-Peer Fundraising Thirty,” which ranks the 30 largest peer-to-peer campaigns in the country, reported nearly $1.45 billion in revenue from these events in 2017. That’s down 6.7 percent from the previous year and comparable to the $1.46 billion reported in 2006. It also was the fifth consecutive year the study reported a decline.
It’s common for charities to get some criticism for certain partnerships. Several years ago, KFC’s Buckets for the Cure pledged 50 cents to Susan G. Komen from each pink bucket of chicken sold. The breast cancer charity took some criticism for teaming up with a fast-food restaurant but the campaign also took in at least $2 million for the organization.
One of the largest product endorsement controversies was in 1997 when Sunbeam Corp. sued the American Medical Association for backing out of a marketing deal where the medical organization would endorse some of Sunbeam’s home-care products, including blood-pressure monitors, heating pads and vaporizers. The suit was settled out of court in 2008 with the AMA paying Sunbeam $9.9 million.