Susan G. Komen Public Relations Disaster

Puzzled woman over health insuranceMost companies and non-profits have public relations contingency plans in case of a disaster. Although, not many expect to inflict the disaster on themselves like the Susan G. Komen For The Cure did when it announced it would no longer fund Planned Parenthood breast cancer early detection exams.

One has to wonder if the Directors or Board Members had any discussions on the repercussions of their decision. While you can’t always make decisions based on public perception, it has to be considered when your main fundraising leverage is the public’s perception of your work.

Lost on many people were the internal reasons for halting grants to Planned Parenthood. All the public sees is that an organization dedicated to reducing breast cancer is pulling services away from women. The unknown, and now the driving force for giving the story ‘legs’, was the response from the social media audience.

From what could have been a simple back page mention of a press release was turned into a betrayal of trust from donors who know how to tweet and post. I am reminded of the adulterated quote “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorn”. In this case, many people feel scorn for believing in the foundation to help women. Why else does a guy wear pink, if not for a cure.

Not only has this public relations disaster hurt the Susan G. Komen For The Cure image, it looks like it will hurt their bottom line of fundraising dollars. This may be a disaster that the once lauded nonprofit may not be able to recover from.

February 3, 2012

A question occurred to me, “Would we see the same social media and political reaction if Komen had stopped funding a religious entity because they were under the same congressional scrutiny?” From the donors point of view, any reduction in grants for early detection, not for lack of money, would seem to be in direct conflict with the Susan G. Komen For the Cure mission.

Planned Parenthood has not been found guilty or fined for breaking any laws or regulations. Most of us adhere to the belief of innocent until proven guilty. I think the visceral reaction most supporters of Komen are having is to the way the funding cessation was engineered. The public perception is that Susan G. Komen For the Cure is being punitive towards Planned Parenthood for part of their programming, none of which affects breast cancer screenings.

Komen reverses decision, February 3rd, 2012

In a press release, Susan G. Komen For the Cure announced,

“We want to apologize to the American public for recent decisions that cast doubt upon our commitment to our mission of saving women`s lives,” Komen said in a statement on Friday.

“We will continue to fund existing grants, including those of Planned Parenthood, and preserve their eligibility to apply for future grants, while maintaining the ability of our affiliates to make funding decisions that meet the needs of their communities.”

Komen said it will amend its new funding criteria to “ensure that politics has no place in our grant process.”

The last line of the press release was the clue that they finally ‘got it’. Their decision to withhold funding to Planned Parenthood telegraphed to their supports that they were putting political ideology above their mission. Had this happened 20 years ago there would have been only a small outcry from supporters.

The emergence of social media has clearly demonstrated that non-profits and corporations must be keenly aware of their internal decisions and public perception. It is possible that Komen has damaged itself so badly that they will have to reinvent their image or scale back their operations because of lack of donations. Either way, they are going to have to spend enormous amounts of time and money to repair the damage they have done. Money that could have gone to fulfilling their mission.