Looks like the Susan G. Komen Foundation has stepped in some big time doo-doo while racing to distance itself from Planned Parenthood. And I question whether the organization really knows what sparked the shitstorm.
I’m far from an expert on this, but I’ve been dabbling in the world of nonprofit advocacy groups for the past several years now. As a generalization, my view is that they don’t place a particularly high value on communications, especially from the perspective of strategic planning. And many believe they can “spin” anything to their advantage, since clearly in their little world their work is important and always on the side of the angels.
Consider those points in the context of this NYT article, “Uproar as Komen Foundation Cuts Money to Planned Parenthood“:
Pink ribbons have for decades been a symbol of resolve and compassion in the face of the deadly disease of breast cancer. Now, that nearly ubiquitous icon has many women seeing red.
When the nation’s largest breast cancer advocacy organization considered in October cutting off most of its financial support to the nation’s largest abortion provider, the breast cancer group was hoping for a quiet end to an increasingly controversial partnership.
[Wonder who offered the advice that this wouldn’t attract much attention? My guess (and hope) is that professional communications/PR counsel was ignored.]
Instead, the organization, the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation, is now engulfed in a controversy that threatens to undermine one of the most successful advocacy campaigns. The foundation’s decision to eliminate most of its grants to Planned Parenthood for breast cancer screening caused a cascade of criticism from prominent women’s groups, politicians and public health advocates and a similarly strong outpouring of support from conservative women and religious groups that oppose abortion.
Now, leaders of both the Komen foundation and Planned Parenthood are accusing each other of bad faith and actions that undermine women. And two organizations dedicated to detecting and curing breast cancer have found themselves on opposite sides of the nation’s divisive debate over abortion.
John D. Raffaelli, a Komen board member and Washington lobbyist, said Wednesday that the decision to cut off money to 17 of the 19 Planned Parenthood affiliates it had supported was made because of the fear that an investigation of Planned Parenthood by Representative Cliff Stearns, Republican of Florida, would damage Komen’s credibility with donors.
The organization’s longtime support of Planned Parenthood had already cost it some support from anti-abortion forces, Mr. Raffaelli said. But the board feared that charges that Komen supported organizations under federal investigation for financial improprieties could take a further and unacceptable toll on donations, he said. “People don’t understand that a Congressional investigation doesn’t necessarily mean a problem of substance,” Mr. Raffaelli said. “When people read about it in places like Texarkana, Tex., where I’m from, it sounds really bad.”
[Ah, the old “it won’t play in Texarkana” defense.]
So the Komen board voted that all of its vendors and grantees must certify that they are not under investigation by federal, state or local authorities. But for Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider, being the target of partisan investigations is part of doing business. So Komen’s new rule effectively ended their long partnership and seemed to the health services provider an unacceptable betrayal of their common mission to save women’s lives.
[Good internal rationale for the Komen board members and staff. But it won’t play even in Texarkana. Bullshit index way too high; credibility way too low. Note to Komen board members: You made the decision. Don’t try to spin it. The perception is — right or wrong — that you caved to those who oppose abortion.]
Dawn Laguens, an executive vice president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said that Komen’s money had over the years underwritten breast cancer screenings for 170,000 women, some of whose lives were saved as a result. She said she had no sympathy for Komen’s attempt to mollify donors by ending its relationship with a controversial provider of women’s health services. Only a small percentage of Planned Parenthood’s expenditures go toward abortion services.
“I’m going to reserve my empathy for the women left on the side of the road by somebody who has given into bullying,” Ms. Laguens said. “I think it’s particularly curious that they wanted to quietly put this decision out there.”
Planned Parenthood now has the high moral and communications ground. And I expect this will help their fund raising in the long run.
Truthful and credible communication matters.