How to Sink a Fundraising Juggernaut in Three Days: Lessons From the Komen Debacle

It takes a special kind of skill to completely alienate two separate and fundamentally opposed groups of people. Last week, however, the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation managed to accomplish exactly that. They lost the support of people who believe in affordable, accessible heath care for lower-income and uninsured women when they cut funding to Planned Parenthood, and they lost the support of the anti-choice faction when they (sort of) reversed that decision. Here’s the thing. That first group? They’re intelligent. They do research. They’re not going to turn around and support the Komen Foundation again because they decided that buckling under political pressure from the right was maybe a horrifying PR decision. And the anti-choicers? They won’t see one dime of their donation possibly being used for an organization that performs abortions (even though Komen Foundation grants were earmarked for breast cancer screening and mammogram referrals). They’ve lost credibility with pretty much everyone.

With the unimaginable shitstorm on the Komen Foundation’s Facebook page – first from now-former supporters furious about the decision to cut funding to Planned Parenthood, and then from now-former supporters furious about restoring Planned Parenthood’s ability to apply for grants, and while whoever is staffing the page frantically deletes critical posts as soon as they’re posted – it seems that there are no current supporters. Just angry people.

Pro-choice supporters were angry enough for someone to apparently hack Komen’s website to change the home page:

Screenshot of hacked Komen website
Screenshot courtesy of P-Mag's own ipomoea

Anti-choice supporters were angry enough about the reversal to demand their donations back and to storm the SGKftC Facebook page spouting their choicest anti-abortion rhetoric, up to and including asserting that the lives of the “unborn babies” are more important than those of uninsured and lower-income women, which is, sadly, nothing new. As much as the anti-choice support was disappointing, if the Komen Foundation had stuck to its decision and rebranded itself (because if there’s something they love, it’s branding!) as an anti-choice organization, there would have been a shift in alignment: pro-choice former supporters would turn their support elsewhere, including directly to Planned Parenthood, as was evidenced in the few days after the original announcement, and the Komen Foundation would have carved out a niche for itself in the right-wing, anti-choice world. By reversing their decision (again, sort of), they angered the right-wing support they had gained, but – and this is the critical point, here – they did not regain the support of the pro-choice former supporters they had infuriated with their original decision. The damage had already been done.

And the Komen Foundation is no stranger to backlash:

  • Activists who are anti-“pinkwashing” have long been confused by co-branding efforts with companies whose products may contain carcinogenic ingredients or may be detrimental to women’s health in any number of ways, such as Yoplait, Kentucky Fried Chicken, and a perfume commissioned by the Komen Foundation itself.
  • In a move that has only recently garnered substantial attention, last April, Komen for the Cure hired Karen Handel, the Republican former Secretary of State of Georgia, who ran a failed campaign for governor of that state on a platform that included defunding Planned Parenthood.
  • Susan G. Komen for the Cure has a history of suing smaller non-profits that use any of their trademarked phrases or branding (including the color pink), meaning that both organizations spend money that could be used toward research or outreach on court costs instead.
  • The Komen Foundation’s allocation of funds toward administrative costs, including staggeringly high executive salaries, has long been under scrutiny, especially in relation to other non-profits.

So, the questions remain: can Susan G. Komen for the Cure ever bounce back from the circus it created last week? Who will support the foundation now that they’ve managed to alienate both pro- and anti-choice factions? Can the organization withstand the level of scrutiny that it’s been receiving, or is a complete revamping of its staffing and policies necessary before anyone can take it seriously again?

Right now, I think that the most important lesson that the Susan G. Komen for the Cure debacle can teach us is how to sink a billion-dollar charity organization in a few short days. And that lesson is easy to explain: when you play politics with women’s health, everyone loses.

11 replies on “How to Sink a Fundraising Juggernaut in Three Days: Lessons From the Komen Debacle”

This whole thing with Komen defunding PP and basically being in bed with the republicans really makes me question one part of the the whole republican anti-abortion business. Are the tea-baggers/republicans really truly anti-abortion, or are they just manipulating the fundamentalist christian right wing faction of the party into doing a lot of legwork in lobbying for the destruction of Planned Parenthood as an institution that provides free/affordable healthcare to women? Basically, are republicans anti-PP because they are anti-abortion or because they don’t think that poor people should get anything for free? Or is it some weird combo of both?

I have to admit, my involvement with Komen was mostly limited to buying pink ribbon stuff, walking in the Race for the Cure and supporting others who walked/ran.  I didn’t really pay a lot of attention to the details of the organization.

Until now.

My pink ribbon branded stuff went to Goodwill and I made my first ever direct donation to Planned Parenthood.  I’ll also be supporting the American Cancer Foundation from now on, and not Komen. It was definitely a learning experience.

I’m pro-life, but that’s a choice I make for me.  Other women make other choices, and that’s their right.

I’ve read several articles about this and most of the more detailed ones say that this was in the works for a while.  I couldn’t even begin to point you to specific articles, but the fact that they hired Karen Handel last year who was known to be a “defund supporter” of Planned Parenthood may have been an early warning sign.  Komen apparently also sent notice of the grant withdraw to an anti choice group before it made the public announcement and this group announced it on their website.  Sorry I can’t be more specific on the names and articles.

Ugh, too much context is lost in internet comments. I would hope this wasn’t an impromptu decision. What was implied by my comment but not clearly stated was that it seems like one–meaning, how could they have not prepared for the backlash and why did they renegade on their new policy? It’s like PR was never consulted. It’s like their move away from PP was only half-hearted or their new found love for the pro-life movement was half-hearted. I’m sure it all comes back to donations and the loss they incurred which I get, but still… It makes me wonder if SGK stands for anything anymore.

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