What could cause a top tier charity like Susan G. Komen to become ensnared in such a public brouhaha? The PR crisis that ensued when Komen unfunded Planned Parenthood and then reversed its decision was caused by the organization’s failure to adhere to two important tenets of their business:
1) Donors expect not-for-profits to be charitable, not political. It will take some serious fence-mending as the charity must now convince its many corporate sponsors that it is ONLY focused on breast cancer research and that businesses won’t have to reassess their support. The last place corporations want to risk controversy is in their philanthropic missions.
2) It’s not just about your product. Your customers support you because of how you do business and with whom. Partnerships matter, especially when there is such a synergy between two noted women’s causes and charities. Many supporters of the cure are also supporters of Planned Parenthood. Not only did the funding withdrawal force Komen supporters to pick sides, it essentially criticized them for their choices.
Long term, will the misstep be harmful to the Susan G. Komen for the Cure? I don’t think so. To their credit, they quickly acknowledged the mistake and took decisive action by firing the responsible executive. I predict that we’ll be seeing a sea of pink t-shirts in Dallas by the time the North Texas 3-day walkathon arrives in November.
At least we know the Cure carefully evaluates the recipients of its charitable contributions. A breast cancer charity that deserves a bit more scrutiny is “Keep A Breast.” Unlike the Cure, The Keep A Breast Foundation deliberately courts controversy with its slogan “I love Boobies.” School administrators have banned the I love Boobies t-shirts and wrist bands, citing the potential for disruption. However, the ACLU filed suit in Indiana and won, with the courts citing that the I Love Boobies Tshirts are protected speech.
But the organization’s mission and results are debatable. According to its 2010 on-line tax filing, it raised $10 million, but has given very little of that money to fight breast cancer. In fact, about $6 million from the tremendously successful marketing campaign and t-shirt sales was kept as an asset.
The registered charity explains that its mission isn’t breast cancer research, but to raise breast cancer awareness. It seems to me like Komen already has that objective nailed. Keep A Breast is looking less like a charity and more like a marketing company with a cute t-shirt slogan. Let’s hope their 2011 filings indicate some good has come from all their marketing success.