How a non-profit lost its shining reputation

One of the best known, and best funded,  organizations related to breast cancer is the Susan B. Komen Foundation.  It initiated the pink ribbon campaigns to raise money.  It held its first Race for the Cure in 1983;  there are now events in virtually every US state as well as in 13 countries.  As a woman, the threat of breast cancer is daunting.  I’ve lost several friends to the disease and have many others who, thankfully, have survived.  So organizations like Komen have been on my list of donations for years.  But that may change.

Earlier this week, the foundation said it was pulling the funds it had committed to Planned Parenthood for performing breast health screening for underprivileged women.  The reason was because Planned Parenthood was “under investigation” related to its use of Federal funds for abortions.  [Abortion represents about 3% of its activities- but it gets most of the attention].  Komen was willing to end its long-standing relationship with Planned Parenthood, leaving thousands of women unable to obtain preventive treatment, on grounds of an unsubstantiated challenge related to a tiny fraction of its operations.

Within a day of Komen’s announcement, I received emails from several organizations explaining what had happened and asking for signatures on a petition urging Komen to reverse its position.  These messages included links to articles in different publications as well as press releases from Komen.  Social media enabled concerned organizations to reach people who cared, providing them with a means to act.  Several key officials at Komen resigned in protest of the decision. And it worked.  Komen agreed to reinstate the grants.

What happened this week is another example of the power of social media.  More importantly, it demonstrates how delicate a reputation is. Komen has been revered as a premier non-profit in the fight against breast cancer.  This incident garnered a lot of bad press and has left many feeling like it can’t be trusted to always do what’s best for the women it serves.  Yes, reversing its decision is a good thing and is duly noted.  But when it comes to writing a check next year- I’m not sure it will be on my list.  Once broken, trust is hard to restore.