A Facebook friend directed me to this impressive analysis of the PR disaster that the Komen foundation has brought upon themselves:
Yesterday afternoon, and continuing into today, I believe we are witnessing the accidental rebranding of what is surely one of America’s biggest and most well-known, and even well-loved, nonprofit brands.
Komen for the Cure, it seems, is no longer a breast cancer charity, but a pro-life breast cancer charity.
Let me stop right here and say this post is not about abortion per se, one way or the other, other than the fact that it is the single most divisive issue in American politics today. My personal beliefs are very clear and public. But how you feel about abortion is really irrelevant to this communications debacle unfolding before us.
This post is about what happens when a leading nonprofit jumps into a highly controversial area of public debate without a communications strategy, stays silent, and therefore lets others take over the public dialogue, perhaps permanently redefining the organization and its brand. Watch and learn, so you don’t make the same mistake on whatever hot button issues your organization might be wading into.
The author, Kivi Leroux Miller, goes into what I feel is a very insightful, well thought-out deconstruction of what happened, how Komen made things far worse by their non-response (followed by a tepid, milquetoast response later on), and how they've effectively ruined their reputation forever no matter what they do in the future.
The gist of it is that they fucked up royally, not just from move itself but by how they handled it, and that even if they were to immediately and publicly fire Karen Handel and do a complete 180º on the Planned Parenthood funding, they'll still be thought poorly of by one side of the abortion debate or the other.
Previously Komen stood out as a tremendous organizer and mobilizer of women across the political spectrum who would raise money like crazy for them. They kept it nice and simple, and non-controversial. Wear that pink ribbon and raise money to fight breast cancer. The abortion debate was nowhere in sight. It was all about the breasts, and not about the uterus. And I think that’s one thing that made them different — Komen was an organization that dealt with women’s health issues without getting caught up in the abortion debate, like most women’s organizations end up doing.
No more. They took a deep dive into the hot swirling waters head first (but apparently eyes shut). No matter what they do from here on out, they will be forced to pick sides, and that’s just awful for the Komen brand.
Read the whole thing. Fascinating stuff completely apart from the issue itself.
I should also note that it will be fascinating to see how this debacle impacts Komens' own fundraising. I have no clue what the breakdown is, but I'd be willing to bet that a solid majority--2/3 or more--of their support comes from women, men and organizations that are themselves pro-choice, or, if they're personally anti-choice, they don't feel strongly enough about it to want their favorite cancer research organization to politicize the issue.
If that's true, then that means that one of two things is about to happen: Either Komen is about to see a 70% plunge in their fundraising, volunteer base etc...or they're going to have to make up the difference from fat checks written by right-wing outfits like National Right to Life and so forth. They made their bed, now they're gonna have to lie in it.
Update: Thanks to Viceroy in the comments below for reminding me of this little extra bonus: Karen Handel, the right-wing nutcase who Komen hired as a vice president last year, retweeted a particularly ugly tweet from one of her followers; she tried to delete it, but someone nabbed a screenshot (thanks to marigold for the image):
The tweet reads:
"Just like a pro-abortion group to turn a cancer orgs decision into a political bomb to throw. Cry me a freaking river."
Update x2: Thanks to NamelessGenXer in the comments for this great idea:
Contribute to Planned Parenthood in Ms. Handel's Name, and send a Thank You card to her at:
SVP of Death by Coathanger
P.O. Box 650309
Dallas, TX 75265
I did the first part (donated $25 "in honor of" Karen Handel), but couldn't bring myself to send the "thank you" notice.
Update x3: I found the following comment on a Facebook post; I have no idea if the numbers this guy claims are accurate, but if they are even close to accurate, it puts the entire Susan J. Koman foundation in a VERY different light from what they've been used to:
(Susan G. Komen for the Cure is) funds first. Politics second. Cure third. I could make a good case that the last thing the Susan G. Komen Foundation actually wants is a cure for breast cancer.
Think about it. How many millions of dollars come through Komen a year? How much goes to marketing and attracting more millions? How much goes to research? And what have they accomplished in 30 years of existence, beyond awareness?
Some answers: In 2009-10, they raised $400M in revenue. They had $360M in expenses. Of that, 21% was spent on research. 39% on public awareness (as if there is a person alive in the US who isn't aware that B-cancer is a leading killer of women and that early detection is your best shot). Yes, you read that right. Komen spends nearly double on public awareness (including pink spatulas) than on research. I hope I do not need to explain the incongruity of this spending pattern and including "For The Cure" in the name of your organization.
Komen spends $41M on administrative costs, and another $36M towards fundraising. If you do a touch of math that's $77M in overhead, against $75.6M in research expense (which is likely reduced by overhead on the grantee side).
If they cured breast cancer tomorrow, that's $77M worth of people who are out of work and money that doesn't move the economy. Doesn't sound that large, but you also lose $75.6M going to research labs that flows further through the economy (and somewhat back to Komen).
This is the 30th year of SGK. Do we have a cure? Nope. The sad fact is that there is no money, no economy in curing things. The money is in the prolonged treatment of things.
When you account for all these facts (removing my opinion about cures and treatments), you can see why Komen would dump PP. They don't need PP messing with their cash flow.
Update x4: The guy who posted the above Facebook comment has helpfully provided a source for his figures--the Komen 2010 financial statement itself! (note: PDF)
Update x5: Due to popular request, here's the official list of SGK corporate sponsors/supporters.
Remember, if you contact them to demand that they stop supporting SGK, etc, remember that most of these companies were probably as shocked as we are by SGK pulling this crap, so be firm and clear, but polite about it.