I've never seen a reversal as fast as the one Susan G. Komen for the Cure made last week.
In a head-spinning set of moves, Komen, which was outed on Tuesday for cutting funding to Planned Parenthood, 1) thought they could get by with a canned video that said a new policy about grantees who were under "investigation" was behind their defunding, 2) changed its story to something about "pass-throughs" on Thursday, and 3) changed its mind and apologized to supporters and critics on Friday.
Meanwhile Planned Parenthood raised several million dollars in three days and scored a Superbowl like PR coup.
What this entire incident underscored for me is that nonprofits still don't get crisis management, and how careful donors have to be to make sure that their money is going to organizations that truly match their personal, religious, moral, and political beliefs.
Looking under the covers to see who else is bedding down with our favorite nonprofit through political ties, funding, or favorite ideologies is just something that we all must now do.
It really doesn't matter which side you're is on with the Komen situation -- what you found out about the breast cancer fundraising operation could scare you off.
If you're Republican and/or pro-life, you found out that Komen has been funding Planned Parenthood for years. If you are pro-choice and/or Democratic, you learned that Komen has a strong political favoritism going on. Founder and CEO Nancy Brinker is a long-time and politically active Republican, and the organization recently hired a pro-life Republican to be its public policy director.
As Gail Collins so wittily explained in her recent New York Times column, The Politics of Absolutely Everything, the raucous downhill race to the Republican presidential nomination has pretty much politicized just about anything you can think of. And it's only going to get worse!
That politicization is political-party blind. Republicans and Democrats will be doing it, not to mention their subgroups and super PACs.
Public outings of nonprofit mischief seem to come every few months lately. Just consider the Three Cups of Tea controversy, the Jerry Sandusky, Second Mile, Penn State revelations, and the very recent admission by the Sierra Club that it took millions from the natural gas industry while talking up the safety of that fuel over coal.
Was it ever this hard for donors to pick charities that use their money well, don't go off the deep end of ideology, and that avoid conflicts of interest or even outright crimes?
I don't know. Maybe, despite the seeming prevalence of nonprofits gone wrong, we do find out about these things sooner than we used to, regulations have gotten stronger, and donors are smarter. I do know that donors have to be careful to:
- Dig a little deeper. Who are the founders? Who is on the board? Are there conflicts of interest?
- Stay alert to breaking news that involves our causes. Is the mission of your favorite nonprofit slipping? Do the programs, funding and mission still match?
- Question the PR palaver from any cause and the rankings of industry groups based on limited surveys (just see how Komen has ranked as one of the most trusted charities and the survey about what it does for the economy).
- Think twice before purchasing products spruced up with cause marketing. Make sure the charity and the company are ones you really want to support. There are loads of terrific cause-marketing programs to choose from, so choose mindfully.
- Be aware of hate speech dressed up as a cause (see how an outfit called OneMillionMoms, an anti-gay group, attacked JC Penney for hiring Ellen DeGeneres as a spokesperson).
Unfortunately, finding out who our nonprofits sleep with is just what we have to do to make sure our causes match our own visions, wherever we might fall on the political spectrum.
What do you do to check out causes before you donate? How is your nonprofit making it easier for donors to know who you are and what you stand for?
More about the Komen/Planned Parenthood controversy:
- How Susan G. Komen For The Cure Torpedoed Its Brand - Fast Company
- Nonprofit Bloggers Give Susan G. Komen Foundation A Huge Spanking - JohnHaydon.com
- Komen Sucks...But So Do You - Selfish Giving
- Angry Reviewers Sink Susan G. Komen Foundation's GuideStar Rating - The Consumerist
Photo: Getty Images