Komen Apologizes, Reverses Decision

February 3, 2012       Mark Hrywna      

After several intense days of scrutiny and outrage regarding severing grant funding to Planned Parenthood of America (PPFA), Susan G. Komen for the Cure Founder & CEO Nancy Brinker issued a statement that the organization will amend its grant eligibility criteria to not disqualify groups that are under investigation.

The Dallas-based breast cancer charity will change its grant funding criteria so that “disqualifying investigations must be criminal and conclusive in nature and not political.”

In a 372-word statement issued this morning, Brinker also apologized to the public for “recent decisions that cast doubt upon our commitment to our mission of saving women’s lives.

“We have been distressed at the presumption that the changes made to our funding criteria were done for political reasons or to specifically penalize Planned Parenthood. They were not,” she said. “Our original desire was to fulfill our fiduciary duty to our donors by not funding grant applications made by organizations under investigation,” said Brinker.

“Amending our criteria will ensure that politics has no place in our grant process,” she said Brinker, adding that Komen will continue to fund existing grants, including Planned Parenthood.

Since 2005, Komen had been providing between $500,000 and $700,000 to 16 PPFA affiliates, for 19 programs around the nation. Komen’s new grant eligibility criteria would have taken affect after the 2012 grant cycle, with existing grants continuing. Three of the programs — in northern Colorado, Southern California and Waco, Texas — were expected to continue past 2012 because no other options existed in those communities.

The original decision was praised by anti-abortion groups while derided by pro-choice supporters.

Brinker said in a conference call with media on Thursday that the organization was looking to do more direct grant funding and less pass-through grants, such as those to Planned Parenthood. But new eligibility criteria also made ineligible organizations that are under investigation. U.S. Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.) initiated an inquiry last fall into PPFA to ensure federal funding to the organization is not being spent on abortion procedures.

Both organizations have reported spikes in fundraising this week as a result of the attention. Brinker said Thursday that donations are up 100 percent in the past two days, while Planned Parenthood received two, $250,000 gifts, and raised $400,000 within the first 24 hours of the controversy erupting.

“It is our hope and we believe it is time for everyone involved to pause, slow down and reflect on how grants can most effectively and directly be administered without controversies that hurt the cause of women,” said Brinker.

Komen has perhaps hundreds of cause marketing agreements in place with for-profit business. The trademarked pink ribbon adorns many elements of the consumer marketplace. Major League Baseball even has a day when players use pink bats.

David Hessekiel, founder and president of the Cause Marketing Forum in Rye, N.Y., said the controversy quite possibly put many of those relationships in trouble.

“Choice and gun control are sort of the third rail of American politics and issues. Virtually no company would want to be associated with such divisive issues,” said Hessekiel. “Where Komen was perceived as taking one side, they were in very dangerous, very emotional territory.”

He said that with the tremendous consumer response, “advocacy was not going to be good with their relationships with Corporate America. They really have done an extraordinary job of building bridges to hundreds of different types consumer products. This could have been very hurtful.”

The impact is going to be a waiting game. “Only time will tell if it hasn’t already (hurt),” said Hessekiel. “Certainly, this is something that isn’t a big plus.”

The controversy appears to the public to have taken Komen off mission and that’s not a good thing, according to John Davidoff of cause marketing firm Davidoff Communications in Chicago.

“I think it’s a bump in the road for Komen. You have to look at things from a mission standpoint and they went off mission,” he said. “Their mission doesn’t say anything about whether someone has had an abortion or not.”

The policy was inconsistent with the stated mission, he said. “Clearly, this was not a quick thing. There was an internal fight, which suggests there was substantial conversation internally,” said Davidoff. “You can’t let anyone take you off mission, not a funder, not a new senior executive. It’s dangerous.”

He said that there are going to be a lot of conversations in corporate suites regarding cross branding. “The marketing officer is going to be asked by the CEO, ‘please look into this and see if this brand is safe to be aligned with.’ This is not an insignificant event.”

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