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Opinion: Komen’s Brinker Must Go

By Paul Clolery - February 13, 2012

It is time for Nancy Goodman Brinker to step aside at Susan G. Komen for the Cure. The controversy regarding the decision to pull money from Planned Parenthood was ill-advised, mistimed and strategically inept. The blame must be put at her doorstep as founder and chief executive officer.

She should resign not because of the policy changes but because of the way they were implemented and how the ensuing media was mishandled. The organization was out-maneuvered by Planned Parenthood because the potential backlash of cutting funding was clearly miscalculated.

Susan G. Komen for the Cure is run like a family business. Started by Brinker in 1982 as a tribute to her sister who died as a result of breast cancer, Brinker has never been far from the helm, even when she took positions in the administration of President George W. Bush. That apparently possibly includes paying some of her expenses while employed by the federal government. It was always clear that the stacked, nine-person board, which includes her son, would simply put her back into the top administrative position, even if the organization had a “president.”

Komen officials can release statements regarding all of the new donors since the controversy, but that’s not where the real money is for them. The big money is from corporate sponsors and issues such as abortion are shied away from in the consumer products business, just as it is the third rail when it comes to politics.

There has been buzzing recently that Komen had gone too far with the trademark pink ribbons. They are everywhere, from the apparel and other items sold directly on the organization’s website to items being sold on eBay and other online sites. A residence near this office even has pink ribbons emblazoned on trashcans.

Brinker stepping down might just save some of those cause-marketing relationships that could mean millions to the organization and the generally good work that it has done.

It was clear from the start that this was all about abortion and family planning and not about pulling money from an organization “under investigation,” as Komen officials claimed. Numerous Komen grantees are under the same type of “investigation” as Planned Parenthood but funding remained intact. In the case of Planned Parenthood, a member of Congress wanted some answers as to how federal money was used in family planning and women’s health issues. That’s just a fishing expedition. There were no allegations of wrongdoing. Yet, Komen latched on to it as the reason.

It’s clear that there had been discussion regarding funding organizations where abortions are provided. Where one organization’s mission meshes with another is always a valid discussion.

Komen’s senior vice president, public policy, Karen Handel, was a pro-life candidate for governor of Georgia. She fell on her sword and resigned, probably under pressure, although it is unclear how much she had to do with the development of the new policy. Also unclear is if she was brought in for the purpose of steering money away from family planning.

Again, discussion of how to spend an organization’s funds is valid. Hanging the reasoning on nonsense, such as a contrived Congressional hearing, is inept. Continuing to insult the intelligence of donors is a miscalculation that Komen can’t afford. The board needs to show some independence, thank Brinker for her decades of service, and start charting a course that begins to repair the organization’s image.

Paul Clolery is vice president and editorial director of NPT Publishing Group and editor-in-chief of The NonProfit Times.

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