This PR disaster simply won’t go away.
A second high-ranking executive at Susan G. Komen for the Cure has resigned, and, perhaps more devastating, the organization’s fundraising is taking a hit. It’s all part of the ongoing fallout from Komen’s announcement to defund, then reinstate funding for, cancer screenings at Planned Parenthood—a PR disaster that’s now more than a month old.
Nonprofit marketing expert Nancy Schwartz, president of GettingAttention.org
, said it’s simply the latest failure on the part of the breast cancer awareness organization.
“The events around the defunding of Planned Parenthood are indicative of deep problems within the organization, cultural problems stemming from a disconnect between the organization's stated values (health and well-being for women) and their actions,” she told PR Daily
. “The strategic policy and communications debacles that followed the defunding express this more essential problem.”
On Tuesday, these deep problems materialized anew when Dara Richardson-Heron, chief executive of Komen's New York City affiliate, resigned from her post. Several weeks ago, Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer Katrina McGhee said she would step down as of May 4.
Meanwhile, Komen’s New York affiliate postponed its annual awards gala, opting for a more low-key, invitation-only breakfast, according to The New Yorker
. A spokesman for the organization said it rescheduled the gala to a later date “because we were not certain about our ability to fundraise in the near term.”
Komen’s Baton Rouge, La., Greater Fort Worth, Texas, and Southern Arizona chapters are reporting decreased revenues, according to The Huffington Post
. Komen’s premiere event, the Race for the Cure, is also having fundraising problems.
On Jan. 31, Komen announced that it would no longer provide Planned Parenthood a $700,000 annual grant for cancer screenings. The organization cited a change in its grant-awarding policy, but many people suspected that Komen’s new vice president Karen Handel, a prominent foe of abortion rights, had initiated the decision.
The announcement incited a tidal wave of criticism
, which Planned Parenthood leveraged to raise more than $400,000 in 24 hours. Komen remained silent for those first 24 hours—a move roundly denounced by public relations professionals—and when it finally launched a PR counteroffensive, the message fell flat.
Schwartz said Komen officials’ missteps were “stunning and highly destructive to the organization.”
In a matter of days, Komen reversed its decision and apologized
. One week later, Handel resigned
, saying she was “deeply disappointed by the gross mischaracterizations of the strategy, its rationale, and my involvement in it.”
[Read: 3 nonprofit lessons from the Susan G. Komen debacle
Jackson Wightman of Proper Propaganda, a consultancy that specializes in cause marketing, said he’d advise the organization to repair the damage by holding press events showing the tangible results of the funds raised.
“When dealing with tough questions about the internal troubles, Komen should admit that they’ve made mistakes in recent months, and then gently steer the conversation back to its [positive] impact,” said Wightman, a PR Daily
Despite its negative press of late, Komen remains one of the leading nonprofits in the fight against breast cancer. Since its inception in 1982, the organization has invested more than $1.5 billion in breast cancer research, education, and community programs.
If Komen were to stage press events, Schwartz said, the organization should remember that actions speak louder than words. Unfortunately for Komen, its recent actions have betrayed the trust of many people, she added.
“This series of disconnects between what Komen says and what it does shows us that it can’t be trusted as such (or else it has huge organizational problems and has to totally reinvent itself),” Schwartz said. “Either way, it’ll be a long time before a lot of us will believe in Komen again.”