How money, clout and abortion laws fueled a PR firestorm

The University of Alabama returned a $21 million gift to the donor, who claims the move is retaliation for his pro-choice advocacy. The exchange is a cautionary tale of a lag in messaging.

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Even communicators at nonprofits have to get in front of controversies, lest they lose control of the narrative.

The University of Alabama has decided to return the largest-ever gift to the school—$21.5 million—and remove the donor’s name from its law school, citing his meddling in university administration. The donor, Hugh Culverhouse Jr., says the move is retaliation for his outspoken defense of a woman’s right to choose after the State of Alabama passed restrictive abortion laws along with other states this year.

Amid the they said/he said, which garnered widespread attention, the university lagged in clearly asserting that its decision had nothing to do with the abortion debate, but rather stemmed from an internal matter.

In response to the donation rejection, Culverhouse penned an op-ed in The Washington Post claiming that the university wasn’t ready for a big donor to advocate a boycott of the state of Alabama.

He wrote:

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