Months after PR crisis, Susan G. Komen founder and president both step aside

The organization made no mention that the shakeup might have anything to do with the Planned Parenthood debacle in January.

It’s the high-level shakeup some people had expected would happen months ago.

Nancy Brinker, the founder of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the nation’s largest breast cancer foundation, is stepping down as chief executive. She will take a new position focused on fundraising and strategy once a new leader is hired.

Also out is Komen President Liz Thompson, who is leaving next month, as well as two board members.

The moves come months after Komen was embroiled in one of the worst PR crises of the year. In January, the organization announced that it would stop giving money to Planned Parenthood for cancer screenings. It was suspected that the decision was politically motivated. Karen Handel, then the group’s vice president, had run for governor of Georgia in 2010 on a strong pro-life platform.

Komen botched its handling of the crisis. Not only did Komen apologize and restore funding for Planned Parenthood, but also it began losing donors and board members and staff as a result of the incident.

The statement that Komen released announcing the departure of Brinker and Thompson didn’t mention the Planned Parenthood debacle. Instead, the Dallas-based nonprofit said on Wednesday that the moves marked a “new period of transition as [Komen] positions itself for the future in the ongoing global mission to end breast cancer.”

Brinker founded the organization in 1982, two years after her sister, Susan G. Komen, died of breast cancer. In the statement, she said:

“I was asked by the Board in 2009 to assume the CEO role. Three years into that role, and 32 years after my promise to my sister to end breast cancer, I want now to focus on Susan G. Komen’s global mission and raising resources to bring our promise to women all around the world.”

In a story for The Washington Post, Dallas-based journalist Lori Stahl took aim at Brinker and the organization’s communication failures, saying the shakeup is “too little too late.”

“Brinker expects us to believe that she, the foundation’s president and two board members just happen to decide to move on at the same time?” Stahl wrote. “That’s what Komen told its affiliates Wednesday, in a perfect example of the kind of forethought that got them into this mess.

“It’s disappointing that Brinker, once a brilliant marketing strategist, took so long to do even the most rudimentary damage control, which is still not enough.”

Indeed, the organization is letting its critics do the talking in the wake of Wednesday’s announcements. Komen’s Twitter and Facebook pages have ignored the news, even though people are talking about it on both platforms. On the organization’s Facebook page, someone shared Stahl’s Washington Post story, leading to several comments echoing this one:

“It really IS too little too late. Planned Parenthood appreciates our DOUBLED monthly donations, thanks to the horrible decision Komen made. I will never, ever trust Komen again—and they won’t get ONE DIME from us again. Ever.”

This politically charged debate, which began in January, set the stage for a year of companies, brands, and nonprofits taking political stances. For instance, Oreo riled some consumers when it released a picture of a rainbow cookie to honor Gay Pride month, while Chick-fil-A continues to take heat for its president’s stance opposing same-same marriage.

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