DALLAS – What we have here is a failure to communicate, which is why Susan G. Komen for the Cure has yet to heal from its self-inflicted wounds.
On Wednesday, the Dallas-based breast-cancer charity announced that its president, Elizabeth Thompson, was resigning. Founder and chief executive Nancy Brinker said she would relinquish her post after a replacement is found, and two Komen board members also said they are leaving.
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? 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.
Critics have been calling for Brinker’s resignation since January, when Komen said it would stop funding breast cancer screenings performed by Planned Parenthood. Brinker ignored the calls, instead releasing a wooden, video-taped statement which did little to stem the backlash against the nonprofit she founded in 1982.
The savage reaction on social media, in particular, forced Komen to reverse its policy for Planned Parenthood in just three days.
But Komen officials insisted they were misunderstood, not wrong-headed. They said the Planned Parenthood decision was the result of a Congressional investigation – one which was initiated at the behest of
Whatever the case, the communications crisis did not end with the policy reversal.
Brinker’s failure, or inability, to take responsibility for the brouhaha over Planned Parenthood earned her a level of contempt usually reserved for, say, a BP executive who complained when a massive Gulf oil spill crimped his schedule.
The BP executive was given the boot shortly thereafter, but Brinker clung to her post in the organization she’d built, despite continuous signs of problems.
In February, Advertising Age dubbed Komen the “new Coke of nonprofits.’’
Brinker’s own reputation was on the line as her $417,000 salary and the top executive’s first-class air travel became part of the debate about whether the organization had strayed from its mission.
By March, a number of prominent and longtime Komen executives and supporters cut their ties to the organization. And various states reported that donations and participation in “Walk for the Cure’’ events had plummeted.
At the heart of the trouble was always the question of what prompted Komen to suddenly stop funding for breast cancer screenings performed by Planned Parenthood, which did them routinely in the
Some past supporters felt that Komen unnecessarily injected abortion politics into an organization which previously skirted controversy by focusing on cancer prevention, research and treatment.
For its part, Komen issued a statement saying the original decision to end funding for Planned Parenthood was “not about politics.’’
And now Brinker says that she will step into a new role focused on long-term strategy when a replacement is found.
“Ms. Brinker said the changes had nothing to do with the Planned Parenthood firestorm,’’ reported the Wall Street Journal. “She said the nonprofit is now "very sensitive" that its work and employees aren't interpreted as political, calling the group "pro-cure."
Said Brinker: "I apologized to everyone. I think we all made mistakes and we addressed them and we're through that and we're moving on."
She may be through, but too many former supporters feel she has yet to address her mistakes, and the organization can’t really move on until she does.
Lori Stahl is a Dallas-based journalist who covers politics and culture. Follow her on Twitter @LoriStahl.