Komen foundation continues to see fallout from Planned Parenthood controversy


Women protest outside the Susan G. Komen for the Cure headquarters in Dallas on Feb. 7. (Rex C. Curry/AP)
March 21, 2012

Fallout from the Planned Parenthood controversy continues at the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation, with several executives at headquarters and affiliates departing, questions arising about fundraising ability, and structural changes underway to give affiliates more influence, officials said Wednesday.

The chief executives of the Greater New York and Oregon affiliates, among the most outspoken in their criticism of Komen’s unsuccessful attempt to defund Planned Parenthood, are leaving. Three officials at the Dallas headquarters have left or announced their resignations, a spokeswoman said.

Meanwhile, questions are being raised about the breast cancer charity’s ability to raise money after the public relations fiasco. The New York affiliate postponed two events, including its annual awards gala, “because we were not certain about our ability to fundraise in the near term,” spokesman Vern Calhoun said Wednesday.

Komen is asking staff members at headquarters to review budgets for the fiscal year beginning April 1 because of anticipated drops in revenue, according to a source familiar with the process who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation. Budgeting for the coming year was basically completed before the Planned Parenthood controversy erupted.

Komen spokeswoman Leslie Aun declined to comment on the internal budget process. But she added: “It goes without saying that you can’t budget for things you don’t know are going to happen.”

Some affiliates have said it is too early to tell whether the controversy has affected fundraising. Others say they have seen no significant impact.

The organization’s senior leadership is seeking to rebuild trust. Komen reversed course after the overwhelming public reaction to the news that it was no longer going to provide grants for Planned Parenthood breast cancer screening because of a congressional investigation into whether the group was using federal money to pay for abortions.

Days later, Karen Handel, vice president for public policy, a top official who played a key role in the decision to pull funding for Planned Parenthood, resigned.

At its annual meeting with affiliates in Dallas this month, top leadership apologized and sought ways to give affiliates more of a voice in decision-making. Komen established a new group of local affiliates that will work with the national board to set policies and priorities, officials said. Details still need to be worked out.

“I think there was genuine compassion and really offering an open door to wanting to work together to meet our mission,” said Robin Prothro, executive director of Komen’s Maryland affiliate.

Prothro said some members suggested that, in order to move forward, Komen’s top leadership would need to resign.

“I don’t think anybody said, ‘Liz [President Elizabeth Thompson], I want you to quit, or Nancy [Brinker, founder and chief executive], can we have your resignation letter,” Prothro said. “But I do think there was discussion around leadership of the organization and who are the current players, and is that the best way to serve the organization as we move forward.

“What people want to see is the decision-making be made all-inclusive,” she said. “To me, the most emphatic voice that I heard was that the affiliate leadership wants to be part of the decision-making.”

Currently, there is one affiliate representative on the board, in a volunteer job, she said. With 122 affiliates, “the idea is to have a group that can vet some of the concerns we have in another way.”

Spokeswoman Aun said the board has reaffirmed its “complete confidence” in the Komen leadership.

“We had heartfelt conversations with our Affiliate leaders during our annual conference earlier this month and are continuing to move forward in a constructive way,” she said in a statement.

The New York chief executive, Dara Richardson-Heron, declined to comment Wednesday. In a statement on the affiliate’s Web site, she said the decision was not “easy,” but the right one. Her counterpart in Oregon, Christine McDonald, said last month that she was stepping down. McDonald, who did not return phone calls Wednesday, said “deep frustration about the distraction” caused by the Komen headquarters’ actions was a factor, a statement on the affiliate’s Web site said.

The three executives who have left or plan to leave the Dallas-based national organization are: Katrina McGhee, the executive vice president and chief marketing officer, leaving May 4; Nancy Macgregor, vice president for global networks, leaving in June; and Joanna Newcomb, a director for affiliate strategy and planning, who left at the end of last month, according to Aun.

Staff researcher Lucy Shackelford contributed to this report.

Lena H. Sun is a national reporter for The Washington Post, focusing on health.
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