Lessons Learned from Both Sides of the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Backlash
Almost everyone in the nonprofit community is doing some level of reflection in light of the overwhelming response to Susan G. Komen for the Cure’s decision to withdraw Planned Parenthood’s eligibility for funding (which has since been reversed). What likely occurred as a fairly straightforward, seemingly politically-covered boardroom decision is now being deemed a potentially unrecoverable failing of one the most prominent cancer fundraising organizations in the world.
Where did the Susan G. Komen Foundation go wrong?
The Boardroom Is Now Public
Organizational decision-making can no longer take place in a vacuum. In fact, as we just learned, it won’t. Whisperings about the true political intentions of some Komen leadership spread quickly, fueling the firestorm. Organizations can get ahead of these types of decisions by releasing details of internal processes, which should include addressing potential dissent, in step with or before news of a major decision.
The financial eligibility restriction against those under federal investigation decision would have been an ideal discussion within the Komen blog. The Komen community could have provided valuable feedback to Komen while giving the organization the opportunity to be the venue for, and a participant in, the dialogue.
With social media such a well-known tool for managing media relations and crisis communications, people have become accustomed to real time responsiveness from the players in a controversy on these platforms.
While the Komen camp undoubtedly worked diligently behind the scenes on a response, their social media platforms sat silent, making way for the opposition’s campaign to surge. Komen could have used social tools to let their loyal following know that their opinions were being heard and the decision was being reevaluated. Instead, Komen’s silence inspired further retaliation as the online community likely interpreted this as willful ignorance. Furthermore, impassioned anti-abortion activist messaging then became the most prevalent response.
Building Meaningful Community
The real lesson here is that building community is about more than just getting people to wear your ribbon or donate money. It’s about building a relationship of trust and opening up channels of two-way communication about where the money is going and what causes you represent… and then standing by that commitment in both actions and words.
So what did Planned Parenthood do right?
Smart Social Media
Planned Parenthood immediately took to the web to grow support for their message. The results proved that they already had a solid online community in place before the crisis that was ready, willing, and able to go to bat for their cause. According to The Washington Post:
Planned Parenthood blasted news releases via e-mail and Twitter and posted the information on Planned Parenthood’s Facebook wall. More than 2,000 supporters shared that post with their own friends on the social network. On Twitter, Planned Parenthood wrote ‘ALERT: Susan G. Komen caves under anti-choice pressure, ends funding for breast cancer screenings at PP health centers.’ More than 500 Twitter users reposted that message.”
Soon enough hashtags were trending on Twitter and even more of the public was taking notice, including prominent media and policy makers. Donations to Planned Parenthood skyrocketed, and the community continued to fight on principle.
Running with a Media Moment
Planned Parenthood embraced the opportunity to bring women’s health and reproductive choice issues to the forefront. They didn’t let perfection and ownership of the message stand in the way of “good enough” and “getting it out there.” The result? Timely communications in an organic tone that people could relate to and easily share with their friends and families.
Support from Partners & Affiliates
There is, not surprisingly, a lot of overlap in organizational missions in the nonprofit world. Often, organizations will band together into a coalition for a long-term fight. But in the short term, it might be worth it to call in a favor or perhaps others will swoop in voluntarily in your time of need. Thanks to organizations like MoveOn.org and Credo Action, Planned Parenthood’s call to action reached an exponentially larger number of activists than its base community.
Although none of us would want to be at the Monday morning meeting at Komen’s offices, we can and should do our own intake of the situation. Many of the tools facilitating the downfall of one organization were the same tools providing opportunities to the other. The difference is how they were used. Most importantly, these tools give us the opportunity to get it right, even after we get it wrong.