Friday, February 3, 2012

75 Percent of Conversations about Susan G. Komen are Critical

Susan G. Komen for the Cure unleashed a series of tweets on Wednesday to respond to criticism over its decision to stop funding Planned Parenthood. For instance, one tweet said:

"For 30 yrs we have provided help to low-income, uninsured & underinsured women. Changes to our granting policies reinforce that commitment."

The breast cancer foundation, which is facing a stiff PR backlash and boycott after announcing on Tuesday that it would no longer give money to Planned Parenthood for breast examinations and related services, remained largely silent on social media until late Wednesday, when it started tweeting and posted a video to YouTube with its CEO Nancy G. Brinker responding to criticism.

But as Komen prepared this response, negative comments piled up on the organization’s Facebook page:

“What a terrible, terrible policy. Your group should be ashamed.”
“I have always been a big supporter... I am appalled at your position regarding Planned Parenthood!!! I will no longer support you unless you reverse your decision!”
“Thanks a bunch for throwing low-income under the bus in order to ‘prioritize’ the political ideology of some of your upper management.”

According to PoliPulse, 75 percent of the conversations about Komen since this story emerged have been critical:

(Thanks to Kivi's Nonprofit Communications Blog for pointing out this statistic.)

The nonprofit said it is no longer partnering with Planned Parenthood due to new criteria that prohibit it from funding any organization under government investigation. Last year, Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.) started looking into whether Planned Parenthood uses public money for abortions, which it cannot do.

But many are calling it a political move, due in large part to the arrival of Komen’s new vice president Karen Handel, a prominent abortion foe who ran for governor of Georgia in 2010. Handel has said she opposes Planned Parenthood.

In a statement posted to its Facebook page on Wednesday morning, Komen denied that the decision has anything to do with politics:

“Grant making decisions are not about politics--our priority is and always will be the women we serve. Making this issue political or leveraging it for fundraising purposes would be a disservice to women.”

Amid growing criticism on Wednesday, Komen released a longer statement on its website that begins: "We are dismayed and extremely disappointed that actions we have taken to strengthen our granting process have been widely mischaracterized. It is necessary to set the record straight."

Pro-life supporters are celebrating the decision and leaving their own comments on Komen’s Facebook page. Many have thanked the organization and insisted they will now donate.

The issue is front and center on Planned Parenthood’s website, which features a statement claiming Komen bowed to pressure from anti-women’s health organizations. The statement goes on to say:

“At immediate risk are low-income women, many located in rural and underserved communities, served by 19 Planned Parenthood programs funded by the Komen Foundation. This funding has enabled designated Planned Parenthood health centers to provide women with breast health education, screenings, and referrals for mammograms — lifesaving care for women where Planned Parenthood is their only source of health care.

“We believe that women of all economic levels need access to breast health screenings, referrals, and education. We’re determined to make sure that Komen’s decision doesn’t jeopardize these women’s access to health care. Please make a contribution today to help us defend access to care and continue to protect and promote women's health."

The Washington Post noted that the Planned Parenthood controversy is among several moves by Komen that have caused PR crises. From the Post:

“Another controversy for the charity has been the growing argument that Komen indulges in ‘pinkwashing,’ or using breast cancer and the ubiquitous pink ribbon to promote unhealthy corporate products (like KFC chicken), in exchange for donations. Komen argues that that donations are much needed, having received over $55 million a year from corporate partnerships, according to USA Today.”

“Komen has also been criticized for aggressively trying to protect the phrase ‘for the cure,’ as well as the usage of the pink ribbon. The charity has taken legal action against other nonprofits or organizations for using either one, sparking the Wall Street Journal to write ‘nonprofits aren’t so generous when a name’s at stake.’ Komen’s legal counsel argued that a mix-up in names could see a donation go to the wrong charity.”

Given the backlash, it seems this current move might be its most serious PR challenge yet.

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