Susan G Komen for the CureHere’s a story about a Non Profit organization that angered, not only its supporters and donors but the general public. The Susan G. Komen for the Cure charity defines its mission as  helping find a cure for Breast Cancer, a noble cause, for sure.

Komen helps fund research on the causes and cures for Breast Cancer. It supports screening tests for women for early detection. And it provides education on Breast Cancer.

Every year there are ‘Race for the Cure’ events in many cities across the US and I know there are similar events in Canada. In 2011 The Komen Foundation collected $420 Million US.

The Komen charity also supports other Charities with similar missions. But not all charities have exactly the same mission. One such charity that was getting support from Komen was Planned Parenthood.

The Crisis:

On Jan 31, 2012, Komen announced that it would no longer provide support to Planned Parenthood, for breast exams.

Komen was under pressure from one group not to support Planned Parenthood at all, even though the funds were to be allocated to Breast Screening for low income women, a service that they endorse. The rational for the de-funding was because Planned Parenthood is being investigated by the government to determine if they used Federal funds for abortions.

According to the ‘About Us’ section of the Planned Parenthood website, They “are a trusted health care provider, an informed educator, a passionate advocate, and a global partner helping similar organizations around the world. Planned Parenthood delivers vital reproductive health care, sex education, and information to millions of women, men, and young people worldwide.”

Planned Parenthood boasts over 4 million supporters, donors, and activists.

However, they are also associated with abortions and contraception. This is a controversial topic, some people (and religions) taking a position against abortion and contraception and others taking a pro choice position. Both sides are very emotional and passionate about their positions.

Planned Parenthood responded expressing “deep disappointment in response to the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation’s decision to stop funding breast cancer prevention, screenings and education at Planned Parenthood health centers.”  They also sent out an email request to supporters and donors to replace the money that Komen had stopped providing. 

So when the announcement became public, the cry from those who supported Planned Parenthood went viral. Komen’s supporters and donors revolted. The Mayor of New York gave a personal $250,000 donation to Planned Parenthood. The issue appeared in my personal  Facebook stream. It was all over the newspapers.

Social Media lit up with negative comments on Twitter out numbering positive ones by a factor of 80 to 1. According to the article ” The Accidental Rebranding of Komen for the Cure” the non profit responded by removing negative comments on their Facebook page bringing the ratio to about 10 to 1 against Komen.

Energizer, a battery manufacturer, had just become a sponsor of Komen for the Cure. They were also targeted by angry consumers, who boycotted them, until Komen reversed their position, putting additional pressure on Komen.

The first response from Komen was silence. Nothing on its website, Facebook fan page or on Twitter.

Resolving the Crisis:

It took over 24 hours before the first communication came out from Komen, on Facebook.

A video by the CEO failed to resolve the issue.

Within 48 hours, Komen backed down. The CEO apologized. They agreed to restore their funding to Planned Parenthood. Shortly afterwards, their Senior VP of Public Policy, Karen Handel resigned. Karen Handel had run for Georgia governor as an anti-abortion Republican.

The latest public relations problem for Komen is now the public is scrutinizing where the charitable donations it receives is being spent. In particular, it seems Komen have cut (as a percentage) the amount of money allocated for research on the causes of the disease and treatments for those who have breast cancer.


1. Crisis can strike an organization, even non profits, at any time.

2. Non Profits have customers: donors, supporters, advocates as well as those who receive services or aid. They also have partners they support and work with. These are all stakeholders as are government regulators and the public in general.

3. Stakeholder satisfaction is paramount to all organizations.

4. When a crisis hits, action needs to come swiftly. Failure to act allows others to take over the agenda, the problem to go viral and the size of damage control efforts escalates.

a. Public recognition of the problem.

b. Apology.

c. High level executive involvement.

d. Action to fix the problem.

e. Fix the root cause to avoid the problem in the future and publicize the fix.

5. When the situation involves religion, politics and emotions, sometimes there are no ‘right’ answers, just less wrong ones!

The Accidental Rebranding of Komen for the Cure  article summarized it well: This is what happens “when a leading nonprofit jumps into a highly controversial area of public debate without a communications strategy, stays silent, and therefore lets others take over the public dialogue, perhaps permanently redefining the organization and its brand.”

What is your opinion? Leave your comments below.


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Adele Berenstein

Adele Berenstein is an Experienced Customer Satisfaction Executive, recently retired from a Large Global IT Organization after a long productive management career including Sales, Marketing, Services, teaching and education center management and most recently, 19 years in customer satisfaction management. She turned around divisions with customer satisfaction problems, implemented measurable improvements and management systems, and implemented programs to prevent problems from ever affecting customers.

2 Responses to “Restoring Customer Satisfaction: Non Profit: Komen Charity”

  1. Frank Says:

    Adele , Excellent selection of an example of what can happen with a very bad client satisfaction situation. The decision to stop funding Planned Parenthood was done in honest concern for doing the right thing for the Komen Foundation. The decision was probably not looked at with the Implication Decision Making Process. That process would have highlighted the Controversial nature of the decision, negative reaction, and the potential of it going viral and the immediate affect on contributions and their supporters.

    You are absolutely right that life has choices that are the lessor of two bad choices. The abortion and contraceptive issue is the morale touch stone issue that much of the world is in the process of deciding. In the past it was slavery, women’s rights, and others throughout history. Komen made the right choice to survive as an organization.

    Thank you for the bravery to use this incident as an example. Happy Valentine’s Day.

  2. Adele Says:

    Thank you Frank for your comments. I hope mends can be made and the efforts to eliminate Breast Cancer will continue.

    Happy Valentine’s day to you too.


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