Is it too late for Komen?

Susan G. Komen for the Cure continues to attract media attention, but for all the wrong reasons. This week, yet another senior executive, Dara Richardson-Heron, announced she had made a “personal decision” to leave her role as the CEO of Komen Greater NYC. Now, there are calls for the resignation of Nancy Brinker, the founder and chief executive of the organization.

Komen has been unable to rebuild its reputation since it announced the withdrawal of funding for breast cancer screening at Planned Parenthood clinics, earlier this year. So what went wrong?

Komen lost touch with its donors and lost sight of its intrinsic identity.

The organization failed to monitor its donors’ conversations and was blind-sided by the public outrage. As a result, Komen was slow to respond to the criticism, and outrage escalated.

Worse still, Komen tried to justify its decision by insisting that the elimination of funds was because Planned Parenthood was under federal investigation – this was untrue. Credibility dropped further when e-mails emerged linking the decision to the performance of abortions at some Planned Parenthood clinics. Not only did Komen become embroiled in the age-old political abortion debate, but it also failed to be honest – crisis management 101.

The organization’s behavior and stakeholder expectations are polls apart. Responsibility, reliability, credibility, and trustworthiness are key to a good reputation. Komen no longer scores favorably on any of these traits.

A crisis is a test of management. If it responds well, people gain confidence. If not, reputation suffers. For Komen, each new resignation drags the organization down further, and the damage increases.

With two major NYC fundraisers shelved, donations down across the country, and other non-profits poised to jump into the space, Susan G. Komen for the Cure needs to act now. It must refocus and start engaging with its audiences, inside and outside the organization.

At this stage, only drastic measures will restore donor confidence – a change at the top would be a good start.

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Are half-truths more important than fact?

Two weeks ago, links to the “Kony 2012” video and calls to action from different corners of the world dominated my Facebook feed. I, like 83 million other people, watched the YouTube video, but, unlike many, I did not have the reaction Jason Russell, the Invisible Children charity co-founder and filmmaker, had hoped for.

Yes, I am horrified by the atrocities caused by Kony and the LRA. The “Kony 2012” video tells a compelling story and successfully plays on our emotions. Public outrage always rises when vulnerable groups of society are impacted; no group is more vulnerable than innocent children. For many, the video was their first exposure to the story of Joseph Kony.

I understand my friends’ desire to respond and to help. But, my immediate reaction was quite different. How do the local people in Uganda feel about the release of the video? More importantly, how do they feel about someone else telling their story and trying to rally complete strangers behind a solution they may not agree with? My reaction was not out of any premonition of the backlash that lay ahead, but based on personal experience.

I grew up in a country troubled by war, but was fortunate to travel. I listened to people offering well-intentioned but misguided solutions to the problems. Everyone had an opinion, even though they had never set foot in the country. Their opinions were shaped by hearsay or media coverage that often portrayed extreme views on both sides; they did not reflect the feelings of the vast majority of innocent people. Frequently, increased scrutiny from outside seemed to escalate the violence.

Sure enough, the response I expected came several days later. I cannot pretend to know what the Ugandan people have been through, or the true motives behind this video, but I can empathize with some of the feelings expressed by Anywar Ricky Richard, especially regarding the call for military action.

In the communications arena, we cannot simply impose our ideas on others. We have a responsibility to gather the facts and to include our stakeholders in the conversation. In my opinion, Jason Russell failed on both accounts. The misrepresentation of the facts and lack of consideration for local feelings angered the people he claims he wants to help, It also damaged the credibility of the Invisible Children charity and threatened the emerging Ugandan tourism market.

Two days ago, Amama Mbabazi, the Prime Minister of Uganda, released his own video to reframe the story and reestablish Uganda’s reputation as a relatively safe nation. With only 81,000 viewers, is society more interested in half truths than straight journalism and facts?