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.