Did you know that 1 in every 8 women in the United States will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime?  This statistic may scare many of us, and remind us that we and those we love should receive regular mammograms at least every two years.


As PR professionals know, a company’s positive brand reputation often takes many years to build, but can be lost, or significantly harmed, in just a single day.  Susan G. Komen For The Cure, an organization built on the fight against breast cancer, and in the process, a champion for women’s health, understands this concept all too well as they saw their reputation plummet in an instant in January 2012.  The company made the controversial decision to end their $650,000 funding to Planned Parenthood, an organization that provides affordable mammograms to women.  Mammograms make up a total of 17% of their services.  Susan G. Komen For The Cure’s decision to end funding would, in the eyes of many, cost the organization its hard earned respect, trust and financial support.

Komen rapidly became the New Coke of nonprofits when, within 48 hours, it confirmed that it was withdrawing funding, opposed itself in clarifying its reason, and then backpedalled on the decision following an outpouring of protest.

Initially, Komen cited that the decision was made based on a new policy of not giving money to any association that is under investigation.

The next day, Nancy Brinker, founder and Chair of Global Strategy of the Susan G. Komen Foundation, communicated to the Washington Post that the actual reason for the funding cut “…has to do with the fact that Planned Parenthood does not provide mammograms to women, but only provides mammogram referrals.”  The same day, a Komen board member reversed the message yet again.  Lobbyist John D. Raffaelli told The New York Times that Komen “had become increasingly worried that an investigation of Planned Parenthood by Florida Representative Cliff Stearns, would damage Komen’s credibility with donors.”

What began as a communication disaster, and quickly turned into a brand disaster as the business went over 24 hours without a tweet or other communication out to its many previously loyal supporters, during which time customers blew up the Facebook pages of Komen’s corporate partners and expressed concerns on Twitter and other social media outlets.  By February 3, 2012, there were over 19,000 likes on a newly created “Defund the Komen Foundation” Facebook page.

“If they had quickly come out and communicated and said, ‘Oops, we blew it,’ that’s one thing.  But 48 hours is an eternity today with social media,” said Kivi Leroux Miller, author and blogger at the website Nonprofit Marketing Guide.

So, who won and who lost?  Well, Planned Parenthood.  They received an enormous amount of donations… $3 million in three days.  Numerous Komen supporters said that they would now give all of their money to Planned Parenthood, and many media outlets emphasized the organization’s contributions to women’s health in their reporting.

Susan G. Komen For The Cure overturned its Planned Parenthood position in the beginning of February 2012, but a lot of damage had clearly already been done.  Susan G. Komen For The Cure is still doing great work raising money for breast cancer research.  The organization will have to continue utilizing more effective and thoughtful communication strategies to regain the support they so greatly depend on.


Stay tuned…


Other articles in this series: