Taking sides

The Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation reversed field today and announced that it would continue to fund breast cancer screening programs run by Planned Parenthood and its affiliates.

But the firestorm sparked by the Komen foundation’s initial decision to yank funding has people wondering why some organizations – especially the largest not-for-profit groups and corporations – are decidedly partisan when they serve a diverse group of stakeholders whose political views and religious affiliations span the full spectrum. What compels these organizations to overlook or assume such risks?

To protect and advance its interests, virtually every organization has to take certain policy positions. They may advocate their positions independently or as part of a broader coalition of like-minded groups. But they would be acting irresponsibly if they chose to remain on the sidelines when important issues arise. Not only do they have a right to engage, they have an obligation to their stakeholders (and shareholders and donors in particular) to pursue policy goals.

But that doesn’t mean they should play political favorites by exclusively supporting, say, conservative politicians. Nor would it be prudent (or legal) to hire only those who share management’s liberal politics or Christian faith.

As organizations grow and expand into new markets, they become more diverse in the people they employ and the communities they serve. They benefit from this diversity because varied perspectives and experiences contribute to a richer debate and more innovative solutions.

So why do some organizations continue to make partisan decisions they know will alienate a substantial number of their constituents? There may be several reasons, including:

  • History: Their founders had certain beliefs that remain central operating tenets.
  • Ignorance: Leadership is out-of-touch, making decisions in an information vacuum.
  • Naiveté: Leaders think the right spin will help them sell controversial decisions.
  • Group think: Like-minded boards and leadership teams sidestep serious dialogue.
  • Dictatorship: Dominant chief executives stifle debate and overpower opposition.
  • Dependence: Large shareholders or donors use money to set the agenda.
  • Single-mindedness: Focus on one group or issue obscures broader threats.
  • Hubris: Past successes fuel egos and create assumptions for ongoing success.

In announcing its policy reversal today, the Komen foundation apologized “for recent decisions that cast doubt on our commitment to our mission to saving women’s lives.” It added: “We do not want our mission marred or affected by politics – anyone’s politics.”

Lesson learned? Let’s hope so – and not only by the folks at the Komen foundation.

3 thoughts on “Taking sides

  1. They gave in but their comments about their rationale were never consistent, clear indication of trying to find an excuse to stick. They are now partnering with a group to promote pink gun sales.

    They are now getting push back from the right for caving in. They’ve created a mess and th may be the begining of the end. I wouldn’t be surprised to see hearings on how they’ve spent their money. A good portion has gone to lawyers to drive from the market any charity that uses the term “cure”.

    Tim Doke, their former PR head has said that it s an organization out of control with a CEO more interested in her own social and political position than with breast cancer eradication.

  2. Congress snapped back from pursuing online protection bills. Komen snapped back from its course… Looking at this strictly as a crisis communication case: It’s a crisis for company and organization communicators when Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr et al go maximum blast hostile, both in the sense that “crisis” means everything else, everything planned, everything positive, everything connective, stops while you deal with it. Can company communicators proceed with “authentic communication” without pre-testing, thinking through internet backlash that is not necessarily from the company’s stakeholders? Does this change everything?

    • Bruce, fair points. Social media certainly caused the issue to snowball quickly. But I go back to the initial decision at the core of the snowball; I just can’t fathom why any company or organization would take political sides in these circumstances.

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