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.