Health & Medicine

Komen, Planned Parenthood say lessons learned from funding dust-up

Eight months after the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation took a public thumping over dropping and then restoring funding for Planned Parenthood, has the nation's largest breast cancer charity recovered its momentum? The answer in Kentucky is apparently yes, but lessons have been learned, leaders and experts say.

The Komen breast cancer support organization, accustomed to being a media darling, learned in February that a non-profit's reputation can turn on a dime.

Komen pulled funding for Planned Parenthood, a sexual- and reproductive-health care provider, saying it wanted to use donations more efficiently.

The response to Komen's decision was thundering. The Komen organization took a beating in the media, on Facebook and throughout the Twitterverse. Meanwhile, Planned Parenthood, long a lightning rod for conservative activists because some of its clinics provide abortions, brought in hundreds of thousands of dollars in extra contributions. Then the national Komen group reversed its stance, angering the conservatives who had supported its decision to end funding.

The one-two punch seemed to have something to irritate just about everybody within the breast cancer non-profit spectrum.

The lesson, said Danielle Clore, executive director at the Kentucky Nonprofit Network, is that non-profits must have a crisis plan, and it had better include a fast response with a designated spokesman and the use of social media — both areas where Komen took a pounding in the first 24 hours after its decision was announced.

"Regardless of how you feel about the issue, the power of social media is absolutely critical," Clore said. "You can't control that. ... Ultimately, when Twitter and Facebook are on fire, they're off. There's not much you can do there."

Clore said that organizations who don't have in-house spokespeople should be prepared to hire an expert.

"The other interesting piece of this is the impact that a national umbrella organization's action can have on a local affiliate," Clore said.

Jennifer Bricking, executive director of Komen's Lexington affiliate, knows that well. The Central Kentucky group, which hosts its annual Race for the Cure in Lexington on Saturday, has had no funding ties with the state's two Planned Parenthood offices, in Lexington and Louisville.

"It brought attention that didn't need to be here," Bricking said. Komen affiliates across the country are separate non-profit organizations that make their own decisions.

"What I raise here does not affect California or Texas," she said, except in terms of the research pool to which all affiliates contribute.

She said money raised in Kentucky goes toward such items as screening, diagnostics and equipment used by breast cancer patients.

Nonetheless, Clore said, "you've got to take the heat with the brand. ... It's very easy to see the lift it gave to Planned Parenthood."

Eight months later, the Kentucky affiliates of both organizations say their separate missions are in harmony.

Patti Stauffer, president and chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood of Kentucky, said her organization took advantage of the profile boost to showcase its services.

"We have a mutually supportive relationship with the Komen group," Stauffer said. "Both the Komen group and us want to make sure that women have access to health care."

Planned Parenthood of Kentucky provides services in Lexington and Louisville including breast exams, pap smears, testing for socially transmitted diseases and educational programming including, parent-child communication workshops and a peer education program. It also offers pregnancy testing, with counseling on all legal options of dealing with pregnancy.

Planned Parenthood does not provide either prenatal or obstetrical care.

Stauffer said the group is particularly concerned with those failing to receive consistent health care because they lack health insurance or are the victims of a continued bad economy.

"All of us are extremely concerned about the health care safety net," she said. "We know here at Planned Parenthood, we are seeing an increasing number of extremely low-income folks. We need to weave that safety net as rightly as we can."

Still, said Bricking of the Lexington Komen organization, the Komen-Planned Parenthood debacle emphasized accountability and how organizations raising money need to be able to respond clearly and quickly to donor questions.

"I want people to ask questions," she said. "I want them to know where their money is going."

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