Into Battle Without Armor

That’s what one regional official of the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation commented it felt like. “We were eaten alive,” said one. Another commented that “there was no crisis management plan…they were completely caught off guard.”

The furor was over a decision made at senior levels of the foundation to bar organizations that are under federal investigation from applying for grants. Not a totally illogical decision on the surface. But it surprised executives when the decision, immediately affecting Planned Parenthood, was roundly perceived as a political one.

What should leadership at the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation have done?

The first would have been to look very, very hard at both sides of a decision that touches a political third rail – abortion. For foundation leadership to not see the potential for controversy in this decision is stunning.The real issue seemed to be more about Planned Parenthood’s support of abortion rights than its practice of supporting mammograms and thus helping to prevent breast cancer. There were almost as many people who criticized the reversal of the decision as those who protested against the original action.

The second would have been to be more clear about what the decision meant. Funding for Planned Parenthood was not specifically eliminated. Applications for grants were to be denied until the House investigation was complete. Not that the clarification would have mattered much given the nature of the debate.

But most importantly they should have had a crisis mananagement plan, specifically how to deal with the media and the response that quickly emerged. For many organizations, it is not a matter of if but when a slip-up of this sort happens.

Finally a plan of another sort is needed. A recovery plan. The annual event for the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation is around the corner. What the organization does between now and then – and what they actually do on Mother’s Day 2012 – will say a lot about the future of this group.

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