PR nightmare, then reversal for Komen and Planned Parenthood.
David Egan felt like his head was spinning Friday at the Susan G. Komen office in the Twin Cities. In the span of 24 hours, his office went from fielding furious phone calls and messages to accepting profuse thanks for Komen's decision to continue funding Planned Parenthood.
Likewise, Sarah Stoesz, president of Minnesota's Planned Parenthood chapter, has been whipsawed. On Thursday she was denouncing Komen's decision; on Friday she was making plans to assemble a Planned Parenthood contingent to walk in the next local Race for the Cure.
The decision by the national Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation to reinstate Planned Parenthood funding Friday ended one of the most volatile weeks in the nonprofit world of women's health.
Komen, considered one of the nation's most successful nonprofit brands, found itself facing a public relations nightmare this week after changing its grant-making criteria in a way that ruled out funding for breast cancer screening at Planned Parenthood locations.
Within hours of Komen's Friday morning announcement that it was reversing that decision, it was time for reconciliation -- at least in the Twin Cities -- where the local Planned Parenthood ironically is now talking about building closer ties to the local Komen affiliate.
Meanwhile, some abortion foes who supported the funding cuts to Planned Parenthood are re-examining what the Komen decision means. And websites and blogs statewide continued to rage with the debate.
'Stakeholders' flex muscle
The swiftness of the backlash and its intensity online were unparalleled, said Jon Pratt, executive director of the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits. He called it "stakeholder resistance," and said its power has exploded with the spread of social media.
"Nonprofit [leaders] can't just manage an organization and its budget anymore," said Pratt. "There's a ready channel for people to weigh in and make themselves known, especially to each other. It's almost like you've got a crowd going, 'That's right!'"
Egan is glad the crowd noise has subsided. From Komen's office at the Mall of America, which this year has been organizing events such as snowshoe walks and a "bowl for the cure" this month, life was settling back to normal Friday afternoon.
"This has been really challenging for us because none of this really applied to Minnesota," said Egan. The local Planned Parenthood doesn't get grants from Komen.
At least not at the moment. In an ironic twist, Planned Parenthood of Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota now is considering applying for grants for breast screening from Egan's office, said Stoesz.
"I am happy to be able to work with Komen in the future," said Stoesz, who plans to meet with Egan in the weeks ahead. "They are important leaders in the field of women's health."
Pro-Life Action group waits
Meanwhile, Brian Gibson, executive director of Pro-Life Action Ministries, a group opposed to abortion that has picketed Planned Parenthood offices for years, said he's still trying to figure out what Komen's new policy means.
Earlier in the week, Gibson had sent out e-mails and Facebook messages to supporters, telling them about the Komen decision. He's withholding further notices, he said, until he has more time to scrutinize the new language for grant criteria.
"We're still out there," Gibson said. "But we're going to take a step back and wait and see."
Some Minnesotans are still upset, however. They've taken their complaints to some unlikely places, such as the Yoplait Facebook page, where some were still asking Yoplait to "find a new sponsor" Friday afternoon. Yoplait has long been a major supporter of Komen: Users send in Yoplait lids to earn money for the charity.
"We know you had the best of intentions and are stuck in the middle of this fight, but the public is watching," said a late Friday post.
For nonprofit observers nationwide, the week's twists and turns present a lesson. Anytime a nonprofit touches a hot-button issue such as abortion, gun control or animal rights, handle with care, said David Hessekiel, president of the New York-based Cause Marketing Forum.
"The issue of choice and abortion is one of the most divisive in the nation," said Hessekiel. "It was worthy of a very substantive communication plan, and didn't get it."
Jean Hopfensperger • 612-673-4511