Politics to the side, the management at Susan G. Komen Foundation overlooked a powerful, yet simple truth:
Donors give for reasons beyond the dollar sign.
Giving is rarely – ever – only about money.
Giving is a compassionate act of kindness. In fact, in most cases, giving is stimulated by something other than money. For instance, a donor may want to keep precious memories of a loved one alive by supporting a cause (e.g., Breast Cancer Research or Women’s Health) important to their loved one.
In its purist form, giving represents a humanitarian response focused on ending (human) suffering while also making the advancement of others possible. It’s really all about making a difference in someone’s life. When someone decides to do something to help someone else out or transfer ownership of something they possess without seeking something in return, they know what it means to freely give.
Oprah Winfrey comment on giving, saying:
“I don’t think you ever stop giving. I really don’t. I think it’s an on-going process. And it’s not just about being able to write a check. It’s being able to touch somebody’s life.”
More Than Money
To a non-profit organization, donations (in-kind and financial) make it possible to continue reaching the populations they serve. More important than the dollars that fuel non-profit organizations are the people they reach and the lives improved – again, made possible by those who give. To the donor, the time spent, goods and money given are an extension of closely held core values.
Financial donations give donors another way to publicly or privately stand by what they believe in. By giving, the donor tells the world what issues matters to them and what they value most.
For Reputation’s Sake
What happened between SGK & Planned Parenthood shows the non-profit world that they must remain aware of how management decisions might be perceived by their community: the people who fund their programs, those they offer grants to, those who believe in their mission, and the people they serve. Decisions to fund or defund should be assessed thoroughly and always handled with great care.
If funding or program changes must occur, then inform staff, donors, and those served (as well as the broader community) in phases, making sure that everyone understands why change is inevitable. Also, provide opportunities for (internal & external) feedback along the way, so that no one feels like management couldn’t care less or that their voice was ignored or not heard.
Corrective Action, Now
As the digital outcry grew, Planned Parenthood issued a statement thanking those who value their work and even though Komen Foundation restored funding and a key executive resigned, the damage to Komen’s reputation will take time to mend.
Now that Komen has reversed their earlier decision to halt future financial support for Planned Parenthood, and formally apologized for it, Komen should focus on reminding their audience about everything that makes them who they are, their mission and past achievements. It takes a great deal of effort, emotional intelligence and endurance to parlay a catastrophe into a triumph. Yet, it can be done by strategically attending to the concerns of their community.
Falling From Grace
A strange thing happens when a person or organization falls from grace. First, those watching the descent are transfixed or speechless – shocked to witness an admired person or organization lose their footing. Next, out comes the vultures (in every form, including digital), searching for additional opportunities to strip away what remains, which could very well reveal more details than the public might care (or need) to know.
Soon after this starts, you’ll notice key people abandon ship, by choice or by force. Quietly and actively where no divide existed, a clear one begins to take shape – as folks start to put some distance between themselves and the person (organization) at the heart of the uproar. What follows, depends on how the person (organization) responds to those they serve.
When reviving a reputation:
- Own what went wrong.
- Make sure your community and the public knows what you intend to do to make amends.
- Create new opportunities to connect with your community.
- Be as transparent and humble as you can be.
- Stay committed to building stronger supporters in your community.
Without question, non-profits have the right to decide how to disperse the financial resources they raise. However, when proposed changes are completely unexpected or profoundly alter the ability of the organization that has come to rely on those resources, a respectful, more subtle approach is called for. Doing otherwise will cause people to question motives, and commitment.
The Power of Social Media, The Great Amplifier
News no longer takes days to be verified today. It only takes hours…minutes…seconds for information to be shared and then amplified virally. This means Digital (Media) heat is nothing to play with!
How would you respond if your once sterling reputation was now singed?
Imagine… you were the one falling from grace.
Share your thoughts below.