The Komen-Planned Parenthood Case -- A Philanthropic and Political Victory for Us All

Can a former Board Member of a local Planned Parenthood defend the Susan G. Komen Foundation?

Of course I can, and I will.

Komen is an extraordinary entrepreneurial foundation that has used many of the tools of business to secure its place as the "the global leader of the breast cancer movement, having invested more than $1.9 billion since inception in 1982" which it proudly states on its website. It enforces the restriction on any other use of its "for the Cure®" tagline, and locks up its supply chain.

What's wrong with that? I don't believe anything really. The class I teach on Philanthropy at Yale University praises successful, innovative and risk taking philanthropies -- and those who import some business acumen. Komen is using known business tactics and very successfully too. It pays its executives well, which I believe it should. Why should creative, skilled labor be paid poorly because they are working on some of the world's most intractable diseases and problems?

Why should people who work on relatively trivial matters -- like upgrading the iPhone -- be paid astronomical money and be respected for doing so? Kudos to the Komen Foundation for helping to debunk the vow of poverty model when it comes to charities working on serious problems that affect those at the bottom of the pyramid. (Cancer, of course, affects us across the board -- but pulling Planned Parenthood's funding would have hurt poor people disproportionately -- given the huge disparity in health care between poor people and the middle class.)

I like the fact that Komen's strategies have been entrepreneurial and they pay to get the best talent, and thus get people to give more time, and more treasure. And I like the brand they created.

Why then the outrage that hit the Komen Foundation because of its decision to defund Planned Parenthood?

Well the Komen Foundation forgot what donors believed about the Komen brand and that's surprising. My own impression of the Komen brand was that it was a non-partisan tough organization that focused on its mission and got most of the world to believe that women's health -- and breast cancer in particular -- was not a political issue. We could all support it and believe it was the big pink umbrella -- the pink ribbon for us all.

Of course, women's health and health services are political. Donors knew in the gut that Komen's actions to defund Planned Parenthood might be political. And their outrage had the desired result. It forced Komen to live up to its brand. It also forced donors to face some uncomfortable facts. Donors need to get away from the comfortable model "I'm for education and against cancer". While true for most of us, it's a bit lame isn't it? If you are passionate about Planned Parenthood, fund it. If you believe only "good girls" and abstinence only groups deserve help, fund that. But if you claim to be an umbrella organization that pool donations and distribute them in a non-partisan way, do so.

Personally, I am happy that whatever veil of donor ignorance was lifted, was lifted. I am glad there was a reckoning at the Komen Foundation because I believe they are amazing and have done great work but got off course (its reversal to now fund Planned Parenthood proves that). They will hopefully be stronger and better after this moment.

And I am glad for Planned Parenthood in reminding donors of what it is and why women's health is political. Health care may get charitable dollars but it is political. I'm not particularly religious but Isaiah 32:9 did come to mind: "Rise up, you women that are at ease; hear my voice, you complacent daughters; give ear unto my speech."

I hope the $3M that Planned Parenthood raised because of this moment -- more than five times what it would have lost from Komen -- energizes donors everywhere to take philanthropy and the common good more seriously and watchfully.

So I defend Komen and defend Planned Parenthood. Now, I hope the donors find their own defense.