Komen controversy’s long term impact on grants

Before reading this article, set aside your political views, religious beliefs and advocacy of women’s healthcare.  This article does not take a position on either side of this issue, but rather discusses the potential long-term effects of the controversy surrounding Komen’s initial decision to pull grant funding from Planned Parenthood, the ensuing public backlash and subsequent reversal of that decision.

Every grant given to an organization is subject to contractual stipulations, deliverables and reporting requirements.  One common provision in grant agreements is an investigative/legal proceedings provision.  A majority of public and private foundations will not provide funding to an organization under investigation by a government body or mired in legal proceedings.  In the case of Komen for the Cure, the organization invoked this provision within their grant agreement with Planned Parenthood, who is currently under congressional investigation.

We can speculate as to the executive motivations behind this decision, but it is safe to say, that we will never know if funding was initially pulled due to grant enforcement procedures, political influence or the personal opinions of leadership.  However, it is clear that Komen leadership failed to accurately measure the potential public and political fallout from the initial decision.  As a result, they faced an unprecedented public backlash from political organizations, religious organizations and their core constituency.  In the end, Komen relented on their initial decision, but at the same time may have forever changed the way that foundations award grants.

As events surrounding this issue unfolded this week, foundation leaders and grant managers applied the situation to their own organizations and procedures.  It is not uncommon that a foundation will pull grant funding due to a grantees legal or regulatory troubles.  The last thing that any foundation wants is to see their own funding put at risk due to their relationship with a program entrenched in legal troubles.  However, the Komen/Planned Parenthood controversy has now added a new layer of considerations to the decision to enforce this provision.  Foundations now must consider the potential media, political, religious and constituency fallout from a decision to enforce such a provision.  Without any guarantee of being able enforce this provision on the back-end, grant managers will inevitably place a renewed scrutinization of applicants prior to awarding a grant.  The end result could be the refusal of grant applications for organizations that, by nature, are embroiled in political or religious controversy.

In the end, I’m left wondering if there are really any LONG-TERM winners.

  • An organization with a non-political, non-religious mission has seen their reputation tarnished
  • An organization forever mired in political and religious controversy has seen a valuable, non-controversial program put at risk
  • Organizations that are in any way mired in political or religious controversy may now lose potential funding; not because they are currently under regulatory/governmental investigation, but rather because they may someday be under such investigation. And,
  • Valuable programs may no longer be administered by the best-suited organization, simply because they might someday come under investigation.

On a personal note:

Komen Race for the Cure provides tens of millions of dollars each year to research, awareness, early detection and healthcare services related to breast cancer.  The organization’s core mission remains strong and remains unchanged.  There is no argument as to the impact that Komen has had in terms of awareness and services for women impacted by breast cancer, and each of us has a responsibility, as does Komen’s leadership, to assure that political and religious beliefs do not impact that core mission.

Likewise, Planned Parenthood is an organization that will forever be mired in political and religious controversy.  However, there are numerous program that Planned Parenthood administers that are non-controversial, that are in no way mired in controversy, and in which we should all draw a distinction between.

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