Are You Prepared?
Susan G. Komen for the Cure took a real beating last month for the way it handled its decision (and subsequent reversal thereof) to discontinue its funding of Planned Parenthood. Fundraisers everywhere must have been stunned by how quickly the whole thing took on a life of its own. The venerable Komen was slammed for its decision and because there were conflicting stories about the "why" behind it. There was an unfortunate and insensitive tweet. There was a resignation. Komen's public response seemed disorganized; there was a palpable sense of "scramble" about it, like the organization was allowing itself to be thrashed about by the angry waves of controversy. If that wasn't actually the case, it was at least the perception. And you all know about the importance of perception in nonprofit fundraising.
Planned Parenthood, on the other hand, jumped right into survival (read: crisis fundraising) mode. It rushed out appeals asking supporters to ACT NOW to offset what would have been a substantial loss of income resulting from Komen's decision. The perception was that Planned Parenthood kept its cool and made the best of a bad situation.
Social media blew up, and much of the response was pro-Planned Parenthood. Even many people who had been enamored with Komen came out against it. And there was a grassroots effort to encourage folks to donate to Planned Parenthood in honor of Susan G. Komen and have the acknowledgment sent to the president of the Komen organization.
Planned Parenthood couldn't have handled this better. Komen could have. Time will tell how any of this will affect the two groups and their fundraising. But you can bet there was a lot of Monday-morning quarterbacking going on in both camps. There probably still is.
If you think this couldn't happen to your organization, you're wrong. Sure, your mission isn't controversial, and you shy away from politics and religion. But the thing about land mines is that no one plans to step on them. So given that even the most seemingly innocuously missioned organization can find itself in the center of a crisis, the question is: Are you prepared to deal with it? Do you have a plan in place so every member of your organization knows what to do and say — or not — in the face of any reasonably foreseeable scenario? If the bulk — or even just a large portion — of your funding comes from one source (a no-no to begin with), what would you do if that source suddenly goes away — as in overnight? Or what if the tide of public opinion suddenly turns against you, and your organization finds itself in the middle of a fundraising or public-relations maelstrom? Like in a matter of minutes — after your executive director makes an untoward statement at a press briefing, or your organization's ethics, results or transparency are called into question by the local media?
Of course, you can't anticipate every possible emergency. But no matter what your mission, you have to be prepared to act, and fast, in the face of a major funding, fundraising or public-relations crisis. If it can happen to Komen or Planned Parenthood, it can happen to you.