October 13, 2017; Chronicle of Philanthropy
At the end of last week, we noticed a very restrained release about a new CEO being installed at Susan G. Komen. This will be the third permanent CEO in five years; between the last one, who left in November of 2016, and this new one, an interim was steering the administrative ship. Most of us know that this level of turnover at the top indicates that the organization remains unstable.
As readers may remember, Komen, which is primarily a fundraising operation, ran into big problems with its own national constituency in 2011 when it decided to end its grantmaking for breast cancer screenings at Planned Parenthood clinics. By the day after it announced the decision to exclude Planned Parenthood facilities, a full-on revolt had begun to occur among a large part of its base of supporters. Komen eventually reversed the decision, but by then supporters had already begun to distance themselves from the local chapters as well as from the national entity. By 2015, the organization had plummeted from $350 million in revenue to $228 million. Its ranking fell from 41st on the Chronicle of Philanthropy’s list of the 400 top nonprofit fundraisers in 2011 to 127th in 2015.
The organization never fully admitted its own culpability in the situation, and it never did a clean sweep of leadership—two moves that are often necessary to reconcile with donors who feel they have been burned. A few middle managers left or were forced out, but it was not until 2012 that Nancy Brinker, the organization’s founding president and CEO, announced she would resign from her leadership position. She did not actually move on until nearly a year later, when Judith Salerno was hired as the new president and CEO. But did Brinker really move on, as she took up a “new management role focusing on revenue creation, strategy and global growth as chair of the Komen Board Executive Committee”? Or, did she simply step up in leadership? Salerno has left, replaced by Ellen Wilmott, who was appointed as an interim last year, and now by Paula Schneider, late of American Apparel. Brinker is still there four years later, even as many donors keep their distance.—Ruth McCambridge