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ATL Business Chronicle Maria's Metro

Susan G. Komen Atlanta chapter assessing controversy

By Maria Saporta
Friday, April 6, 2012

Despite the recent controversy over national Susan G. Komen for the Cure’s relationship with Planned Parenthood, the Atlanta affiliate was able to grant $2.2 million to 22 community health organizations on April 2 — the exact same amount it gave away last year.

But officials from the Susan G. Komen for the Cure of Greater Atlanta Affiliate acknowledge that they still don’t know the full impact that the national controversy will have on local fundraising.

Komen’s 2012 fiscal year ended March 31, just before the grants were announced.

“The fiscal year fell to our advantage because the bulk of our fundraising happened before the controversy,” said Lila Hertz, a Komen-Atlanta board member and past president. She also chairs the local grant committee.

An upcoming test will be the 22nd annual Komen Atlanta Race for the Cure, a 5-K run/walk and a 1-mile walk that will be held May 12 at Atlantic Station.

“Registrations are slightly down, and the race pledges are off,” said Kelly Dolan, Komen Atlanta’s executive director. “We are too close to the controversy. We are down in pledges by $50,000 of where we were at this time last year.”

Last year, that Komen Atlanta event had 18,000 participants and raised $1.7 million — a large portion of what the organization was able to give away in grants to local organizations that help detect and treat breast cancer.

The irony is that Komen Atlanta has never given a grant to Planned Parenthood because the organization has never applied for one.
“We didn’t have a dog in the fight,” Dolan said. Of the money raised locally, 75 percent remains in Atlanta; and 25 percent goes to support national research. None of the money goes to fund the national organization.

The controversy began when the national Susan G. Komen organization, which is based in Dallas, released a new set of guidelines on Jan. 31 saying that grants would not be given to any organization that was under investigation. At the time, Planned Parenthood was the target of a legislative investigation that appeared to be politically motivated.

When the news came out Feb. 1 that Komen would no longer provide grants to Planned Parenthood, it created a national uproar. The breast cancer organization reversed its decision on Feb. 3. At the time, Georgia’s Karen Handel was Komen’s senior vice president for public affairs; and she submitted her resignation on Feb. 7.

But since then other Komen officials have resigned, several local affiliates have been struggling financially and the New York City affiliate recently decided to postpone its annual fundraising gala because of the controversy.

Dolan and Hertz have been working hard to distinguish the Atlanta organization from the national organization. And both of them, through internal channels, objected to the national organization’s policies that would have resulted in the defunding of Planned Parenthood.

Hertz also has been serving on the national’s Komen Advocacy Alliance for the past three years. In mid-December, she received a notice about the changing guidelines and immediately called Handel to get a clarification on whether it was going to impact just Planned Parenthood or other organizations.

She told them she was “very concerned about this,” and she asked what other organizations were going to be impacted. Handel assured her that there were other organizations that also would have their Komen funds cut off.

“They certainly knew I was upset about it,” Hertz said.

When the news went viral on Feb. 1, Hertz called Handel again. “That day she said it will be fine and that there would be messaging coming out to the affiliates to clarify their position,” Hertz recalled.

“But things were happening too slowly for me so I resigned from the Advocacy Alliance,” Hertz said. “I resigned on a Thursday, and they reversed the position on Friday.”

So Hertz asked if she could rejoin the national Advocacy Alliance. “I wanted to have my voice be heard on a national level,” Hertz said. “Now that we have made those changes, I went back on the board. They were delighted I did.”

Actually Komen revised the guideline to say that it would not fund nonprofits that were under a “criminal” investigation, which meant Planned Parenthood would be eligible to receive Komen funds.

Meanwhile, Dolan also was expressing her concerns to Komen’s senior vice president in charge of affiliates.

“We were demanding more answers and more tools to respond to the public. That’s where we felt the organization really fell down,” Dolan said. “On Feb. 1, we sent out a statement via Facebook saying we did not agree with the policy.”

Hertz put it this way. “The minute this happened, we decided to hunker down,” she said. “The local affiliate is the most efficient way to get services to the people who need them.”

Dolan said she hopes the public will understand there’s “a strong distinction between us and the national organization,” and that people will continue to support the local affiliate.

“We think the brand has been tarnished,” Dolan said. “But the good news for Komen is that the mission is authentic. Our focus is very specific. We want to make sure that all women in metro Atlanta have access to mammograms. The good news about breast cancer is that if it’s found early, it can be cured.”

The Greater Atlanta Komen affiliate is one of the top 10 of the 122 affiliates in the nation. Dolan said she is cautiously optimistic that the organization will be able to rebound from the controversy.

“If the race pledges are an indicator of the way the fiscal year is going to go, we may be slightly down,” Dolan said. “But I’m cautiously optimistic. I think people understand the importance of the work we do here.”

By the way, the local organizations that received grants in the latest round were: the Atlanta Legal Aid Society, Boat People SOS, the Center for Black Women’s Wellness, the Center for Pan Asian Community Services, the Clayton County Board of Health, the DeKalb Medical Foundation, the East Metro Health District, the Fulton County Department of Health and Wellness, the Grady Health Foundation, Northside Hospital, Piedmont Hospital, Piedmont Fayette Hospital, Saint Joseph’s Mercy Care Services, Southern Regional Medical Center – Women’s Center at Spivey Station, the Good Samaritan Health Center, TurningPoint Women’s Healthcare, the WellStar Foundation, West End Medical Centers, Women’s Health Enterprise and the YWCA of Greater Atlanta.

Maria Saporta

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.


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