Apology of the Week: The Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation Says It’s Sorry


Rarely have I been more disappointed in a philanthropic institution. The Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation, the nation’s leading advocacy organization for breast cancer screening, announced it was discontinuing its long-term funding of Planned Parenthood.

What does the foundation have to do to restore credibility? An effective apology for starters.

The decision was obviously politically motivated to punish Planned Parenthood. Its crime?  The agency has been under fire from conservative Republicans for its willingness to offer family planning and abortion services in hundreds of clinics across the country.  Never mind that the funds in question were used exclusively to advance the foundation’s chief goal. The decision amounted to a betrayal of the foundation’s shared goal of saving lives through breast screening programs. A storm of controversy, both inside and outside the foundation, ensued.

The foundation is a private philanthropy and it has a right to use its funds to support whatever causes it wishes. I could respect its decision to fund conspicuously pro-life grantees.  All I ask is that the foundation have the courage to articulate the basis of its decision.  The foundation deserves the withering criticism it has received, both for the quality of its decision and its fundamental dishonesty.

The foundation has apologized and reversed course.  In a statement, foundation founder and CEO Nancy Brinker said:

“We want to apologize to the American public for recent decisions
that cast doubt upon our commitment to our mission of saving women’s lives.

The events of this week have been deeply unsettling for our supporters,
partners and friends and all of us at Susan G. Komen. We have been distressed at the presumption that the changes made to our funding criteria were done for
political reasons or to specifically penalize Planned Parenthood. They were not.

Our original desire was to fulfill our fiduciary duty to our donors by not
funding grant applications made by organizations under investigation. We will
amend the criteria to make clear that disqualifying investigations must be
criminal and conclusive in nature and not political. That is what is right and

Our only goal for our granting process is to support women and families in
the fight against breast cancer. Amending our criteria will ensure that politics has no place in our grant process. We will continue to fund existing grants, including
those of Planned Parenthood, and preserve their eligibility to apply for future
grants, while maintaining the ability of our affiliates to make funding
decisions that meet the needs of their communities.

It is our hope and we believe it is time for everyone involved to pause, slow
down and reflect on how grants can most effectively and directly be administered without controversies that hurt the cause of women. We urge everyone who has participated in this conversation across the country over the last few days to help us move past this issue. We do not want our mission marred or affected by politics – anyone’s politics . . .

We extend our deepest thanks for the outpouring of support we have received
from so many in the past few days and we sincerely hope that these changes will be welcomed by those who have expressed their concern.”


This apology is unacceptable for its manifest defects and will not, in fact, be accepted.

Where to start?  First, readers of this blog will recognize the weakness of any apology that begins “We want to apologize . . .”  So we wait for the actual apology, which never arrives. Saying you want apologize is to apology what saying you want to lose weight is to actually losing weight.

Second, I distrust apologies in the “we” voice.  It’s just another attempt to dilute accountability.

More egregious, Brinker’s apology is defensive and dishonest.  There is little apologetic about it.

There’s no recognition (showing that she understands she did something to betray the foundations stakeholders), no responsibility, no restitution, and no promise to learn from the offense.  It shows no empathy for those the foundation has offended. There’s no accountability.

The brand of the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation has been badly compromised. Responsibility for this error in judgment must be with Nancy Brinker. For the foundation to regain legitimacy, Ms. Brinker must resign and its decision to defund Planned Parenthood be repudiated in the most direct terms.

I believe, further, that the foundation’s board of directors has abdicated its commitment to women’s health.  For the foundation’s apology to have meaning and to begin to repair important relationships, every board member who voted for this disastrous and indecent decision must resign.  Otherwise, the foundation will lose its best people (defections have already started) and become increasingly marginalized.  The saddest outcome: women’s health will suffer.  There is an effective apology to be had here. The present apology doesn’t even come close.

Grade Assigned to this Apology: F

Responsibility: F

Recognition: F

Remorse: C

Restitution: F

Repetition: F

The Next Step

The Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation has reversed its decision. Now it needs to set its house in order.  It cannot move forward without an effective apology that by action as well as words signals that it did, indeed, succumb to political pressure, that it regrets doing so, that it has renewed its commitment to putting the needs of women above all else.


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