Susan G. Komen for the Cure thought its brand was bigger than its community. It found out the hard way that it isn't.
Komen calls itself, "the world's largest grassroots network of breast cancer survivors and activists fighting to save lives, empower people, ensure quality care for all and energize science to find the cures." A week ago, many of those denouncing the organization in thousands of news-media-page comments and Facebook posts would have probably agreed with that characterization.
Its multitude of ambassadors had raced for the cure, bought pink appliances, and proudly wore pink ribbons. Komen was more than a cause, it was a movement, a mission. But Komen's policy change, resulting in the defunding of Planned Parenthood grants, was perceived as cynical and political. It put Komen, in the minds of many, in the backroom making deals, rather than at the bedside of patients.
Passion for the cause mutated instantly to fury and, being Komen-inspired activists, this empowered group took to their online networks with the same zeal they brought to campaigning for a cure.
The passion of Komen supporters was ignited from the start by the personal story of founder Nancy Brinker, who launched the organization in her sister's honor, after losing her to breast cancer. Susan Komen's story, written by Brinker, is found on its Web site. That piece is as raw and real as the many, many stories related by Komen's harshest critics over the past few days - the stories written by survivors, and families of those who had either conquered the disease, or succumbed.
Komen retreated from its decision, but its recovery is far from certain. Many of its constituents are seeing the organization as something they do not recognize, and do not want. They no longer believe in its focus, and see no place for themselves in its future. Komen leaders must return to its origin story, to its essential values that made it so successful in the first place, in order to try and make this right.