Komen, Planned Parenthood, TOMS and “Bad Aid”

I’m always fascinated with how the Internet has changed the way many conversations (and disagreements) happen, specifically how the near-instant spread of information has made everyone a pundit, and has encouraged people with very little investment (or no investment at all) in an issue to quickly form an opinion and share it– vigorously– with everyone in their social network.

This uninvested (and often uninformed) rapid-fire opinion-making is evidenced in everything from the latest silly celebrity baby-name (Blue Ivy Carter), to political faux-pas (Romney’s out-of-context remarks on the very-poor) to charitable organizations and their allocation of monies.

Enter Komen for the Cure, and Planned Parenthood, two organizations with which I have loose ties (at best) and zero allegiance. Without the Internet, I wouldn’t be sitting here writing this. If this “story” were chosen to appear in the paper, I would have skipped it, because it does not interest me, and I certainly don’t think it would have appeared above the fold. But because of the Internet, I have a knee-jerk reaction to outline my opinion for all to hear (or not), and as much as I find this compulsion silly (and totally undisciplined), it is good for me to keep writing, if only to remain practiced.

Enough with meta “introspection as out-loud conversation.” Onto my hasty, hardly-informed, not-at-all-invested opinion regarding Komen For The Cure cutting, then reinstating their funding to Planned Parenthood.

Let’s imagine Susan G. Komen for the Cure as an individual, one to whom many people entrust their charitable dollars for use in breast cancer research. We’ll call her Susan. And Planned Parenthood as a person who supports treatment and education in all areas of womens’ health, reproductive and otherwise. We’ll call her Paula.

Anyone– rich, poor, young old, gay, straight, whatever– can go and see Paula and receive any number of treatments or services, including breast exams and mammograms, pap smears, birth control consultation and administration, STI testing, pregnancy testing, abortions, etc, and many of those clients wouldn’t have to pay a fee for many of the services. Paula doesn’t turn people away if there is a need (which is very kind and generous). But sometimes Paula’s services are performed in a way that is not compliant with the law; that is to say, sometimes Paula does something illegal. And while her services to those in need are valuable, her reputation has come under fire as someone with questionable standards, which makes many people uncomfortable.

And then there’s Susan. Susan raises money to support breast cancer research, and is best known for slapping her name and logo onto anything (ANYTHING), turning it pink, and having some of the proceeds from the sale of that product support her organization. You buy a pink Komen water bottle, $1.00 goes to cancer research. You get the idea. Well, Susan likes to give some of her money (a very small sum) to Paula, so Paula can continue offering breast exams and mammograms to women in need, which seems like a smart partnership, considering their mutual interests.

But remember what I said about Paula’s questionable reputation? After some consideration, Susan decides she is uncomfortable allocating any of her funds to support Paula’s practice, until Paula straightens everything out with the law. Susan is concerned with being accused of knowingly supporting someone who is engaging in illegal activities, and does not want her own reputation to be tarnished in the wake Paula’s legal scandals (which are popping up with more frequency these days). Susan decides to suspend funding to Paula, until she’s dealt with her legal issues.

Then everyone who has ever made a charitable contribution to Susan, or purchased something pink, or thought about making a charitable contribution but never quite got around to it, takes to the Internet and lashes out bitterly against what their perceive as a grave injustice against Paula, Paula’s services and Paula’s clients. And then the Internet gets all puffed up and sells this whole encounter as an actual story, and here we are.

Let’s get some things clear: while Susan G. Komen for the Cure did a great job at co-opting the color pink and raising awareness, it is not the most efficient of charitable organizations. You can take a look at their 2010-2011 audited financial statements and see for yourself. If you want to support breast cancer research, you can do better than entrusting your charitable dollars to Komen (give to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, for example, or The National Breast Cancer Coalition Fund, both of which are scored higher than Komen by the American Institute of Philanthropy).

I don’t see a problem with Komen wanting to distance itself from an organization that is constantly under legal fire. Komen can choose to do with their dollars as they please, just like we can. So if you’re so upset that Komen cut its funding to Planned Parenthood, and you’re so supportive of Planned Parenthood (PP), why not give PP your dollars directly? I’d be willing to bet that most people, myself included, were not aware that Komen supported PP in the first place. Personally, if I give money to an organization, I don’t want them allocating any part of those funds to support organizations I do not agree with, (this is not my position with Komen and PP, for the record) and I don’t think that’s an unreasonable stance.

So if you don’t like it, don’t support Komen. Like I said, there are several other charitable organizations that will offer you more “bang for your buck.” And if you love PP so much, why not donate to them directly and cut out the middle man? Why turn this into a women-hating-on-women issue that so many people are making it out to be? The Internet can be SO. DRAMATIC.

But none of this really matters because Komen announced today that after being bullied by the Internet, it’s decided to continue funding PP. (Komen didn’t say they were being bullied, I’m just calling it as I see it.) Rather than directly donating to PP (and thereby giving PP the most money possible), the Internet would rather complain loudly (something the Internet is GREAT at) and continue having Komen do the money-parsing for them. (But don’t call us lazy!)

I’ve actually been meaning to write something about misguided charitable giving recently, but I’m afraid that anyone with a pair of TOMS will want to hunt me down and punch me in the face. Spoiler: TOMS is bad aid.

For perspective, you might also want to read TOMS Shoes: An Opportunity for “Bad Aid” to Generate “GREAT Aid.”

For even more perspective, check out the book “When Helping Hurts: Alleviating Poverty Without Hurting the Poor. . .and Yourself.”

Thoughts on Komen? Thoughts on PP? Thoughts on bad aid? Wanna throw a rock at me for hating on your TOMS (it’s cool. I own a pair.)? It’s all welcomed in the comments.

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