L’Affaire Komen: Lessons Learned on Giving Charity

Like many of my fellow Pro-Life supporters, I was caught up in the Susan Komen Fund – Planned Parenthood mess last week.  I donated for the first time to Komen as a result of their initial decision, but when they changed their mind I asked for my donation back; I received my refund yesterday.  The experience should serve as a valuable lesson for all of us who care about a particular issue or cause, for most of us are not in a position to give charitable contributions to all who need it, and we need to engage in some self-enforced restrictions about whom we do help.

A detached observer might note that the debacle was fascinating from a sociological-technological perspective, because the whole thing caught fire via social media.  For example, it was interesting to see how the initial de-funding news began to spread like wildfire on Twitter long before the mainstream media picked it up.  And when Komen subsequently back-pedaled, my sister ran to tell me about it when she saw the news reports on CNN, but I had read about it on Twitter around 20 minutes earlier and had already contacted Komen requesting a refund.

When the news initially broke, it seemed to be very good news, indeed.  After it appeared as though Komen would not only stop funding abortion and contraception, but also embryonic stem-cell research, I contacted a good friend who is well-connected in Pro-Life circles and asked whether he thought we now had a green light to donate and support the steps the organization had taken.  He thought that we did have the green light, and so I went ahead and donated, encouraging my followers on Twitter and Facebook to do the same.

You can imagine that when Komen reversed itself, I felt as though I had egg on my face.  This is, of course, no fault of my friend, since he himself felt duped, and I probably should have waited to make sure that Komen was going to stick with its decision.  Nevertheless, it was a great disappointment to many of us who believe that the Komen Fund does great work, but is unfortunately too closely tied to a fundamentally evil organization, and which prevents us from donating.

I both emailed and telephoned Komen and, without screaming and raving about it, explained that I would like my donation reversed due to the change of circumstances; the email response with the refund came five days later.  I was willing to be patient, to a point, since I imagined that they would be overwhelmed with such requests.  Others, however, told me they took a different approach: they contacted their credit card companies and alleged fraud, thereby obtaining a reversal of their donation through their bank, rather than through the Komen Fund itself.

While I appreciate why some people were so angered as to take that step, I was not willing to do so.  From a legal perspective, I do not believe one could make out a prima facie case that Komen engaged in an intentionally fraudulent inducement or scheme to bilk people out of their money.  Whereas from a human perspective, I believe Komen has made a mistake in reversing itself, but it did not set out to try to play mind games with those of us who are Pro-Life.

Over the years I have become very selective about whom I donate money to.  There is no reasonable way that anyone, no matter how well-off they might be, could make individual donations to all of the organizations that could use help.  Even the great philanthropists have always had to pick and choose which causes and institutions they are going to support.  This is perhaps a good lesson in itself: none of us, no matter how wealthy and powerful we might be, is omnipotent, and capable of meeting all needs for all people.

When it comes time to donate, I have five solid, Catholic institutions whom I choose to support because of the good work which I know from first-hand observation that they do.  That number in fact increased by one earlier this year, which is the first time that has happened in some time.  As a Catholic, it is no accident that I find myself drawn more to supporting these religiously-affiliated organizations, than I am to other, secular groups.

It is admittedly difficult to have to turn down those whom I believe do good things, but one has to be practical in one’s charity, as painful as that might be.  If I was to expand my support list to include all sorts of other institutions, secular and otherwise, I would have to expand my income, first, since I simply cannot afford to do more than I already am doing without running into difficulties on my end.  As bourgeois as it may be to state, I have practical responsibilities to others which I must meet before I do anything else.  If I fail to meet them, then my ability to donate to charities outside of my parish or the beggar on the street would become severely limited.

Coming away from the Komen Fund experience, I have learned my lesson that I should stick with the organizations I know and trust, who have had a long and solid history of doing work in areas which are both in line with my faith and beliefs.  I have also learned that social media is good for many things, but it does tend to whip everyone up into a frenzied whirlwind of statements and actions which, upon further consideration, may not always be wise.  It is regrettable that so many of us have had to learn this lesson in such a bizarre fashion, but better that we learn it now, rather than be caught up in it again the next time.

Detail of “St. Lawrence Distributing Alms” by Fra Angelico (c. 1447-1450)
Cappella Niccolina, Vatican

3 thoughts on “L’Affaire Komen: Lessons Learned on Giving Charity

  1. Good for you for asking for a refund. The real tragedy here is that Komen wasn’t trying to take sides. Their withdrawal of support was meant to make them neutral on a sensitive issue. Planned Parenthood has shown that no such thing is possible. Hopefully others will realize that it’s best not to support Planned P in the first place.


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