RALEIGH, N.C. – Against the backdrop of a national public-relations furor involving Susan G. Komen for the Cure, its Raleigh-based affiliate has lost three top staff members, including its long-time executive director.
The departures come as the local affiliate, which serves 20 North Carolina counties, is planning to serve nine more counties in the eastern part of the state.
Pam Blondin, Komen NC Triangle’s executive director for seven-and-a-half years, left the organization in January, and the group’s director of development and communications and its communications manager left a few weeks later.
The group’s interim executive director says two of the departures were “independent” of the recent controversy over the national organization’s decision to alter — and then reverse — its grant policies in a way that would have prohibited funding to Planned Parenthood, which uses the funds to provide clinical breast exams for under- and uninsured women.
In a Feb. 3 statement, the affiliate’s board said it was “pleased” with Komen’s decision to reinstate the grants policy that would make it possible for Planned Parenthood to once more qualify for funding.
Carrie Kovalic, who was the affiliate’s communications manager for about 18 months, left on Feb. 2 in response to Komen’s initial decision that would have ended funding for Planned Parenthood, says Kathy Burns, the affiliate’s interim executive director.
Burns says Laura Tormey, a new mother who had been the part-time director of development and communications for four years, submitted her letter of resignation on Jan. 6 and left on Jan. 31 to spend more time with her family.
Burns says Blondin’s mid-January departure was “a mutual decision” between her and the board.
“We were grateful to have her for that time,” says Burns, who stepped into the interim role having served on the local affiliate’s board for almost six years.
A growing affiliate
During Blondin’s tenure, the affiliate’s income nearly tripled, growing to $2.7 million in the fiscal year ending March 31, 2011, from just over $1 million in 2005, Burns says.
Over the same period, paid participation in the affiliate’s signature Race for the Cure, which takes place each June at Meredith College in Raleigh, grew 48 percent to 21,350 people, while race income nearly tripled to $1.85 million.
And Komen NC Triangle was named Affiliate of the Year for 2008-09, topping a network of 125 affiliates throughout the U.S.
Blondin says that while she knew of Komen’s initial grant-policy changes through internal channels before the flap exploded publicly in late January, her decision to leave centered on the affiliate’s needs.
“I left because I’d been there almost eight years and felt like it was time for new leadership,” she says. “I’m a big advocate for change in organizations and felt like I couldn’t advocate for that if I didn’t walk the walk.”
Under the terms of a transition agreement she has with the local affiliate, Blondin says, she cannot comment directly on the controversy involving Planned Parenthood.
But she would have left “either way,” she says.
“It had everything to do with what the organization needs right now,” she says of her departure. “It was a group decision and a very healthy transition.”
With 30 years of work in the nonprofit sector, Blondin says, she is “taking a breather for a few months” and is exploring options both inside and outside the sector.
“I’m very proud of the work we’ve done with our partners and of our impact on the community,” she says. “The staff seems to be doing great and I can’t wait to see what the new leadership looks like for the affiliate.”
Bill Peck, president and CEO of Organizational Solutions, a Durham-based consulting firm, joined Komen NC Triangle in December as chief development officer and also will continue his consulting work, Burns says.
The affiliate is conducting searches for an annual giving and corporate sponsorship manager, and for a communications and marketing manager.
And it is launching an executive-director search, spearheaded by board-president-elect Ted Smyth, a partner at the Raleigh law firm of Smyth & Cioffi, and conducted by Raleigh-based search firm Elinvar.
Adding nine counties
The new staff will be helping the affiliate expand into nine Eastern North Carolina counties, increasing the number of counties it serves by nearly half.
That region is not served by any other Komen affiliate and is home to many under- or uninsured women who may not be getting the breast-health services they need, Burns says.
The affiliate, which recently received Komen’s permission to move ahead with the expansion, is in the planning phase now and may add the new counties as early as April, she says.
While the controversy over Planned Parenthood involved Komen’s national office, Burns says, “we are not Komen national.”
The Triangle affiliate has an agreement with the national organization for branding purposes, she says, but its governance is local.
The affiliate keeps 75 percent of the funds it raises to fund breast-health services in its 20-county service area, and gives the remaining 25 percent to Komen for breast-cancer research.
The affiliate pays no fees to Komen, Burns says, and none of the money the affiliate raises is used by the national organization for administrative purposes.
While the affiliate in the past has approved grant funds for clinical breast exams to the Raleigh-based Planned Parenthood affiliate, she says, it did not make the funding cut in 2010 and did not apply for the 2011 or 2012 rounds of funding.
And while the national organization has paved the way for Planned Parentood to receive grants in the future, Burns says her affiliate will review requests on a case by case basis, as it does with all funding applications.
Response to controversy
In the wake of Komen’s decision to change its grantmaking policies, the Triangle affiliate received many calls and emails about the decision, Burns says.
An estimated 85 percent of those calls were opposed to Komen’s initial move that would have de-funded Planned Parenthood.
While it is difficult to tell if the affiliate has lost or gained individual supporters over the matter, Burns says, none of its corporate partners have asked to part ways.
The key now, she says, is to focus on serving the breast-health needs of uninsured and underinsured women.
“We’re ready to move on,” she says. “It’s important for our organization to continue what we’ve been doing because a lot of women depend on it and I’d hate for those women not to get services because of something like this.”
Blondin, the former executive director, says the controversy does “highlight the difference between the ethic and approach at the local and national level.”
The affiliate “is so strong,” she says. “I hope they continue to be recognized for the great work they’re doing in the community.”