Monday, February 13, 2012

Creating 21st C Governance Models - #Takebackthepink

Yesterday (Sunday) I attended a women's basketball game at Stanford (The Cardinal beat UCLA 82-59). Maples Pavilion, home to Stanford basketball is usually a sea of cardinal red. Yesterday, it was a sea of pink.

Pink Zone Day to support breast cancer awareness - Wear Pink!

In honor of the Stanford Cancer Center, the team's many faithful were wearing pink t-shirts, sweatshirts, even pink baby carriers. The Ogwumike sisters (Stanford star players) both sported pink headbands. Several of the UCLA players work pink sneakers. As soon as my son and I entered the arena we knew three things - basketball, women, and cancer.

That's how powerful a symbol pink has become. The color - in mass quantities - registers on the brain as a symbol of cancer. Not as the symbol of a specific organization, but as a symbol of a disease, those who've succumb to it, and its many survivors and memories.

This was enormously powerful to me because of the events of two weeks prior. Here's a summary of what happened in the week leading up to Super Bowl Sunday. The text below was jointly written by Allison Fine, Beth Kanter, Stephanie Rudat, Amy Sample Ward, Lisa Colton, and me. Similar versions with their own additional commentary can be found  on and

The document below is our attempt to do a rapid reflection on a set of activities. Posting it here and on Allison's blog and elsewhere is our way of sharing what we learned and of inviting you in to the conversation.

From my own perspective, these events indicate an important new expectation of transparency for nonprofits and foundations. Just as Bank of America, Verizon, the legislative sponsors of SOPA and PIPA, and the users of the Path sharing network have discovered, your customers, your supporters, your voters and people moved by a cause are paying attention. They care about the issue and will let you know when they support you and when they disagree with you. This isn't a "maybe," this is the way it is - as the story linked above on SOPA/PIPA calls it, "It's a first draft of the future."

Nonprofits and foundations are used to being held accountable by their boards of directors. That governance structure is our 20th century answer to "how to hold independent, tax exempt organizations accountable to the public." It is not a 21st century solution. This is not simply a matter for crisis communications. It's even more than the free agent/fortress model that Beth and Allison write about in The Networked Nonprofit.

Today's tools and expectations would not lead us to create the kinds of governance models that we built a century ago. It's not enough to think about adapting old models to new tools, although that certainly needs to happen. We are building new models. Just as garage inventors are out there creating new technologies they are also out there creating the organizations, governance, accountability, transparency and privacy models that fit our current capacities.  These are the models that will survive the next 100 years.


Reflections on Take Back the Pink Campaign

"We're not good at thinking fast. We are good at feeling fast." - Clay Shirky

This reflection document is our group effort to capture and think about a flurry of social media activity that we organized last week. It includes a chronology of what happened, when, immediate results of our efforts, and lessons learned. We hope others will add to the document and share their own reflections as well.

The Catalyst: The Susan G. Komen Foundation Will Not Fund Planned Parenthood’s Breast Health Screenings Beyond this Year.

On Tuesday, January 31, 2012, the AP reported that the Susan G. Komen Foundation’s board had decided to stop providing grants to Planned Parenthood affiliates to support breast health efforts. As word began circulating on social media channels like Facebook of Komen’s decision, Planned Parenthood posted, and emailed out to their supporters, a petition created by a supporter.  

Komen’s decision would discontinue financing for nineteen of Planned Parenthood’s eighty-three affiliates, which received nearly $700,000 from the Komen Foundation in 2011 and have been receiving similar grants since at least 2005. As reported by The New York Times here, the decision was political: the board created a policy of not funding organizations under government investigation as a strategy for not funding Planned Parenthood.  

The announcement angered a large number of people who had supported Komen by walking, running and donating for decades. The Komen pink ribbon, which the organization has fiercely and litigiously protected over the years, has dominated the breast cancer research landscape for years and overshadowed many other effective, transparent organizations in the breast cancer arena. The deep and fundamental sense of betrayal on the part of Komen supporters, many of whom are also Planned Parenthood supporters, fed an outpouring of anger and acrimony aimed at Komen by email, on Facebook and Twitter. 

As Kivi Leroux Miller reported on her blog, the outpouring of anger picked up steam as Komen was noticably absent from the social media conversations.

See this blog post re: the reaction

How did we organize for a collective action in a fluid situation?

Petitions and expressions of outrage felt good, but didn’t seem like enough tangible action to make it clear to Komen that their action was outrageous. Allison Fine started an open conversation on Facebook to discuss this. Out of that conversation came the idea for an online fundraising effort to support Planned Parenthood using Causes on Facebook called, “Komen Kan Kiss My Mammogram.” She circulated the link by email and on Facebook.

On that same Facebook thread, Deanna Zandt reported creating a Tumblr blog called Planned Parenthood Saved Me. The sites enables people to tell their personal stories of how their lives were improved or saved because of the health screenings services at Planned Parenthood. Here is one story from the blog:

Later that day, Beth Kanter created a Pinterest website with the same name capturing the growing number of images expressing anger and displeasure at Komen and posted on her blog about the anti-Komen activities over the previous 24 hours.

From Beth’s link on her blog to the Causes fundraiser, there were 3,800 click thrus out of 3,800 tweets with the link - pretty amazing.

Again, back to the Facebook open, thread, an interesting exchange took place between Tom Watson and Lucy Bernholz:

The conversation shifted to how to catch the attention of some the Super Bowl’s enormous audience. Based on the past few years, the combination of the largest media event of the year, the controversy around Komen, a long-time partner of the NFL, and social media (it was reported afterwards that 11.5 million tweets were sent during the game) would be fertile ground for a protest of some kind. An idea developed to capitalize on the upcoming Super Bowl and the partnership the NFL has with Komen and make a loud statement about the need to take politics out of women’s health issues on Twitter by “jumping” the Komen hashtag. We were aiming to capture just a small sliver  of people paying attention to Komen on Super Sunday, self identified by their use of the Komen hashtag of #supercure, to broaden the conversation about breast cancer and women’s health beyond Komen.  

And a meme was born.

Great idea! Ummm, what’s “jumping a hashtag” mean exactly? We weren’t sure, but we had three days to figure it out! 

We decided that surprise would be a necessary element to the planned Sunday attack. We began an email thread to supercede the Facebook conversation. We invited the participants from Facebook to join the email conversation. 

Amy Sample Ward set up a Google doc that would serve as a landing site to explain the planned jump. We would plan by email in advance of the Super Bowl. The instructions on the Google doc were:

Beth also created a wiki with more information and resources for people interested in joining the Take Back the Pink effort.  

We had built up a full head of steam by Friday when Komen announced it was reversing course and would allow Planned Parenthood affiliates to apply for future grants. Our group unanimously decided to continue our plans for the hashtag jump. 

As a result of Komen’s reversal, though, we had numerous conversations about shifting the focus of our efforts from an anti-Komen message to a more positive message. There are a lot of resources and organizations working to eradicate breath cancer and for breast health. We realized that the group of us cared deeply about the issue and knew there were many organizations doing good work.  We wanted to take a positive tone of support for women’s health efforts and helping people understand there are lots of choices for how to be active. By highlighting a variety of organizations and movements on Facebook, we created a resource for people to keep them engaged on women’s health and ending breast cancer if they felt betrayed or discouraged. 

Over the next twenty-four hours our goals evolved and our email group expanded significantly and eventually splintered. We quickly realized that it was a mistake to try to organize such a large group by email; it’s not a good vehicle for large group conversations. In addition, people added to the email list without their permission felt they were being spammed, not a good route to engagement! A better strategy would have been developing a plan of action with a small group, then reading out to people individually and pointing them to the Google doc with a clear plan and requesting their support and action. If we were going to continue to use email to invite more people to the effort, a better strategy would have been to  invite folks in small batches with an invitation to opt out immediately and get them off the list the minute they ask. 

On Saturday night, the group on the email thread decided that an embargo of the effort until Sunday would be counter productive, we needed to get the word out sooner to encourage people to participate on a day they may not ordinarily use for protesting and awareness raising. Saturday night, Stephanie Rudat created a Facebook page with an eye-catching and very sharable logo:


The Facebook page became a central organizing spot for aggregating resources, plus positive infographics on breast cancer in order to drive supporters to a permanent home.   We didn’t have the time to organize a full-scale blogger outreach campaign, although our effort was covered by Blogher.

Late Saturday night, Lucy kicked us off with a simple tweet, “Join us tomorrow to #takebackthepink #supercure.

Immediate Results

By Monday, February 6th, the quantitative results included:

  1. There were 1500 tweets with the hashtag #takebackthepink, with several influencers retweeting it out to their networks (see below)
  2. While the majority of people tweeting the hashtag pointed to positive messaging around breast,  several tweeters retweeted the hashtag pointing to anti-komen posts.
  3. We have a hypothesis that Komen changed its social media plans as a result of the fury aimed at them all week online. We don’t know whether or not that’s true. From our read of the twitter feed, a larger majority of those tweeting #Supercure were also tweeting #takebackthepink.

  1. There were many hashtags and memes created - #takebackthepink was only one. Yahoo! posted this list on which #takebackthepink does not appear (see full graphics and stats below)

  1. We could not plan for an event like this, however as individuals who are  unencumbered by organizational rules or policies, and that we have our own large networks of people to bring to an effort, and that we are comfortable working in a dynamic, flat, environment, we reacted very quickly and nimbly to events as they unfolded and provided avenues for action for other people angry at Komen. A core group of the organizers are fluent with a variety of social media platforms including Twitter, Pinterest (a fun opportunity to take it out for a social change spin, thought Beth!) and Facebook, plus Stephanie’s graphic design expertise. As one participant recalls, “There was an immediate sense of relatedness amongst the group conjoined by leaders.  We all saw something in the uproar and possibility for ourselves and those we care about.”
  2. #takebackthepink was a particularly resonant phrase with our group because it represented the opportunity to begin to separate Komen from the color pink. As Lucy would tweet later, “Pink is a color not an org.” A fundamental part of our effort was to reestablish the primacy of women’s health over the branding concerns of a single organization. We believe we created an opportunity for a large number of people to participate in this process, and the momentum to continue the discussion moving forward.
  3. There were two moments of tension during the week between a centralized approach and a network approach. The first time, the effort split in two; with one group focused on fundraising and another on advocacy and awareness. The second, a faction chose to opt out of the Super Bowl effort. Both times it was brought up that it was no longer about recouping money to PP (as that was already achieved in the first 48 hours) but was about redirecting people’s emotional responses, keeping people connected to causes and organizations even if they weren’t Komen, and demonstrating the importance of knowing what the orgs do that you support.
  4. There was a flow of people in and out of the effort depending on their interest and availability. A public thread rather than the private email thread would have been more in keeping with our interest in and value of transparency. We chose the email vehicle believing that the element of surprise would be important to our efforts. It turned out not to be the case.
  5. Finding the messaging middle ground in a fast changing environment was very challenging. Take Back the Pink was seen by some as Komen bashing and by others as “too nice.” We did our best to find a positive place for Super Bowl Sunday: there are a lot of organizations and way to support breast health, here are options in addition to Komen. It was harder to communicate than, “Screw Komen, fund Planned Parenthood” and it’s unclear how successful we were in explaining the shift and making the message clear.
  6. We could have done a better job of looking for other hashtags in real-time and piggy-backed on them in order to weave together different conversations.
  7. We developed and shone a spotlight on nonprofits and transparency, an unusual element to a discussion of pro-choice and women’s health issues.  
  8. Defining success in a very fluid situation was also very challenging. If fifty people retweeted with our hashtag was that success? Five hundred people? Five thousand people? An interesting model to use for comparison is Occupy Wall Street. Rather than using numeric outputs as goals, perhaps our effort, simply being and spreading, was successful. We are still wrestling with this question, although perhaps one answer is that if a single person learned about a new resource or organization that was success. Having the single largest media event of the year on the immediate horizon made for a great leverage point.
  9. It would have been great to have advocacy organizations sign on as participants and partners in this event, however, when we did bump up against organizations they were unable to move fast enough with their approval processes to fully participate. This will continue to hamper the ability of organizations to work with “free agents” like us who need to meet an opportunity like this with speed, agility and a lack of concern for traditional message controls. Perhaps organizations can more fully participate in the next phase of development of the Facebook page.  
  10. This group is open to continuing the Facebook page and the conversation about general breast health and the array of organizations and resources available to women.  Clearly, there is a void in the digital space for being a resource to those who want to learn, contribute, volunteer, receive services but don’t know of all of the options or how to vet. Our capacity is stretched, though, we all participated in this effort as volunteers.

Additional Stories/Resources


Working Wikily (and Schusterman Foundation cross post)

Yahoo’s list of hashtags

The Twitter User Who Drove the Furor Over Komen and Planned Parenthood

Super Breast Sunday: TakeBackThePINK

#TakeBackthePink - @Komenforthecure’s Social Media Nightmare

Irrevocable Damage: 24 Hours in the Life of a Komen Executive

Lessons from the Pink Ribbon Rebellion

Seven Lessons Learned from Susan G. Komen-Gate

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