Lessons From the Livestrong Foundation’s Struggles

What if the worst happens to the person at the top? How do you pivot? That's the issue Lance Armstrong's Livestrong Foundation is currently struggling with.

For many, word that Lance Armstrong was going to have his Tour de France victories stripped over a doping scandal was an opportunity to donate to his charity.

Will a similar effect happen now that he has stepped down as that charity’s chairman?

At the very least, it will be interesting to see how the Livestrong Foundation manages to recover from a scandal that has shaken the very core of not only its cancer research charity but the sport of cycling. What lessons can we learn here?

When people ask why I’m still wearing my Livestrong bracelet, I tell them, ‘I don’t care, it’s still about cancer fundraising.’

Limiting Brand Damage

On Wednesday, Armstrong stepped down as the Livestrong Foundation’s chairman in an effort to limit long-term brand damage.

While other athletes — including Tiger Woods and Michael Vick — have come back from scandals, Armstrong faces a double whammy. The scandal is related to the sport, not personal issues as with Woods and Vick. And Armstrong is retired from cycling, which may present a challenge for him to make a public comeback.

But the resignation appears to have helped Livestrong save face. A number of companies, including Nike, announced they were dropping sponsorships with Armstrong, but most are standing by Livestrong.

Despite this, Livestrong may face long-term issues as an organization without its biggest brand driver, nonprofit expert Hannah Gregory told NBC News. But they can get past them.

“Exactly how the organization handles this transition is key,” she explained. “It is important that they focus on how the organization and its mission is bigger than its founder.”

Livestrong still gets support

Individuals remain willing to give the charity a chance, noting that no matter how bad Armstrong’s alleged misdeeds may have been, the charity is fighting for a far more important goal: supporting cancer sufferers.

In fact, when Armstrong said in June he would stop fighting the charges against him, leading to his ban from professional racing, the charity received $78,000 in donations that day — a huge jump from the previous day.

The charity, from a monetary standpoint, is successful as well. It spent 82 percent of its $35.8 million raised last year on programs. That’s a very high number, especially for a charity sponsored by a celebrity.

Whether that holds up without one is an open question. But it helps that the foundation continues to have supporters.

“When people ask why I’m still wearing my Livestrong bracelet, I tell them, ‘I don’t care, it’s still about cancer fundraising,’” Mariska Mackenzie-Heyboer, who is running for Team Livestrong next month in the New York City Marathon, told The Daily Beast. (Her mother was recently diagnosed with lung cancer.) Her goal? She’s trying to “trying to set Livestrong above Lance.”

This will be the message the Livestrong Foundation will have to sell.

If you were running this organization, how would you bounce back? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

(photo by hyku/Flickr)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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