This week, Lance Armstrong stepped down as chairman of the LIVESTRONG charity organization, after Nike and other A-brand companies announced they were terminating their sponsorship contracts with the seven-time winner of the Tour de France on account that the cyclist had misled them about his doping.
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But can the charity that Armstrong created to support the fight against cancer, with its ubiquitous yellow bracelets and famous logo, withstand its founder’s fall from grace?
Sandra Miniutti, vice president of marketing and CFO for Charity Navigator, said LIVESTRONG’s success story does not end with Lance’s digressions. The circumstance is different than other celebrity charity scandals, she said, because the charity itself has had such success and transparency over the years.
“Typically when a celebrity relationship with a charity blows up, donations fall, but I wonder if this will have the opposite impact on LIVESTRONG,” Miniutti said.
LIVESTRONG has a four-star out-of-four-stars rating on the charity evaluation site, and Miniutti said $30 million was raised by the organization in 2010. The high rating comes because LIVESTRONG devotes more cash to charity than overhead, among other factors.
The controversy surrounding Armstrong has been waning for years, she said, so LIVESTRONG likely had time to deal with the allegations and slowly separate from its founder over the years.
“The charity has had time to prepare,” she said. “Any smart nonprofit leader would have had a plan to disassociate and prepare for that moment.”
Cliff Courtney, executive vice president of marketing at Zimmerman Advertising, said that despite Armstrong’s media tailspin, LIVESTRONG should come out unscathed.
“Every one of those yellow bracelets is a testament to a man who set out to use his fame to help others who were less fortunate,” he said. “His greatest legacy is the billions he has raised, it’s not about cycling.”
His actions will likely be forgiven, as America loves a comeback story, Courtney said. However it’s unlikely the public will punish his successful charity in light of the controversy.
“LIVESTRONG could be reimagined, it could have a different color, since yellow was evocative of Lance’s wins,” he said. “These millions of cancer survivors that have not yet been heard from, will likely stand up and say, ‘Thanks to Lance we are alive and doing better than ever.’”
Corporate partners Nike and Radio Shack have also stood by the organization despite dropping Lance. And Miniutti said loyal followers will likely stand by the organization, because at the end of the day, it has delivered.
“It’s a strong organization that has delivered on its programs,” she said. “And people have faith in the organization, despite what’s happened with Lance.”