News and analysis
October 24, 2012

Lance Armstrong’s Woes Haven’t Dampened Livestrong’s Fundraising So Far, Says CEO

Doug Ulman, chief executive of Livestrong

Donations to Livestrong have beat expectations this year, despite—or perhaps because of—publicity surrounding the doping scandal of its founder, Lance Armstrong, says the charity’s chief executive.

The cancer group reports that it has raised more than $20.9-million in private gifts so far this year, compared with $18.5-million during the same period in 2011.

Doug Ulman, chief executive, says the organization has seen spikes in online giving for a few days following each new series of reports on Mr. Armstrong’s struggles against the doping allegations.

Mr. Armstrong, the retired professional cyclist who has denied using performance-enhancing drugs, has been banned for life from his sport by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency and was stripped of his seven Tour de France titles. He resigned as the charity’s board chair and is taking an “indefinite leave” from the board. The decision followed the agency’s release of its case against him. Nike and other corporate sponsors said they were cutting their relationships with Mr. Armstrong but maintaining support for his charity.

To weather the scandal, Mr. Ulman says his organization will continue to focus on articulating its mission of helping cancer survivors. That includes doing so through fundraising appeals: The day after Mr. Armstrong’s announcement, the charity sent an e-mail solicitation asking people to “send a clear message that we will never let up.”

“We always lead with our mission, and in a time of turmoil we felt it was important to bring together our supporters,” says Mr. Ulman. “We want people to understand that we offer free services for people affected by cancer, and that we advocate on behalf of their needs.”

Spreading the Message

Nonprofit experts say communicating the mission is the right move—though perhaps the nonprofit needs to do more of it.

Mark Lipton, professor of management at the New School’s Milano Graduate School and an expert on nonprofit founders, says Livestrong needs to “decouple” its brand from that of Mr. Armstrong.

“It’s not so much pushing away Lance Armstrong as much as pushing other people forward,” he says. “Put the CEO out there, give him a real face. They have some highly credible board members. Get them talking about the difference the organization has made in people’s lives.”

Andrew Grumet, a New York lawyer who advises nonprofits, agrees that the organization needs to seize the moment.

“I would be pushing out newsletters right now,” he says. “I’d be looking at regional and local contacts who’ve rallied support and done fundraising drives, I might even consider doing a walkathon.”

Mr. Ulman says he did not see Mr. Armstrong’s continued involvement with the charity as a distraction.

“His participation as a board member going forward is a decision for both Lance and the board to make,” Mr. Ulman says.

Send an e-mail to Caroline Preston.