Cyclist Lance Armstrong’s decision Thursday to drop his fight against doping charges, which have dogged the seven-time Tour de France winner for years, is both a relief and a new beginning for Livestrong, the cancer charity he founded after his bout with the disease, say the group’s officials.
“It means an end to the distraction of this kangaroo court,” says Katherine McLane, Livestrong’s vice president for communications. “It means a return to the focus on our work serving cancer survivors, especially those in underserved communities.”
It's unclear, though, what impact Mr. Armstrong's declaration will have on the future of the charity's fundraising, as well as the founder's role within the organization.
But even under the cloud of scandal, support for the organization has been positive since Mr. Armstrong’s decision to stop fighting the charges brought against him by the United States Anti-Doping Agency, Livestrong says. Comments on the charity’s blog and on its Facebook page since the announcement have been upbeat, says Brooke McMillan, online community manager at Livestrong.
“We’ve actually had voicemails this morning from people explaining that they are donating because of this news, because they want to ensure that the Lance Armstrong Foundation continues to serve cancer survivors and their families,” Ms. McLane says.
She says it’s too soon to determine how fundraising will be affected by Thursday’s decision and that she doesn’t expect support from corporate sponsors and big donors to ebb. Nike and American Century Investments have expressed continued support of Mr. Armstrong and his organization.
American Century released a statement saying, “While the actions taken against Lance are unfortunate, we understand his decision to drop this challenge.” It added, “No one can take away what he’s done for the 28 million people around the world living with cancer. With Livestrong, he’s inspired a global movement. Like his foundation, our focus remains on the global fight against cancer, which is a cause that transcends any single individual.”
Impact on Support
While Livestrong has been forced to deflect criticism of its founder as the doping scandal has unfolded over the past few years, it says donations haven’t been hurt.
The charity’s fundraising figures suggest that giving was flat in 2010 and 2011. Last year, the charity reports, it raised $51-million in private donations. In 2010, it raised $50.8-million, down 6.6 percent from the year before. Last year, it ranked No. 343 in The Chronicle’s Philanthropy 400 roster of charities that raised the most in private gifts.
The organization says signs for future fundraising are positive, noting that its average donation increased this year to $75, up from $72 two years ago. Thus far, it has collected nearly 80,000 contributions, a pace more than 20 percent ahead of the same period in the previous two years.
It remains to be seen if Livestrong is big enough to escape the shadow of Mr. Armstrong’s public troubles and still remain relatively unscathed.
“I do believe that the foundation itself has a certain degree of gravitas in its ability to survive on its own, independent of Lance,” says Art Taylor, president of charity watchdog BBB Wise Giving Alliance, which has given Livestrong its seal of approval for years. He does say that donations from companies may be affected “particularly if they were giving because of Lance and because of the visibility that Lance might bring to them.”
Still, Mr. Taylor says, “I would be very surprised if the average donor decides that the mission of the foundation isn’t worthy of support.”
Ms. McLane says Mr. Armstrong, who is Livestrong’s chairman, will continue to serve in that position indefinitely. But depending on what the future holds, that might not be a good idea, says Mr. Taylor. “If the public’s response to the foundation turns sour, then I think the board might make that decision in the best interest of the foundation,” Mr. Taylor says.
In a statement on Livestrong’s Web site, Jeffrey C. Garvey, the vice chairman of the foundation, says this about Mr. Armstrong: “With his help, the foundation has raised close to $500-million to further the fight against cancer and serve those affected by the disease. Lance’s devotion to cancer survivors shines through in the countless phone calls, e-mails and visits he makes throughout the year, something the rest of the world never hears about. Lance has unfailingly stood by the cancer community, and we will always stand by him.”