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General Ramblings: No More Laurels

By Paul Clolery - February 1, 2013

Lance Armstrong admitted that he might have cheated to win a few bicycle races. Meanwhile, the LIVESTRONG brand he created is being tarnished, the name most recently removed from a sports arena.

There were once tears for his love; joy for his fortune; honor for his valor. But now many sponsors and donors are pedaling away just as fast as they can.

This isn’t the first time a nonprofit founder has been an arrogant, lying jerk. He is ambitious, often a grievous fault. Yesterday his word might have stood against the world. Now, now his lies are out there and there is death in his ambition.

All of this doesn’t mean the foundation isn’t doing the job. The charitable sector is littered with robber barons attempting to cleanse themselves of the stench of their real jobs. Andrew Car­negie, John D. Rockefeller and Andrew Mel­lon were all considered robber barons. But, aren’t they all honorable men and pillars of philanthropy?

Who among them didn’t tell a little white lie to forward their business standing? So let it be with Armstrong.

It’s his former foundation because he resigned from the board due to the scandal, even though he is the organization’s largest individual donor in the neighborhood of $7 million. LIVESTRONG Foundation ended 2012 having generated more than $48 million. Almost one-third of it was through license fees. The organization has an approximately $30 million endowment.

Armstrong lied for years regarding an elaborate blood-doping network that allowed him to push past his competitors. But, should the good he’s done be interred with his bones?

Who is here who doesn’t understand the challenges of celebrity and fundraising and foundation business? A half-hour situation comedy on television is only really 22:45. Why would anyone believe celebrity involvement with charity would be any different?

Celebrities often make charity appearance for expenses only. Of course, those expenses can be a matter of interpretation. There are personal services contracts for some celebrities who work closely with some charities, whereby someone else foots the bill for a star-studded appearance. And yet, sector leaders speak not to disprove this imbalance in the relationship.

Mostly gone are the days of Jimmy Durante and Danny Thomas who actually did work for free and established foundations through which there weren’t personal services contracts.

Since its inception, LIVESTRONG has raised more than $470 million for the fight against cancer, and the organization claims 81 percent of those funds have gone directly to support programs and services for survivors. LIVESTRONG has provided financial resources to more than 550 organizations that conduct cancer survivorship research or offer services to people affected by cancer. That should transcend a self-absorbed numbskull who dumped Sheryl Crow.

Do grace to the corpse of Armstrong’s image. He’ll never again wear a leader jersey and LIVESTRONG might fade back into the pack of support charities. Armstrong has done no more damage to the sector than many others.

But what LIVESTRONG has done so far has been groundbreaking and it would be a shame to see it go. NPT

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