As Lance Armstrong entered a public event for the first time since his admission of doping banned him from professional cycling, news show CBS Sunday Morning did a segment on Armstrong’s cancer charity LIVESTRONG. Just as there were questions about whether Armstrong won seven Tours de France without enhancement, some are now asking whether LIVESTRONG is a charity, or an enhanced way to make money.
The first blow to LIVESTRONG was, of course, the doping scandal. Armstrong stepped down from the organization to avoid tainting it, and for a while, that seemed to work. Months later, Nike dropped its lucrative sponsorship deal with the company, saying it couldn’t tacitly approve of Armstrong’s doping and lying by maintaining sponsorship. Still, LIVESTRONG insisted they’d soldier on in their efforts to benefit those stricken with cancer.
And what, exactly, are those benefits? A donor and former LIVESTRONG volunteer is asking, via a lawsuit. The Sunday Morning report revealed that LIVESTRONG no longer invests donated funds into cancer research. A LIVESTRONG spokesperson says they help cancer survivors improve their lives via free advice and referrals and that 82 cents of every dollar donated goes to help cancer survivors. The report reveals that the figure includes marketing, a “rainy day” fund of $13 million, and executive salaries. Whatever the breakdown, while Armstrong distanced himself from LIVESTRONG, questions of truthfulness haven’t gone far.
THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) for LIVESTRONG. Revelations such as this may be the death of this “cancer survivor” organization.
THE PR TAKEAWAY: Stay true to your mission, or face possible consequences. Consumers reacted badly to New Coke; how will donors react to the revelation that LIVESTRONG, a cancer fund, does not fund cancer research? This switch in focus came about rather quietly, as has the fact that LIVESTRONG sold their name to a for-profit health and fitness company that runs LIVESTRONG.com, as opposed to LIVESTRONG.org. Among charities, transparency is key to long life and steady funding. When that transparency reveals an inconsistent message, prepare to divert some of those funds to damage control.
To read the CBS Sunday Morning report, click here.