Herein lies one of the biggest challenges for nonprofits that are branded around a personality.
Nonprofits with personality are wonderful to work with and find it easier to gain supporters. People can identify with people more quickly than they can with an "organization."
But riding on the coattails of one person's personality leaves you open to problems when that person falls from grace (either in reality or simply in public perception). The Lance Armstrong Foundation faces a rocky phase despite all the good it's doing in educating on cancer, helping raise awareness about prevention, and even giving inspiration to those fighting the battle.
Here are 3 ways the Lance Armstrong Foundation can do to survive this:
- Tell the troops NOW
The Foundation needs to get ahead of the story. Ideally, they would have started before Lance made his announcement. The charges aren't new, so they probably already have an arsenal of arguments and comments to help them frame the story their way. I'd encourage them to narrow the arguments to three points that they can repeat, repeat, repeat. Lance's own statement definitely gives them a start.
- Harness social media NOW
I heard the news on NPR and felt the coverage was balanced. But not all media will be so kind. The Foundation needs to call on all the support and brand equity they've established over the years and get their fans active online. Simply asking their fans what the Foundation has meant for them will have tremendous power. The more positive stories of impact the Foundation can have others put online, the better.
- Start damage control with sponsors NOW
NPR reported that being stripped of the 7 Tour de France titles and banned from the sport means that Lance can't compete in any triathlons or Ironman competitions. Apparently, those were linked to million dollar contracts. So Foundation staff will need to work with Nike and all their other contracts to reassure them that the good the Foundation is doing is great for the company brand, far outweighing any legal challenges Lance is facing. That will be a tough argument and some sponsors will be lost, but I believe the damage can be mitigated.
This will be a busy weekend for the Foundation staff. Hopefully, they've been working toward this for weeks so they'll be able to come out strong. But, since nonprofit founders don't always communicate their decisions well with their nonprofit staff, this may be catching them by surprise. An interesting decision the board will want to examine is if the Foundation needs to distance itself as a brand from Lance. Or if part of the Foundation's mission will now be to defend Lance's legacy.
What would you add?
Those are the first three things I'd advise the Lance Armstrong Foundation staff to work on. What about you? Do you think they can weather this storm? What would you recommend they do?