Today’s news is reporting Lance Armstrong’s decision to not fight the doping charges. Many are saying he’s basically admitting he’s guilty.
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?
The best thing the foundation can do is keep telling people all the good it does. There’s going to be a ton of negativity heading their way, and they’ll need to head them off at the pass. Kind of like a gunfight at the O.K Corral.
Still, what if the foundation actually broke away from Lance Armstrong and became something different? Granted it’s probably sacrilege, but if they kick him off, they might be able to re-brand and live to stay strong.
Nice! I like the last line. 🙂
I just told a reporter that I’d encourage the Foundation to keep making their story about the millions of people who’s lives have been changed and focus on the feats those people have accomplished.
Great advice! Communication and strengthening existing relationships is so important at these critical junctures… I agree that what we ARE sure of is the awareness raised and the lives changed by what Livestrong has done up to now.
Wow. They clearly have been having a conversation with Nike!
“Lance Armstrong is still our man, Nike says”
Few may remember that the organization used to be called the Lance Armstrong Foundation. They rebranded to Livestrong Foundation a while back. They began laying some groundwork back then that makes this day easier to handle.
Great reminder, Kathryn!
Glad they’re ahead of this!
A couple of things
1. I don’t remember from the NPR story that he can’t compete in triathalons or ironman competitions, they said he wasn’t going to be a world contender and it wouldn’t be a driver for his foundation or sponsorships. I think that’s what was said anyway. Will have to re listen online.
2. I think they have been preparing for this for a long time. Using the Livestrong name instead of the Armstrong Foundation for example. People may back away from Armstrong, but who is going to back away from Livestrong & the work it doest for cancer. They have branded Livestrong out- knowing this was coming. They sponsor events, sports teams, other foundations…and not as Lance Armstrong. Here in Kansas City we have Livestrong Sporting park for our pro soccer team. The are also involved in a concert hall here. His name and face aren’t on anything. Just the Livestrong and Yellow. They were way out in front on this one in my opinion, as any good marketing team would be. He may have just been fighting as long as he could to get the brand established, and if it all went away that would be an added bonus. I consult for a personality driven np here in KC and as someone who came from corporate marketing foot in mouth disease and other mistakes that could cause issues is always in the back of my mind
Thanks for all your work and info in the NP sector. Between you, Pamela Grow, John Haydon, and Maz I learned a lot while working for a corporate non profit. As a fundraising & marketing consultant now I take the lessons I learned when I was just getting started with me every day.
Thanks for your comments! And your kind words.
The NPR story said he had $1 million contracts for each triathlon. Pretty cool!
Good point on the renaming and branding work they’ve done. With Nike’s decision, and so many comments online, I don’t think they’ll see much fallout from this.
Here’s the interview I did with Al Jezeera’s Ghida Fakhry on this topic yesterday:
And here’s an article Ragan Communications did:
I said this on Twitter the other night, and I’ll restate it here: A week / a month / a year from now, the world is still going to be divided into two camps when it comes to Lance Armstrong: Those that believe in him and his legacy and those that think that he’s an arrogant cheat.
I thought that Lance and Livestrong were super smart with how they handled the press this week. His official statement that he was dropping the fight against the USADA not only included a statement from one of the top people on the Livestrong board, but also several of the people they are partnered with (like the American Cancer Society). Additionally, you pointed out the Nike people coming out in support of both Lance & Livestrong.
Lance is always going to be the top public face of Livestrong, and people don’t seem to be too upset about that. Have you seen how many donations they’ve had donated in the past 48 hours?
I have! The donations are like votes of support too.
Many, many others can learn from how this is being handled!
Not sure if you have seen this yet, but if this isn’t a model for how to avert crisis as a Non Profit I don’t know what is. Not only did he address the issue, they turned it into an ask. As a marketer this is brilliant, in my opinion.
oops take 2
Thanks. That is a great way to use this for fundraising!
So as of a few minutes ago, Lance Armstrong was stripped of his titles.
Do you think his stepping down as chairman last week will help Livestrong?
This post on Google+ seems to sum up the confusing feelings for so many:
Today, Livestrong announced that Lance Armstrong has resigned from the board.
Do you think this will calm any lingering doubts of sponsors?