This has been a year full of challenges for the LIVESTRONG Foundation, to be sure, but the recent press narrative surrounding the Foundation has me thinking of the old Mark Twain quote: “The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.”
The Foundation has in fact notched many successes this year. The organization turned 16 in January and surpassed the 2.5 million “people-served” milestone. Charity Navigator gave the organization its highest rating. We appeared on The NonProfit Times’ list of 50 Best NonProfits to Work For. LIVESTRONG Foundation President and CEO Doug Ulman and I received the 2013 Public Relations Professionals of the Year award from the Public Relations Society of America for the organization’s swift and transparent communications during tough times. And, among other news advancing our programming and expanding our partnerships, the Foundation received a $6.2 million grant from the global men’s health charity, Movember, to increase support services for those affected by prostate and testicular cancer.
Yet the negative narrative persists. I can only attribute it to one thing: people, including reporters, are still mad at Lance Armstrong. That is understandable. What is not, however, is that the Foundation, with Lance himself largely gone from the public eye, has become the most convenient and present vehicle for venting that anger (and some Schadenfreude), even though Lance hasn’t been affiliated at all with the organization since the fall of 2012.
Recent stories assessing the Foundation’s financial picture, based on its latest tax filings, are a good case in point.
The stories required some contortions, not to mention lapses in journalistic mores. For example, a respected nonprofit magazine allowed opinions surmising financial malfeasance regarding the LIVESTRONG Foundation’s partnership with the LIVESTRONG.com health and fitness website, which is separate from the Foundation but licenses the use of our name, to be published. The problem: there was no evidence presented to back up this opinion. Even worse, the Foundation wasn’t given the opportunity to provide facts, counterarguments and comment.
Several news organizations, meanwhile, reported that “supporters” are pursuing legal action against the Foundation because they feel misled by Lance and the organization. Even a cursory web search would show that the single individual—not “supporters”—behind this has been making similar threats for around nine months, but has yet to follow through. Whether he does is fully within his rights as a citizen, but as we have noted many times: there is no legal action pending against the Foundation.
Our team usually finds it best to accept the reality of criticism and soldier on, addressing the most constructive parts of that criticism and trying to ignore the rest. Contrary to the stories’ conclusions, the Foundation is in a strong position—quite an enviable position, given what we have been through — because its team and its supporters work hard on a daily basis on its mission of supporting, advocating for and improving the lives of people with cancer now. Long-term financial planning and sound governance are paramount to our strong standing as well.
We also can’t help but note the irony that, earlier this year, most commentary in the wake of Lance’s revelations about his conduct noted that his creation of LIVESTRONG, done long before the limelight ever touched him, was one true bright spot in his history. Many mentioned his work creating and helping to build the Foundation as an important part of arriving at a balanced view of the man.
Every person who works at the Foundation likely gets the same rush of frustration that I do every time a reporter poses a hypothetical question about whether we will survive or, even worse, has the gall to suggest that our work on behalf of cancer survivors is less valuable than investing in clinical research. Polling actually shows exactly the opposite—that the public, by a wide margin, values helping people today over looking for a cure for tomorrow. I can only assume the same from the millions of people who access the livestrong.org website for information, attend one of our events, talk with one of our expert navigators during an incredibly difficult time for themselves of a loved one, visit one of our seven LIVESTRONG Survivorship Centers of Excellence, participate in our LIVESTRONG at the YMCA program, join one of our studies into the experiences of cancer survivors, travel to Washington to advocate for the needs of those survivors or take advantage of any number of our other programs.
The Foundation is a one of America’s top cancer nonprofit organizations, recognized widely for our expertise on the experience of cancer survivors, as well as our excellence in governance, high standards and transparency. We have faced recent challenges, and more may be on the horizon. But we remain a vibrant and vital force and are constantly tapping into our entrepreneurial spirit to innovate further and help more people. I can’t tell the media how to report on us, but I can certainly ask for a fair shake that reflects that whole picture.