Organizational Communication in the News

Case Studies of Organizations and Organizational Communication in the Media

Armstrong’s Business Brand, Bound Tight With His Charity


Source: The New York Times

Friends and associates have said that Mr. Armstrong will admit to using performance-enhancing drugs when he sits down Monday for a taped interview with Oprah Winfrey. The confession, they said, is part of a bid by Mr. Armstrong to resume his athletic career and rehabilitate the reputation that helped build the charity and the rest of his financial empire. An examination of Livestrong shows the degree to which the charity, Mr. Armstrong’s business interests and those of his associates have long been intertwined.

Story length: 2,491 words

Access the full story here.

Disraelly Cruz (University of West Florida) suggests some key “Takeaways” on the story:

The recent controversy surrounding Lance Armstrong demonstrates the fragile nature of nonprofit legitimacy and legitimacy transferability.  Although the nonprofit world is not immune to scandal, this case highlights the dangers of building organizational legitimacy around a single person.

In the early stages of the Livestrong Foundation, its legitimacy was largely on account of its founding member, Armstrong. As his successes continued to mount and his story of survivorship connected with the public, Livestrong reaped the benefits from corporate sponsorships and large donations.  Unfortunately, once Armstrong’s character was called into question, the credibility, trustworthiness, and viability of the foundation was also threatened. In the effort to repair his own image with the public and corporate sponsors, Armstrong essentially used his involvement and successes with Livestrong as a bargaining chip.  However, this also means a gamble with the reputation of the foundation.

Livestrong is currently at a critical juncture in its legitimacy and identity formation process.  Previously, the foundation has defended Armstrong in response to doping accusations.  Now, however, as the accusations are proved true, Livestrong must make a decision about its partnership with Armstrong.  Its current effort of merely downsizing the budget is not a sufficient response.   In fact, this response is best characterized as a form of “organizational narcissism,” which, in the long run, could be detrimental.  Rather than simply looking the other direction while the scandal blows over, or hoping the public will decide to forgive and forget Armstrong, the organization can take some proactive steps.

1)      First, Livestrong must re-legitimize the original survivorship story, while distancing its current identity from Lance Armstrong.  Unlike corporate counterparts, the foundation cannot simply cut all ties with Armstrong because his story of surviving cancer was the impetus for its founding.  While Livestrong should frame his story as an impetus for its creation, this should not be the only source of inspiration and legitimacy.  The survivorship story is no longer the story of one person, but of thousands of individuals who have, through Livestrong, discovered their own ways to survive cancer.

2)      Second, Livestrong needs to reassess and downsize its current program and advocacy efforts.  Even though the organization experienced tremendous fundraising success in its early years, it must now reconsider its current scope and develop a strategic growth plan.  For example, the foundation needs to concentrate on offering and expanding current survivorship programs because these programs are the backbone of its legitimacy and identity.

3)      Lastly, Livestrong must seek new donors and partnerships that are interested in the survivorship aspect and not its connection with Lance Armstrong.  Several sponsors mentioned in the article were interested in the connection between their organization and Armstrong, and not necessarily the connection with Livestrong.  The foundation needs to identify corporate sponsors and donors willing to partner with it because of its mission and vision.

These steps set the foundation on a path of personal ownership over its legitimacy, rather than depending on transferability.  The downsizing of programs also helps Livestrong weather the reduced donations, while refocusing its efforts towards its core mission.

Read more “Takeaways” from Disraelly and other scholars here.

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