Sustainable Sports Foundations: Lessons from Livestrong and Lance
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The bigger they are, the harder they fall. In the world of sports foundations, they don’t get any bigger than Lance Armstrong, and thus the recent “epic” and unfortunate downfall of the American sports icon would seem to spell doom for the Livestrong foundation that he started and spearheaded for more than a decade.

But that hasn’t been the case at all, notes Greg Santore, Vice President and Leader of Witt/Kieffer’s Sports Leadership Practice. “As Lance Armstrong spent the past few years dodging accusations of doping, Livestrong . . . stood firm, kept raising money, and continued about its business of helping cancer survivors,” Santore writes in the November 12 issue of SportsBusiness Journal. “Even at Armstrong’s lowest moment—when he was ultimately stripped of his Tour de France titles—Livestrong saw donations surge.”

Greg Santore

Say what you will about Armstrong the man or athlete, Santore adds, but he established a sports foundation that will remain viable and do good work for years to come—even now that Armstrong and the organization have dissociated themselves from each other. Livestrong still has plenty of supporters and partners like Nike, a strong brand, many success stories to build upon, and a strong leadership team, Santore says.

Most importantly, however, Livestrong still abides by its core cancer-fighting mission, says Santore. “When the mission becomes bigger than the individual,” he writes, “the organization becomes sustainable.”

Nowhere is this more true than in the world of sports. “When an athlete or team shines, donors for their cause line up at the door,” Santore says. “But when the team stops winning, glory has faded, or a reputation has been tarnished, what will inspire people to contribute? Why will they care?”

The answer of course lies in the mission. Other keys to ensuring sustainability—a critical issue facing all sports foundations, says Santore—include strong leadership and planning for the future. Regarding this latter point, Santore writes, “Strong for-profit organizations usually have done leadership succession planning that includes emergency plans for just such occurrences, and foundations should be no different.”

When all the right elements are in place, a sports foundation can weather most any storm, Santore tells SportsBusiness Journal readers. Like Livestrong, nonprofits and charities can and should live on long after their founders and figureheads are gone.

By Paul Thomas, Witt/Kieffer Senior Writer (@PaulWThomas)

 

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