Lessons from Lance
For the past few months, we’ve been hearing about Lance Armstrong’s fall from grace and the aftermath of it. Barred from competing again, he has tried to win public opinion to support him in his efforts to compete again, theoretically free from any doping. As fundraisers, we’ll probably always remember him as the man behind those brightly coloured rubber charity bracelets which, love them or hate them, you have to admit they became a big trend. And most of us will also remember him as the fraud that disappointed a large number of people by cheating and then voraciously lying about it.
And despite his ‘bear all’ interview with Oprah Winfrey, he has managed to become a fairly unsympathetic a character because of his years of bullying and the string of litigations. While his role in the charity sector may be over after he stepped down as Chairman of Livestrong, there are some lessons we can learn from his experience.
Part of me actually sympathises with Lance Armstrong. Yes, he lied and cheated and profited from his lies while attacking the integrity of others. But he did survive a very tough cancer diagnosis. He was an inspiration to cancer sufferers, and the fact that he did go on to even train for the Tour de France showed a kind of perseverance that is admirable.
But none of that matters. The fact that he lied tarnishes any of his real achievements. Because he lied, no one can trust him again, so he won’t get a chance to right his wrongs and compete again with a clean sheet (and even if he did, there would always be doubters). I’m not saying whether he doesn’t deserve the lifetime ban, but the fact remains he has inherited a worse lifetime label – as that of a liar.
Basically, our organisations’ integrity is invaluable. And once lost, it’s gone forever. So as fundraisers, we have to be 100% above board in what we say and do.
There is a lot of grey out there, perhaps most notably in response to the question, “Where does my money go?” I’ve seen a number of creative ways charities imply restricted funding while technically not breaking any rules. But as fundraisers, we risk jeopardising our organisations’ integrity every time we try to answer that question in a less than truthful fashion.
An apology after the fact only gets you so far, as Armstrong is learning. So we have to be completely clean. No equivalent of doping in fundraising. That means not intentionally misleading the public about what their donations will do. Not playing with the figures to find a cost of fundraising that we think will sound good (yes, that includes those charities that claim they spend £0 on fundraising – who are they kidding?).
And while the sport of cycling and the Tour de France will probably survive this scandal just fine (especially if they don’t give in on their zero tolerance doping policy by giving Armstrong another chance – as much as some of us might want to see what he could do clean), we bear the greater risk of undermining public confidence in the sector as a whole.