Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Size of Livestrong

The Livestrong Foundation gets widespread attention (this blog is no exception), both for its charitable efforts and its founder's scandals.  The question I want to address here is whether this attention has led to an outsized public perception of the organization.  For instance, a recent Washington Post piece about the organization's rebranding efforts labeled it "one of the largest and most respected nonprofits in the United States." And, in objecting to subjective media coverage, a vice president of the organization referred to it in a Huffington Post piece as "one of America's top cancer nonprofit organizations."

Before one concludes that Livestrong is one of the largest nonprofits around, some perspective is in order.  The following two charts, which present data from a few cancer charities' most recent financial statements, are revealing.

Net Assets (in millions)
Revenues (in millions)
As the numbers reveal, Livestrong's financial capacity is dwarfed by that of some other cancer charities.  It is not one of the country's largest charities or even close in size to the largest cancer charity.  Livestrong's public persona outsizes its financial capacity.  Therein may lie its fundamental problem: much of what Livestrong offers that other cancer charities cannot is its outsized public persona, the very persona it is now trying to shed or at least recast in a different light by cutting ties with its highly visible founder.

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