Eight days after Robyn Burchfiel began her new job as Livestrong’s vice president of development, award-winning cyclist and founder of the organization, Lance Armstrong, walked in and told the staff about his years of lying about steroid use.
“These are the people who supported him and defended him for 15 years,” she said. “When he admitted that, I can’t convey the silence in that room. Then my colleagues started to cry.”
Mrs. Burchfiel spoke to the Association of Fundraising Professionals in Tyler on Tuesday about how the organization recovered after Armstrong’s use of performance-enhancing substances was discovered, and he was stripped of the seven Tour de France titles he won.
When the news broke, the media and nonprofit leaders essentially waved goodbye to Livestrong.
Even though Armstrong removed himself from the organization to help it survive, the organization that devotes itself to helping people deal with all types of cancer took a financial nosedive. Its revenue was down 40 percent last year (the news broke in January of 2013). Its budget went from $50 million to $22 million, and many programs that helped cancer patients had to be cut.
“People tied Lance’s behavior to our organization,” she said. “We had to define and embrace our new normal.”
Before then, Livestrong didn’t have to court donors, Mrs. Burchfiel said. Now, they do. But she added that some donors are beginning to come back, and some even signed on because of the hit from the negative publicity. The organization closed on five major gifts in the last three months, and Mrs. Burchfiel predicts they will hit their revenue goals this year.
“We’re still answering questions about Lance, but it allows us to redirect them to focus on our cancer services,” she said.
And ultimately, those services to cancer patients are why she stayed with the organization and still goes to work every day, she said. The association she spoke with Tuesday made a donation to Livestrong in her honor.
“We do things much bigger than a job, don’t we?” said Tim Connor, president of the East Texas chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals.