While its $50.4 million in annual revenue is less than what the 97-year-old American Cancer Society raises in a month, Livestrong has been a catalyst for better cancer care and education across the globe. "It's a force to be reckoned with," says Leslie Lenkowsky, a professor at Indiana University's Center on Philanthropy. Livestrong's help line, guidebooks, and website helped more than 400,000 people last year. Its social-media efforts reach about 3 million supporters. It has pioneered programs here and abroad for survivors; worked to unify the fractured cancer community; and instigated a worldwide crusade, which includes the United Nations and the Clinton Global Initiative, to make the world's No. 1 killer a health-care priority. "I can't think of an organization with the breadth of activity that the foundation has," says Dr. Larry Shulman, chief medical officer at the renowned Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, "and that includes the American Cancer Society."
Which puts Armstrong, and CEO Ulman, in an uncomfortable position. The two are "soul brothers," as one Livestrong sponsor puts it: both cancer survivors, both highly competitive and disciplined athletes, both bright, passionate, and charismatic activists. "If we want to talk about cancer or go out and have beers at happy hour, that's fine with me," Armstrong says. Together they have built something remarkable. Armstrong attracts attention and supporters; Ulman melds them into a powerful community.
Even if Armstrong isn't ultimately charged, a prolonged investigation that sullies the foundation's public face could take a toll on its fund-raising and, most important, its credibility. Will corporate sponsors and donors differentiate between the founder and his foundation? While Ulman awaits the outcome, he's being forced to wrestle with a critical question about his boss: Is Livestrong's greatest asset also its greatest risk?