LiveStrong CEO on Fighting Cancer with Social Media, Origin of the WristbandBy: Chris Crum - October 29, 2010
WebProNews recently spoke with Doug Ulman, President and CEO of Livestrong, the nonprofit behind the famous yellow wristband and a huge cancer-fighting movement.
You probably know that social media has been huge for nonprofits, but listening to Ulman’s story is truly inspiring, as it really shows just how powerful these new tools can be – not just for business and communication, but for making a real difference in the world.
"Social media has been critical to allowing us, not only to engage with individuals who are part of the movement, but giving them a platform and a voice," Ulman tells WebProNews. "And again, for a nonprofit that’s always watching how we spend money, these tools are free. So, it’s a free way to over-communicate and be very transparent and authentic with millions of people who’ve been touched by cancer and who want to help in some way."
"Cancer transcends all barriers," he says. "Cancer does not discriminate. It doesn’t matter who you are, where you live, what color your skin is, what religion you are…it is a deadly disease, which is now the number one cause of death around the world, and everybody’s been touched. So, if we can give people a platform, people who want to give back, people who are so resilient, people who want to make the world a better place, if LiveStrong can be that platform, then we’ve achieved our goals, and social media is the only way to do it in a scalable fashion that doesn’t cost way too much money."
"We used to literally lick envelopes and stamp newsletters, staple them and mail them out," he continues. "Those days are long gone. I mean, now we can communicate in real time. You know, so if I’m here today, we’re telling people what we’re doing. If we have programmatic activities, if we have support programs for people with cancer, we can talk to people in real time every day, and get more people who can benefit from the services, so it’s transformed not only our work, but I think in general, it’s transformed all the nonprofit sector."
The Origin of the Wristband
Of course the yellow wristband, which has now even gone digital itself, has played a huge role in getting people excited about the cause. Ulman shared a little about how the Wristband took off and helped shape the movement.
"This yellow wristband, this iconic symbol of hope and inspiration and activism and empowerment, allowed people to be a part of this movement, and so it transformed us from a cancer nonprofit who’d been around for six or seven years to an organization who was touching many more lives, and giving people a voice in this process,’ Ulman says. "And so that’s how it sort of transformed from a cause to a movement."
"We had a great partnership with Nike, and they came to us with this idea to make a yellow wristband, and to sell six million of them," he remembers. "We thought they were crazy. We didn’t think we could ever possibly do that, and it just took off. I mean, the LiveStrong mantra was put on the band. It was a program we had developed a year earlier. Nike started giving them away to some of their athletes. We started selling them, and one thing led to another: the Tour de France, the Olympics, the Presidential election, people wearing them in all walks of life, but the value of it was that no one ever told you to wear it. It just happened organically, and it happened because everybody’s been touched. So, it’s been phenomenal to watch, and even to this day, we’ve sold 72 million of them, and this year we’ll sell at least 5 million, so it continues to go really, really strong."
The part of about everybody being touched by cancer was truly illustrated during Ulman’s keynote at Blogworld, in which he asked those in the audience to stand up if they had survived cancer, new somebody that had survived cancer or had lost somebody to cancer. Nearly everybody (if not everybody) in the large room stood up.
"We’re really focused on two areas," says Ulman. "One is providing direct service to individuals and families that are affected by cancer, and we do that through LiveStrong Survivor Care, an 800 number you can call and get support and help. Our website offers that support and help as well. We’ve got all kinds of other programmatic initiatives, which are aimed at improving the quality of life for people with cancer. And on the other hand, we are a platform for advocacy. How can we give people the opportunity to give back and to help? And helping has traditionally meant giving money, and we dont’ believe in that. If you want to give money, great. But we want your time. We want you expertise. We want your energy. We want to help you accomplish your goals, and get your support. And so, if we can provide great, direct service, and we can give people a platform, then we’re gonna make a huge dent in the cancer burden around the world."