Nick Denby joined the LIVESTRONG Foundation eight years ago as director of accounting. After being twice promoted to senior director and vice president of development, Denby is now leading and overseeing the Foundation’s events, merchandise, corporate giving, stewardship and annual giving teams.
He is currently responsible for the execution of Team LIVESTRONG events that carry a multi-million revenue target, and for establishing partnerships and formulating the department’s annual budget.
Denby began his career in nonprofit organizations as director of finance at American Youthworks after earning degrees from Gettysburg College and the University of Maryland College Park.
MSBC: How did you first get started with nonprofit organizations and the LIVESTRONG Foundation?
Denby: While it wasn’t a career goal of mine to work specifically for a non-profit, I moved to Austin in 2001 to work in the accounting and finance department at American Youthworks. Three years later, I was named director of finance. Soon after my promotion, a recruiter called to ask if I had interest in working at, what was then called, the Lance Armstrong Foundation, which was seeking someone who had experience in grant accounting. Because my current organization was heavily grant-funded, I was able to gain a lot of experience in that area and ended up taking the job in March 2005 – only 11 months after the LIVESTRONG wristband was launched. With the explosion in wristband sales, it was a crazy time at the Foundation. The growing revenue soon morphed it into a much larger entity, revolving around corporate engagement, event fundraising and merchandise sales, including the wristband. After about four years of working in accounting, I transferred departments and became the VP of development.
MSBC: Since your time there, how has the LIVESTRONG Foundation grown in terms of revenue?
Denby: A tipping point in the Foundation’s history was 2004, when the yellow LIVESTRONG wristbands were introduced. In terms of a revenue standpoint, its sales really put the Foundation on a different plane from most other non-profits. It was the first time that someone could really get involved with and support a non-profit organization for just $1. Of course now, most organizations have found a way to incorporate something similar into their businesses, but that was really unique from a grassroots level at the time. For just $1, the public could support people affected by cancer and join what was becoming a massive movement, which resulted in the distribution of more than 80 million wristbands.
MSBC: What are the major differences between hosting and operating LIVESTRONG Challenge events versus planning for partnered Team LIVESTRONG events?
Denby: LIVESTRONG Challenge events are fun community events, not races, and athletes of all levels are welcome and celebrated. They are owned by the Foundation and operated by a team of talented Foundation staffers in Austin, along with the help hundreds of our dedicated volunteers, who are all deeply committed to the mission. During our three Challenge events, participants learn more about and participate in our mission to improve the lives of people affected by cancer now.
Team LIVESTRONG’s members take part in events throughout the U.S. and use their participation to raise funds for our mission. The Foundation secures Team LIVESTRONG participation in about 15 partnered events per year, which range from rides to walks and runs to triathlons. However, these events, such as the ING New York City Marathon and RAGBRAI, are not operated by staff members of the LIVESTRONG Foundation. Through Challenges and partnered events, Team LIVESTRONG has raised more than $80 million, helping us to serve millions of people affected by cancer now.
MSBC: Is there a particular event that you helped bring to life that is personal or memorable to you?
Denby: There are two that come to mind. My first event on staff was the 2005 Ride for the Roses. I participated in that event about six months after I joined the team, so it was the first time I got to meet a lot of the people that we serve. Those individuals fundraise for this organization and it was really great to see the passion that they have for each other, for the Foundation and for that event. That day I realized that while I do like working in the accounting and finance area, I really wanted to be on the development team and work more closely with the people who raise funds for us. Another memorable moment for me was in 2009, at the first Challenge event that I went to after becoming the senior director of development, leading the development team. It was a wonderful feeling for me because it was the culmination of what I wanted to do in 2005. I also got to talk to the individuals who attended and to hear firsthand how much they enjoyed it. Those two events, for me, will always be ones I cherish the most.
LIVESTRONG Challenge events are so special because whenever a cancer survivor crosses the finish line, whether they are running, walking or biking, he or she is given a yellow rose. When you see the effect of that on our supporters, it’s transformational. These individuals are wonderful people, and for anyone who has gone through a cancer journey, it’s a difficult challenge to ride 10, 20, 40, 60 or 100 miles. We shower the last rider to finish with all the rose petals we have left and it’s just a powerful experience that I wish everyone could have.
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