Sports Programs to Non-Profits: A Q&A with PRSSA 2013 National Conference Presenter Rae Bazzarre

Rae Bazzarre

Director of Communications and External Affairs for the LIVESTRONG Foundation, Rae Bazzarre, will be sharing her wisdom at the PRSSA 2013 National Conference in Philadelphia. Bazzarre has been in the field for more than 15 years and has achieved numerous professional milestones. This communications “titaness” has collaborated with the United States Congress, foreign governments and international companies across five continents.

Q: Much of your professional experience is with nonprofit organizations. What attracts you to nonprofits? What do you like the most about working in this sector?
Rae Bazzarre: I’m passionate about helping people and the issues that affect them. I think of my career as my life’s work and I want to spend it making a meaningful impact. Working in the nonprofit sector allows me to contribute to the greater social good. 

Q: You also have experience working with professional athletes and athletic organizations. What are some of the similarities and differences between working in nonprofit communication versus sports communication?
RB: These two industries work with very different budgets. However, with an increasing number of athletic companies investing in corporate responsibility initiatives this provides a great opportunity for cross collaboration that benefits the whole community.

Q: Your team received a PRSA Silver Anvil for your work in crisis communications. What was the focus of the campaign entry? What were the results?
RB: The week of October 15, 2012, cancer survivor and philanthropist Lance Armstrong resigned as chairman of the LIVESTRONG Foundation, the top-rated nonprofit he created to serve people affected by cancer. He resigned following the release of a report from the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency in an effort to inoculate the Foundation against any negative effects from the controversy surrounding his cycling career. His resignation, however, occurred during a week devoted to the Foundation’s highly visible 15th anniversary celebration. The communications team constructed a rapid response strategy around its founder’s resignation and built and executed a plan to help the organization chart a strong, independent course forward.

The week of Lance Armstrong’s resignation and the Foundation’s 15th anniversary celebration:

  • The Team LIVESTRONG Challenge drew more than 4,300 participants, compared to 2,698 people who participated in 2011.
  • 15: An Evening with LIVESTRONG raised $2.5 million in funds, making it the largest fundraising night in Austin history.
  • Online donations from Oct. 17-19 were nearly $240,000, double what donations were for Oct. 10-12, with the average donation increasing 13 percent.
  • By separating itself from its famous founder, the Foundation was finally able to decline to participate in stories about Lance Armstrong’s cycling history after his resignation. After his resignation, the communications team took a strict approach in turning away media inquiries involving Lance’s personal life and as a result, the negative spotlight on the Foundation diminished significantly and swiftly.

Q: What is most important lesson you have learned through your career and how has that lesson helped you in your professional development?
RB: As children we’re taught about right and wrong, left and right, black and white. But the truth is, life is complicated. It’s messy. There’s often more than one right answer. But how do you decide which one is right for you? The path to our destination isn’t always clear and it’s often filled with unexpected challenges.

Accepting these facts of life has forced me to adjust my thinking, my way of communicating and consider other points of view. It doesn’t come naturally to me. But by developing these skills, I can be a better problem solver and more compassionate communicator.

Q: Give us a sneak peak of your “From the Crisis Trenches: Blazing a New Trail in Communications” session with co-presenter Katherine McLane, also of LIVESTRONG. What can attendees anticipate learning during the session?
RB: Katherine and I will share insights into how the LIVESTRONG Foundation is moving forward with its mission after its high-profile founder, Lance Armstrong, is no longer involved.

Q: What are you looking forward to the most about the PRSSA 2013 National Conference?
RB: I’m looking forward to sharing lessons learned with students in hopes that it may help them chart their own career path. I’m excited to hear what questions people have so I can learn from them! 

Stay tuned by liking the PRSSA 2013 National Conference page on Facebook and following the event on Twitter @prssanc.

Jessica Howard is a sophomore at Drexel University. She is pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in communication as well as a minor in fine arts. Howard is the communications director for the PRSSA 2013 National Conference.

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