Tag Archives: Philanthropy

Superstar Super Heroes

(Photo credit: Christine Van Timmerman via theScore)

In times of distress and disaster, the responsiveness of sports leagues, teams and athletes carries tremendous weight in the communities they live and play in.  This was made clear in Oklahoma over the past few weeks.  Basketball mogul Kevin Durant mobilized his team, his sponsors and his league to rally in support of those devastated in this month’s tornadoes.  His efforts sparked a nationwide effort to raise over $1 million in aid for OKC victims, restoring their hope and their communities.

Read my full article on the Sports Networker blog!

Follow the Stars? A Discussion of Professional Athletes as Nonprofit Board Members

Last evening, GWU Professor Michael Worth led “Governing and Managing Nonprofit Organizations” class in discussion about the trade-offs that organizations’ leaders are faced with when building a board of directors.  A classmate asked about the benefit and concerns of adding a celebrity to a nonprofit board.  The general consensus was that not many celebrities will demonstrate the commitment to the organization in order to be actively engaged in and fully accountable to the fiduciary responsibilities entrusted to nonprofit board members.  As this pertains to athletes, I believe that current players are susceptible to the same underwhelming commitment that is feared of many celebrities because their playing careers are simply too demanding. HOWEVER: the athlete that is driven by personal conviction and experience that will always be the best in rising to the nonprofit governance challenge, whether in the height of his or her playing career or not.

First, let’s make a distinction between the management and governance of nonprofit organizations.  Management reflects the supervision and execution of mission-driven tasks that are the responsibility of the nonprofit’s executives and staff on the ground.  The board is responsible for high-level oversight and is entrusted with the responsibility of securing the organization’s future through strategic planning, goal setting and fundraising, among other things.

When faced with competing interests in building a board with high visibility and potential to attract major gifts, some organizations might look to adding an athlete on their roster to help achieve these goals.  However, the board is responsible for more than promotion and fundraising; in fact, some of its most important responsibilities included the oversight of budgets, the development of long-range strategic plans and critical analysis of the organization’s progress toward mission achievement and the ability to measure that progress.  Nonprofit boards should consider these responsibilities in addition to goals for higher visibility and more successful capital campaigns when looking to add big name talent to their roster and ensure that their potential “draft picks” have both the capacity and willingness to carry out all of these responsibilities to the organization’s benefit.

Athletes who are still in the game are subjected to rigorous schedules for most of the year, on and off the playing field.  Between practice, games, travel and other marketing engagements, it is arguable that many of them will not be able to fully commit themselves to the leadership of a nonprofit organization.  And quite honestly, it isn’t fair to condemn them on their lack of commitment in this arena.  An athlete’s job is to play a sport and to do so at the best of his or her ability, which means giving 100% to the team or sport and even more for personal improvement.  Naturally, they cannot be expected to prioritize the governance of an organization over their playing careers. (This is also why I don’t believe it is wise for current players to charter their own personal charities, as they often do not have the experience or the time to manage them or effectively oversee those to whom they hand the reigns.) On the other hand, athletes that are phasing out of their playing careers and into (slightly) less demanding roles would, in my opinion, be better able to rise to the challenge of governing a nonprofit organization.

Of course, there are always exemplary cases of current players who have excelled on the field and in the board room; however, it is my belief that it takes strong personal conviction to keep a player running at full strength in both fields of play.  The quintessential example is now-retired Warrick Dunn, a five-time Pro Bowl running back — one of only six backs in the history of football to top 500 receptions for more than 10,000 yards — and recipient of a 2011 Jefferson Award, one of the nation’s top honors for philanthropic engagement and community service.  His service to the community began during his rookie season in 1997 when he started the Homes for the Holidays program, an initiative to grant home ownership to single mothers, a dream Warrick’s own mother was not able to realize.  During his final seasons with Tampa Bay, Warrick Dunn partnered with 11 other athletes to found Athletes for Hope, an organization “that brings athletes together to educate, inspire and empower them to channel their energy for a common goal: to make a difference in the world.”  To date, Warrick Dunn Charities’ Homes for the Holidays program has impacted the lives of 117 single parents and 311 children and dependents, and he continues to be a strong and vital leader in the Athletes for Hope mission. 

It is not the typical case that athletes are just as committed to their charitable endeavors as they are to their sport, but when an athlete has a life experience as compelling as Warrick Dunn’s (and some others!) that drives him or her to achieve at the highest levels on and off the field, nonprofit leaders can be confident that their personal conviction will command the sense of ownership and spark the personal engagement that is required for effective nonprofit organization governance.

Remedying Professional Athletes’ Philanthropic Underachievement

The following is the highlight reel of my paper entitles “Missing the Mark — Underachievement of Professional Athletes’ Philanthropic Efforts” developed for my Policy Analysis class, as part of my Master of Public Administration program at The George Washington University. Enjoy!

The Problem:

Athletes’ personal charities are notorious for their financial and administrative mismanagement and general lack of efficiency. Moreover, there are several cases in which organizations’ inability to remain compliant with IRS policy has caused legal and tax issues for their founders, only adding to the disservice these organizations are doing for the community. Thus, there is a compelling need to revisit the ways athletes, with the help of agents and managers, structure their philanthropic endeavors to ensure that the athlete’s good intentions are effectively applied toward the causes they are passionate about.

Alternative Solutions:

The public and private sectors offer a wide range of solutions to mitigate failure and ineffectiveness among professional athletes’ philanthropic efforts. Philanthropy education and strategic partnerships, donor advised funds and impact consulting are only a few models that represent the plethora of viable alternative strategies for giving back that will allow these high-profile individuals to leverage their resources in support of choice causes with maximized social returns. Athletes and their advisors must carefully consider their own philanthropic goals before selecting which method is most suitable for them, as each alternative represents a very different approach and carries its own advantages and disadvantages in comparison to the others.

Philanthropy Education and Strategic Partnerships: This model emphasizes the importance of educating athletes about the wide rage of philanthropic opportunities available to them and encourages strategic partnerships with established non-profit organizations.

Donor Advised Funds: Public charities that give grants to non-profit organizations at the suggestion of their funders are another viable route for charitable engagement. Athletes are able to articulate their visions for community investment and leverage the expertise of grant managers in the organization assessment and fund allocation processes.

Impact Consulting: This model represents the offerings of the rapidly growing program evaluation field. By incorporating the principles of outcomes measurement, impact assessment and several other tools in this practice, athletes who choose to launch their own charitable organizations can do so in a way that incorporates methods and metrics that will drive the program toward achieving the purpose for which it was created.

Evaluative Criteria:

When considering various ways to get involved philanthropically, it is critical that athletes evaluate their options according to criteria that will allow them to select the alternative that best promulgates his or her goals for social impact. The following are the evaluative criteria I have identified as key indicators of long-term impact achievement and synergy with each individual’s philanthropic goals.

Impact Orientation: The extent to which social impact achievement drives the alternative model. Provisions for financial efficiency and legal compliance with IRS or federal government requirements are necessary, but not sufficient; structuring solutions around a propensity to enact change is critical.

Mission Integrity: The alternative’s capacity to maintain the athlete’s intended purpose for his/her charity. Solutions must be context-sensitive, allowing for personal discretion and customization according to the individual athlete’s passions, preferences and ideas.

Sustainability: As playing careers cycle from launch to retirement, an athlete’s commitments and availability will change. The degree of projected long-term relevance and effectiveness that any particular model offers should remain high regardless of the career phase an athlete finds him or herself in.

Political Feasibility: Instead of political feasibility on the government level, industry politics must be taken into consideration. This criterion assesses the model’s ability to secure agent and manager buy-in, as these are the key influencers and decision makers beyond the athlete him/herself.

Administrative Feasibility: This criterion evaluates the amount of work that is required of the athlete compared to how much can/will be handled by other parties. The ability to identify and recruit capable individuals that the athlete can trust must be carefully considered.

Summary Analysis:

Copyright Kendall Moore, 2012

Conclusion:

There is a plethora of different ways professional athletes can choose to engage in philanthropy and get involved with their communities.  These models represent only a fraction of strategies to mitigate the overwhelming inefficiency that has plagued professional athletes’ personal charities in recent history.  Ultimately, it is up to the athlete to seek the council of his/her agent, publicist, financial advisor, attorney and, most importantly, his or her own philanthropic vision, to determine which of these models presents the solution that best aligns with his or her goals for community involvement.  When looking to change the thought patterns of decision makers and key influencers, both non-profit and for-profit service providers must consider their solution’s ability to generate social impact; accurately reflect the athlete’s personal vision for societal change; yield long-term results; compel agents, publicists and the athlete him or herself to buy in from a financial and personal brand standpoint; and ensure that the administrative burden rests on the shoulders of capable and trustworthy individuals. No matter the model, impact evaluation is the critical factor that will correct the trajectory of athletes’ philanthropic endeavors and lead them to great social legacies.