The Sports Philanthropy Project

Many corporate foundations choose to make grants to local nonprofit organizations that do charitable work in the community. They often do not consider that by adopting a more strategic approach they could have a sustained and more meaningful impact. Curt Weeden, a former vice-president of Johnson & Johnson, has advocated a strategic approach to social investing by corporations that can benefit both the not-for-profit organization and the corporation itself. The foundations (or community relations divisions) of major league sports teams are not generally part of the core business of sports, and they tend to fall into the category of foundations that do not do strategic grantmaking.

In this chapter, Digby Diehl tells the story of the development of the Sports Philanthropy Project. Through this project, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation worked with foundations established by professional sports teams, helping them develop their philanthropic skills to become more professional in their approach to grantmaking. The project enabled the Foundation to leverage the cachet of professional athletes and teams to further its own health and health care goals. For example, when the Foundation proposed to Major League Soccer that it join in a campaign to enroll uninsured children in the State Children's Health Insurance Program or Medicaid, league officials immediately saw the mutual benefit of such a partnership. Freddie Adu and Jaime Moreno, two stars of the D.C. United team, served as spokespersons for the campaign, and the teams provided children's coverage days at its games, with space for promotion booths, public service announcements, and materials in game books.

Although the Sports Philanthropy Project has encountered some difficulty in establishing an identity of its own, it shows the potential of harnessing the recognition and influence of athletes, teams and celebrities. For example, salsa musician Willie Colon made a music video concerning children's health insurance, and the cast of NBC's The Office made a public service announcement for Cover the Uninsured Week.