As we head into draft season for the NFL, NBA, MLB, and others, we will soon be hearing the well-intentioned enthusiasm from many newly drafted professional athletes who have “made it” after years of hard work that they want to give back and “start their own foundation.”
Sounds great, right? Well, the intention of giving back is, without a doubt, the type of behavior from athletes that should and must be celebrated. Yet, in recent years, a number of professional athletes have faced public scrutiny and criticism for starting foundations that fall far short of their stated missions.
Callum Borchers of the Boston Globe wrote a piece titled, “In non-profit game, many athletes post losing records.” He highlighted a number of athletes that had received public admiration for their named charities that were shockingly bad when examined for their efficacy.
The Boston Globe piece and other similar stories should serve as an alarm to athletes and their advisors that philanthropy should be encouraged but requires expert guidance and support to ensure it is done well. As Jenny Goldstock Wright of Wishbone Consulting Group (an organization that specializes in supporting athlete philanthropy) shared with me in a recent conversation, philanthropic endeavors are complex and require a deep understanding of why the athlete wants to give back until you reach a level of understanding that allows you to truly evaluate what type of philanthropic tool will best meet that goal. Starting one’s own foundation is often not the best answer.
Rather, a thorough assessment followed by effective process and guidance by a trusted, competent, experienced professional in this space is critical. It is unreasonable to expect a young, gifted, athlete to have comparable prowess to their sport talent in establishing philanthropic entities unless they’ve spent similar time developing this craft as they do to their sport.
The hope is that the desire to give back can be encouraged while the pitfalls of doing it poorly (the classic example of starting your own foundation, naming friends and family to the board, and hosting gold tournaments comes to mind) can be mitigated with proper support.
Athletes do have the ability to make substantial impact on the world. Let’s support them in ensuring that their generosity does the good that they set out to do when they first say “I want to start my own foundation” by asking why. Then the true work can begin.