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Charitable giving in sports: Looking beyond the press release

The Phoenix Open has begun this week and Super Bowl LVI is coming up this Sunday. One thing these annual events have in common is that they both advertise their charitable giving each year and how that positively impacts their local economy. Letting the public know that your event raised $3.8 million for charities, like the Phoenix Open did last year, is frankly just good PR. What company wouldn’t want to share that?

Here are two suggestions to consider when writing about these events from a business angle.

Do they publicize exactly where the money goes?

Although, the Los Angeles Super Bowl Host Committee did reveal all 56 local nonprofits they are supporting with grants in a press release last week, such details are often glossed over. As press releases are intended to highlight only the key information for the media you will likely find a statement noting a handful of organizations they have worked with in the past, generally publicly recognizable names like the Boys & Girls Clubs, and the total amount raised or donated for the event or year. But what does that really tell you about the economic impact of those donations?

Check out their website and annual reports

If it isn’t in the press release that doesn’t mean that you can’t find more information publicly available. For example, the Thunderbirds provide an annual report of all the charitable donations they make, including what organizations and how much goes to each.

A good place to start your reporting is seeing how many organizations they support and what is their average donation? You can also look into how diverse their donation pool is. Do they support predominately youth organizations? Are there minority-owned nonprofits on their roster? Do they donate to well established and large nonprofits or lesser known groups?

Dig deeper

Every organization is different in how much information they give out about their charitable giving. For example, the Fiesta Bowl doesn’t include exact dollar amounts, but they do include a one-sentence description of what exactly they are helping each charity with such as “Heart for the City will purchase equipment for the League of Champions football program including helmets, shoulder pads, knee/thigh pads, uniforms, mouthguards and footballs.” This gives a better insight to what the actual impact of those donation dollars mean beyond the fluff headline.

Talk to the recipients

For an upcoming sporting event consider talking to one of the past recipients and seeing what the money they received went towards and what the impact really meant to the organization. 

For example, the Thunderbirds charities gave $20k last year to Gabriel’s Angels pet therapy program. So, ask the organization what that allowed them to do. Did it help pay for staff member salaries or for vet services for the therapy animals?

Nonprofits have to make available their 990 forms from the last three years. These hold a wealth of information to where nonprofits spend their funding and can be a starting point for your questions. You can learn more about reading 990 forms here.

How far does the money go?

Don’t be afraid to ask how long the donation lasts. Was the donation budgeted for a certain amount each month in the general fund to aid the program throughout the year or used as a lump sum for a bigger purchase like a new van or building repairs? How much was this donation in comparison to their total operating budget for the year? A $5k donation may not seem like a lot from a million dollar corporation, but if the charity operates on a $50k budget, that donation increases their capabilities by 10%.

Recurring donations

Many of these sporting events donate to the same charities year after year. Ask the charity if they become reliant on these donations or if the amount changes from year to year. What would happen to their operation if they didn’t receive these donations? Where else would they have to seek funding from?

Indirect impact angles

Look beyond direct effects and consider indirect effects as well. Since the Fiesta Bowl donation allowed Heart for the City to purchase equipment for the football program, what did that free up the organization to use their money for instead?

Also consider the domino effect that the sport publicity could create. Having the Super Bowl recognize your work could mean additional donations from other companies and everyday people.

Business is about more than the bottom line and total dollar amounts. Understanding the specifics of where sporting event charities end up can not only help to add a little humanity into your article, but it can create a deeper understanding of the true economic impact, beyond what some press release boasts.


  • Julianne Culey

    Julianne is the Assistant Director of the Reynolds Center with expertise in marketing and communications and holds a master's in Sociology from Arizona State University.

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