Sports have become one of the most popular global activities, attracting the attention of millions of people. This growth is producing more and more powerful social icons that have considerable influence in society. Athletes serve as role models for the youth that follow the sport and admire their heroes.
Financial wealth and personal influence can be used towards positive social development and athletes have a long track record of aligning themselves with charitable causes, something that has become a standard, part of their endorsement deals, and an expectation with team management. An athlete’s influence or “endorsement” can quickly turn an otherwise unknown cause into an important, mainstream issue. Sports require discipline, passion and dedication, and athletes that excel at the highest levels of sport have the platform and opportunity to be able to inspire, motivate, and leverage their celebrity to make a difference in causes and issues that are important to them.
But there is an important factor in sports philanthropy that doesn’t exist with traditional philanthropy: all athlete-charity relationships are dependent on athletes’ actions and behaviors on and off the playing field as there is added expectation from the public and other parities for the athlete to act responsibly. The actions and behaviors of a traditional philanthropist typically remain private. Charitable organizations receiving donations from these traditional philanthropists do not keep taps on these individuals to the same degree they do with an athlete, who is constantly being viewed by the public eye.
The concept of strategic philanthropy, as it relates to professional athletes, relates to the view that philanthropic activities may provide athletes with a benefit (financial,social) to themselves and their brand or image as well as social benefits for the causes they support.
For some professional athletes, starting a charity makes perfect sense provided that the athlete will have a long career. Due to the length of their career, they will have time to build sustainable programs. For the majority of athletes though, it’s a distraction that in the course of time fails to make a substantial impact due to lack of sustainability of their programs. Organized philanthropy is more sustainable and tax efficient and it creates impact at a global level. Our advice to athletes is to support causes they believe in, strategically and through organized philanthropy which builds the kind of social capital and social finance that will last for generations.