There have been some disturbing news stories of late, discussing the problems that exist with many professional athletes’ individual foundations and nonprofit charitable organizations. These stories began a few months ago with an in-depth report by the Boston Globe, and continued recently with an Outside the Lines special on ESPN.com. Since then, many people have come forward with harsh criticisms of these athletes. The words “selfish” and “inconsiderate” were probably thrown around much more than appropriate, and I worry that many of these athletes’ motives have been unjustifiably questioned.
This is not a sympathy piece to defend these foundations and nonprofits. Any organization that has been created to finance costs that go beyond their charitable goals should be criticized and condemned. They waste resources and embellish an athlete’s public image at the sake of helping those in need. However, my concern is that people misunderstand or underestimate the difficulty of running a successful nonprofit or foundation today. Success in the nonprofit world can be as tough and complex as any industry, especially if the personnel are unable to devote the necessary resources to the organization.
Many foundations and nonprofits, like the U.S. Soccer Foundation, have thrived because they have carefully and thoughtfully crafted specific goals and then diligently worked towards achieving those goals. Additionally, through my work and interactions with other nonprofit organizations, I have found that one secret to the success of a nonprofit or foundation lies in how they mobilize every sector of the world they touch – government, business, and the public – to be a force for social change. In other words, greatness may have more to do with how nonprofits and foundations work outside the boundaries of their organizations than with how they manage day-to-day internal operations. Unfortunately, it seems that many of the nonprofit organizations that have recently been called into question suffer from problems such as having an inadequate board of directors, spending a disproportionate amount of money on unnecessary expenses, or failing to hire a qualified staff.
It is easy to point fingers and accuse any failed nonprofit of being fraudulent or dishonest, but that may unjustly oversimplify the issue. These organizations and the people who found or lead them want to solve many of the biggest problems plaguing our world; this is the rule and not the exception. The fear, however, is that the necessary time and resources are not being utilized to solve these problems. The unfortunate truth is that many of the people running these organizations lack the knowledge and/or experience to raise money and spend it wisely, to advocate confidently and clearly, and to organize and execute effective programs.
From my personal experience, I have seen how the U.S. Soccer Foundation works tirelessly to enhance, assist, and grow the sport of soccer in the United States. Its success, along with many other nonprofit organizations, is a testament to the hard work of its leadership and staff, its effective board of directors, and its attentive and focused vision. Achieving success in this field cannot be overstated, and changing the discussion from failures to the accomplishments in the field of sports nonprofit organizations and foundations is the first step in leading others towards similar achievement.