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Making Sports Work for You
How To Leverage Sports Teams & Players to Help Your Cause

By Maria Hibbard : AHCConsulting

Just a game? Not really... American sports are an integral part of the fabric of our culture. The passion that we have for sports is so apparent that it influences our national character and how we spend our time. In fact, the Super Bowl has almost become another national holiday. But sports are not merely a way to spend a Sunday afternoon; sports are not just entertainment. Sports are a business, a big business! Sports happen to be one of the largest and fastest growing industries in the United States, bringing in an estimated $213 billion annually. (Source : Sports Business Journal).

Why not capture the passion Americans have for sports and harness it for your non-for-profit? Properly deployed, sports teams and players can be powerful allies in getting the word out about your organization. In fact, teams are often looking for an association with a respected charitable partner, an important cause and programs run by skilled non-profit organizations. And as a not-for-profit you may be looking for credibility, visibility, and access to assets that a sports team can provide. If you've always wanted to link up with a team, here are some steps to getting started so you can leverage sports to advance your mission:

Take Action!

Step One: Where do you start? The best place is with some simple questions to ask about your organization. What makes your organization different and unique? What are your challenges? How could a sports team and/or player assist you in meeting your challenges? How do you distinguish yourself? Why should they care? What does your organization bring to the table?

Step Two: Do your homework. Learn as much as you possibly can about programs, objectives and the brand of philanthropy for teams in your area. Don/t overlook minor league sports. You need to be knowledgeable about who you may approach. Is there a fit? How will a team or player help you and what can your organization do for them? Can your organization help enhance one of their current efforts?

For example, the St. Louis Rams are passionate about character, particularly when drafting future NFL players. A few years ago the Cooperating School Districts were looking to rebrand their character education program and increase interest in their initiatives. At the same time the Rams were looking for a way to increase their presence in area schools and reinforce good character as a core value. Together they created a curriculum and video featuring vignettes from Ram players resulting in increased interest and participation in the program.

Step Three: Draft a letter of your ideas. Write down your ideas and articulate clear benefits to both you and the team or player. Be sure to cover who, what, where, when, why and how. Then set your letter aside. Come back and make sure you have clearly articulated the value. Sometimes there is a good fit and sometimes there is not and that's ok.

Step Four: Finalize the letter and identify a champion. If it still makes sense and is a strong concept, finalize your letter and determine the best person to send it. Who in your organization or on your board has a connection? Look at the team's sponsors; are any of your board members employed by a team sponsor? Then send your letter and make sure to indicate that you would like to set up a meeting and explore possibilities.

Step Five: Set up a meeting. Take your champion with you to the meeting. Be sure to listen to what they have to say. Be flexible and open to suggestions. Articulate ways you can help them and let them know what you are like to work with. Discuss how you will be communicating and working with them. You want to make it easy for them, make sure to be organized and always follow through.

Step Six: Communicate. If you sell your cause well and a partnership is created, determine what success looks like together and use that as a check list as you work together. Don't forget to use all of your organization's communication vehicles to communicate the partnership. This includes websites, e-news, newsletters, Facebook, Twitter, remarks at events and board meetings and signage. You can always help out a team's staff by being an extra pair of arms and legs in promoting their efforts. There are so many ways to recognize the partnership that don't cost money but are visible signs of your association with the team.

Step Seven: Take it to the next level. Send a letter to the editor or call a local radio talk show to talk about the benefits of their involvement and give specific examples. Do these things without being asked, it shows that you take initiative and it sets you apart from other charitable partners. People like working with those who are accountable, and these relationships can be grown over the years.

Step Eight: Report back. Do you deliver? Are you meeting the objectives for the partnership? Going back to what both parties want, how are you doing? Is there anything you could improve upon? Have you delivered on your commitments? Ask yourself what kind of reporting is required? How can you effectively show your value?

Creating meaningful partnerships takes time and effort, but can yield great results for your organization!

A ten year veteran of the NFL with the St. Louis Rams, Allison Collinger is a frequent speaker on sports philanthropy, marketing and communications and this article was based upon recent remarks at the Association of Fundraising Professionals. Allison has more than 17 years experience in the sports industry and is a national expert on effective sports philanthropy. She is the founder of AHC Consulting LLC, a company that provides strategic communications, planning, training and facilitation services. Prior to forming her own firm, Collinger served as the director of corporate communications and community outreach for the St. Louis Rams -- overseeing the Rams community outreach team, the Rams Foundation and the team's off the field public relations initiatives. Prior to joining the Rams, she was an award-winning communications professional at Fleishman-Hillard, Inc.


Tips for working with athletes: Just like sports teams; athletes are another source that can help your organization. Here are some things to remember when working with individual athletes:

Before making a decision on an athlete, do your homework. Read bios and articles about them; see if you have common interests. When you are trying to reach a specific player contact the team's community relations department to find the best way to contact that athlete, or send a letter directly. It is good to invite an athlete to attend an existing event or to visit your organization. When you meet with the athlete remember to have specific requests in mind and be direct with what you want. When working with a player always have realistic expectations and make it as easy as possible for them. You need to respect their time and capitalize on what time you do have with them. Always let the athlete be the star, but make sure that your event does not revolve around the player. Make sure to let the player offer a donation, don't ask. Get approval before you ask a player for something and be selective in your asks. And if there are people in place to facilitate requests for the athlete, make sure and use them! Tiffani Wilson, Excel Sports, a sports and entertainment firm based in St. Louis, MO.


If you are looking for resources, some places that you may find helpful are http://www.sportsphilanthropy.com, team websites, and google or other search engines. You can also check out local resources such as the Association of Fundraising Professionals and other professional organizations.


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Last revised 09/22/16

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