How the Philadelphia Eagles Tackle Local Philanthropy

In the height of football season, it only seems logical to direct our attention to NFL-style philanthropy and how teams are giving back to the home communities that cheer them on. Most professional sports teams have some sort of philanthropic aspect at the corporate level, but some of these funding vehicles are clearly more defined and developed than others. The Philadelphia Eagles, through their Eagles Care program, stood out to me for three reasons:

  1. Local focus on Philadelphia nonprofits
  2. Newly restructured giving strategy
  3. View of nonprofits as partners, not grantees

The team recently announced five new community partners for the 2015 season. Eagles Care is in its third year and is passionate about growing its network of nonprofit organizations as partners for the season, the year, and beyond. Here’s a quick rundown of the new partners getting Eagles Care’s support:

  • The Family Lives On Foundation—emotional well-being of children who have lost a parent
  • Greener Partners—access to fresh food, farmer training, food education
  • Little Smiles—fulfilling wishes for children in hospitals and shelters
  • Northern Children’s Services—healthy child development and family stabilization
  • Steppingstone Scholars—academic support and mentoring for college attainment and leadership

In 2014, the Eagles partnered with the Center for Grieving Children, Habitat for Humanity Philadelphia, the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, the Ronald McDonald House Philadelphia and Simon’s Fund. In 2013, the group supported Bringing Hope Home, Cradles to Crayons, the Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger and the Riverbend Environmental Education Center.

So to learn more about this interesting approach to sports team philanthropy, I chatted with Eagles Director of Community Relations Julie Hirshey about capacity-building efforts in Greater Philadelphia. More than any specific topic, Hirshey explained, Eagles Care is primarily interested in the greater societal issue of nonprofit capacity building. Common funding areas include youth, health, education and cancer, but the ultimate focus is on capacity building, regardless of the issue at hand.

The Eagles got an opportunity to review their strategic giving across the organization and decided to make some key changes. It originally began with a traditional model, but upon re-evaluation, it became clear that more could be done... and better.

“Part of the vision of the program is to address needs in the nonprofit landscape right now, where there is a lot of restricted giving,” Hirshey said. Eagles Care looks for nonprofits that aren’t too big or too small, but ones that are poised for growth and are really able to benefit from the Eagles’ support.

One big distinction here, and something that sets Eagles Care apart from other sports funders, is its passion for long-term partnerships and teamwork, rather than a traditional foundation/grantee relationship. This is an organization that tries to assist nonprofits to be their best by pairing nonprofit needs with the skills of the Eagles' team and staff.

Although funding is obviously an important part of the process, it’s only a small part of the big picture. Eagles Care provides one-time grant assistance, and there are also opportunities for future funding, if needed. But what the team foundation really specializes in is making connections. For example, one of its first-year partners, the Greater Coalition of Hunger, was trying to put together a healthy food pantry and get the word out about it. So Eagles Care brought in a celebrity chef to draw some attention to the cause.

“A majority of the partnership happens after the check is written,” explained Hirshey. “One thing we are really proud of is when we meet nonprofits at the end of a year-long partnership and listen to what they feel like has come out of it.”

Each month, Eagles Care hosts a themed “lunch and learn” event and brings in relevant parties to discuss a particular topic. Last month’s topic was about video, where nonprofits learned how to use video technology and how it can boost their causes. This month’s topic is social media, so nonprofits will have the opportunity to sit down with the Eagles’ social media team to discuss trending topics.

Hirshey says that the Eagles players are involved in the community mission, as well. On each Monday during the season (the weekly off-day), players participate by going out and volunteering for a cause they care about. 

To learn more about the team's efforts, you can listen to Selfish Giving’s podcast interview with Hirshey from last month. And check out IP’s full profile of Eagles Care and follow them on Twitter at @EaglesCommunity