How Sports Teams Positively Impact Communities (and How to Track it)

How Sports Teams Positively Impact Communities (and How to Track it)

By: Emily Kane Miller

As social impact work extends from traditional philanthropy and volunteerism to include community outreach, employee engagement, sustainability work and so much more, Emily Kane Miller wanted to create a tool for today’s leading-edge impact players – one that would better track and manage the entirety of their social impact data, measure KPIs and ROI, help deploy resources more effectively, and support sharing this work with internal and external stakeholders more powerfully. (For more context, you can read her “why I built this” story here.)

Sports teams are known for creating joy, inspiration and connection for communities across the world. They’ve also been creating positive value from a social impact perspective long before “social impact” was a thing. That said, all too often, the true impact of this work is not tracked and not reported, which means that your community, fans, employees, and other key constituents have no idea what you’re up to. 

The best way to address that issue is to track 100% of the good you do for your community, your employees, and our world. With all of this data in one place, you can truly wrap your arms around your organization’s impact – and manage it, strategically grow it, and share it.

We categorize impact work through our Ethos Lever Model: A system Emily, our founder, created to help keep busy social impact teams stay organized. Each Lever provides an opportunity to create value, but when strategically pulled together – the results are a powerful and cohesive social impact effort.

Here are just a few examples of how we see sports teams pulling various Levers -- all of which (of course) can be managed in Ethos Tracking.  

*Most organizations focus their efforts on 4-5 of the 14 Levers, so no stress if only a few speak to you. 

  • Cash: Cash donations are perhaps the most traditional method of giving. The Cash Lever refers to flexing your dollars to benefit social impact, whether dollars are going to nonprofits, advocacy work, or even dollars that flow to other for-profit entities, but serve your overall impact goals. 
    • Many sports teams make donations to nonprofits – some on an ongoing basis (a portion of ticket sales, for example), and some in honor of particular occasions, like a donation to a charity committed to gender-equity in sports in honor of Women’s History Month
    • The impact of your cash can reach beyond grants – you can use cash to make donations to 501(c)4s that further your social impact goals. You can also flex your impact dollars with for-profit partners. Working with vendors who share your values, or spending money on a values-aligned purpose (scholarships for a sports camp, for example). If these dollars are part of your social impact work – make sure to capture that data, too. 
  • In-kind: In-kind donations of non-monetary goods or services can also generate significant positive impact. This is when you take the products or services unique to your org and donate (or discount) them to partners, individuals, or organizations who need it most, and wouldn’t otherwise have access. This is a huge opportunity for sports teams who hold highly desirable resources like tickets to games, merchandise, etc. 
    • Many teams opt to donate assets like tickets, stadium tours, special game experiences, memorabilia, merchandise, etc. 
    • Others choose to give industry expertise – for example, some teams offer internships to support underserved youth interested in a career in the sports sector.
  • Volunteerism: Providing voluntary labor (skilled or unskilled!) is a popular way for teams to engage their greater organization around their social impact work. Volunteerism might take shape through an annual employee volunteer day, or through activating your organization’s broader community on an ongoing basis (for example, leveraging your fan base for giant volunteer opportunities to support neighboring communities). It’s also a powerful way to involve players.
  • Advocacy: The Advocacy Lever refers to bringing individual or brand leadership to support a cause or policy. As we define it, Advocacy includes legislative support at the local, state, federal and international levels, of course – but also work that’s done through the private sector. This includes engaging with trade associations (like the National Sporting Goods Association or Sports ETA) and local Chambers of Commerce to update important protocols and policies, which carry ripple effects for your employees, contractors and the broader community.
    • During the height of the pandemic – a time when public gatherings weren’t feasible – we saw sports teams step up to secure public and private support for their individual employees
    • We’ve also seen sports teams successfully engage elected officials on legislation and public funding for key youth sports programs and play spaces
  • Employee Initiatives: This Lever refers to companies taking “above and beyond” action to support employees and their families – in other words, bringing the power of your social impact work to the people that work for you.
    • Many teams are committed to upholding Employee Initiatives through an array of benefits – including, for example, wellness programs, dynamic workforce training programs, and EAFs (Employee Assistance Funds), which provide quick financial assistance to employees facing emergency situations 
  • Community is a major piece of sports teams’ work, so naturally it’s a highlight of their social impact work, too. The Community Lever involves, of course, engaging with your neighborhood community –  but it also includes your online presence. Leveraging your company’s power to engage with people – in person or through your online channels – and mobilizing that audience to engage with the issues your organization cares about, is all part of your social impact effort. 
    • Teams might host a blood drive at the stadium or a benefit concert after a natural disaster  
    • Some teams use social media account or blogs to share educational information around key issues facing their partners and the local community - the NFL, for example, did this by raising awareness about Domestic Violence  
  • Supply chain: There is often an opportunity to advance your social and environmental goals by prioritizing mission-aligned vendors. Consider your contracts and relationships, and think about where it could be possible to build impact into those relationships. Many sports teams can opt for suppliers who share their values and further their social impact objectives.
    • From the company that produces your merchandise, to the vendors selling food at your games, to the contractors who work on your stadium, there is plenty of opportunity to integrate impact. 
    • Finding mission-aligned vendors doesn’t always need to mean switching suppliers – you can start by reaching out to the groups that are already part of your supply chain, and identifying how you can level up impact, together.
  • Sales: You may be selling products or services that inherently support social impact objectives – for example, a sports summer camp which gets kids outside and exercising. If that’s the case, make sure the data you track on the sales side is integrated with data on the impact side.
  • Sustainability: Today’s social impact leaders are all thinking about sustainability – measuring, managing, and reducing your environmental footprint is critical - and should be viewed alongside other impact data (not in a vacuum). That said, it can be hard to keep track of everything you are doing, especially if some of it is related to vendors or downstream partners.   
    • Many companies commit to being carbon neutral by a set year, and in the interest of transparency publish detailed sustainability reports
    • Others opt to join groups like 1% for the Planet, “a global network of businesses, individuals and nonprofit organizations tackling our planet's most pressing environmental issues.”
  • DEI: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion are fundamental to social impact success, and – of course – if you want to get DEI right, you must measure it, manage it, and stay accountable to your goals.
    • In the interest of advancing gender diversity, some teams have committed to filling 50+% of leadership positions with women or BIPOC employees 
    • Affinity Days or marches are a popular way to show support for more diverse, equitable, and inclusive communities  
  • Fundraising: While every Lever is critical, money matters. Many sports teams use their brand, fanbase, game days, and network to raise third-party funds that support your mission-aligned nonprofit partners. There are many creative ways to mobilize your community to contribute:
    • Many teams run 50/50 raffles at games where 50% of profits are channeled into social impact work, or a special event where ticket sales are donated to a partner NPO.
    • Teams might donate a percentage of ticket or merch sales to a designated cause, or provide consumer the option to round up and donate the excess 

At the end of the day, multi-faceted impact work tends to fall through the cracks without a cohesive system to track it all on an ongoing basis. All of this data should be harnessed and laddered into one location – so when the time comes, it’s easy to communicate the extent of your incredible work to your customers, your leadership, stakeholders, and beyond. Game on!

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