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The Super Bowl 50 Charity Raised a Record Wad of Cash. Will It Make a Difference?

The 50 Fund, a pop-up fundraiser that’s pouring millions into local charities, is changing the way that sports give back. But will it make a lasting impact?

 

If it weren’t for all the Super Bowl cash promised to Bay Area charities, the big game might’ve been held yet again in Miami or New Orleans. Instead we’re hosting, and upwards of $10 million—including 50 bite-size grants of $10,000 and several heftier awards of $500,000—is going to over 100 charities to boost opportunities for local low-income children. (Neat trick, right? Even NFL bashers tend to want to help kids.) 

Getting big philanthropy behind the big game was a smart move on the part of Mayor Ed Lee and 49ers CEO Jed York, who tapped philanthropic hotshot Daniel Lurie of Tipping Point Community to lead the Super Bowl bid. The host committee’s pledge to set aside 25 percent of its fundraising dollars for good works attracted contributions above $2 million apiece from the likes of tech giants such as Apple, Google, and Intel. “I think knowing that [a portion of] their dollars would go back to the community was a compelling message that got them involved,” says Jason Trimiew, vice president of community relations for the host committee. In turn, he says, their financial support strengthened the region’s Super Bowl bid. Well played, yes. But will all that money leave behind a better Bay Area? 

Judging by sheer charitable muscle, things are looking good. Through its philanthropic arm, the 50 Fund, the host committee has already outdone typical Super Bowl giving sixfold, to the tune of around $12 million raised or pledged. (Super Bowl charity campaigns frequently rake in about $2 million.) Trimiew likes to say that this is the “most giving Super Bowl ever.”

It’s also perhaps the most marketed. Each week the host committee announces a new $10,000 grantee on its website, also posting a Super Bowl–branded video about the charity’s efforts. We’ve met sex educators from the Bayview’s Third Street Youth Center and Clinic. We’ve heard a volunteer for the nonprofit JobTrain discuss her efforts to get disadvantaged locals into well-paying jobs. It’s all very moving and sensitively scored. And it’s a good trade for all involved: The charities provide the host committee with the material for a yearlong PR blitz—all while getting free videos that they can use to raise their profiles.

For Trimiew, the host committee’s pop-up fundraiser is a good way to get cash into community hands. But churning through a lot of small grants, says UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business adjunct professor Jane Wei-Skillern, isn’t the best way to tackle gnarly issues. “Corporate philanthropy has to be driven by a corporate agenda, so we often see a more superficial level of giving,” she says. “But it’s better than nothing. More resources for charity is a good thing.” 

For Trimiew and Lurie, the idea is to change the way that future hosts think. “This model will become sustainable if we spread it through the sporting world,” says Lurie.

 

Originally published in the February issue of San Francisco

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