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News & Press: ABAG's "Adventures in Philanthropy" Blog

Adventures in Philanthropy: "No Fantasy - Football Can Improve Philanthropy"

Monday, September 26, 2011   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Buffy Beaudoin Schwartz
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September 26, 2011

By Betsy Nelson

Special to The Daily Record

Last year my colleague Adam Donaldson convinced me to join as a fun way to deepen relationships between a few foundations. Join what? Well, believe it or not, join an Association of Baltimore Area Grantmakers Fantasy Football league. 

My team name is El Presidente.

Each week when I get my team points, I admit that I am never certain where the result came from. Apparently if a quarterback throws for a touchdown, he earns four points for the team, but six points if he runs for it.

Your team is composed of actual players from all NFL teams. Their real performance earns you points based on a scoring rubric.

As our Member Services Director, Adam is intentional about linking our play to more serious reflections on the work of foundation staff, leading my fellow "coaches” in great conversations comparing football to philanthropy.

Here’s some of how we’ve laid it out:

  • Quarterback = CEO/Executive Director
  • Wide Receiver = Consultant
  • Running Back = Program Officer
  • Tight End = Grants Administrator
  • Kicker = Financial Advisor
  • Defense = Board of Trustees
  • Program officers are like running backs because they are on the ground and fighting for every yard. 
  • The Board of Directors acts like a unit, much like a football team’s defense.

How do we keep score?

As we started to imagine this fantasy foundation league, Adam noted that the field of philanthropy has no agreed-upon points system. If our quarterback is a foundation CEO, how do we score the CEO’s work in philanthropy?

  • Do we award points for the amount and number of grants?
  • Do we award points for good governance and following legal requirements?
  • Do we award points for impact in the community? How do you measure that?

I’m not sure there is an easy answer, given the diversity and complexity of foundations. Maybe that is why football is our beautiful and simple fantasy and grantmaking our reality.

And the answer may not be as important as the inquiry. In the absence of a rubric, philanthropy needs to continuously question how to assess its success and assure the use of private money for public good.

In the spirit of the fantasy football season, I challenge all of us in our work to design a points system. With it, we all win.

P.S. This season I will be rooting for our hometown Ravens (unless it conflicts with my fantasy team).

The Ravens are a philanthropic leader within the NFL. The Ravens All Community Team Foundation supports communities across the state by encouraging players’ philanthropy and through programs like Plan in Motion, which recently provided $100,000 in grants to 19 nonprofit organizations that promote physical fitness and nutrition education among youth.


Betsy Nelson, President of the Association of Baltimore Area Grantmakers, writes every other week for The Daily Record. She can be reached at 410-727-1205 or

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