In our podcast discussion this week, we are chatting with Sherrie Deans, Executive Director of the NBPA Foundation, the charitable arm of the NBPA – the Union for the nearly 450 current professional basketball players in the NBA. We discuss topics relating to her challenges as the first executive director for a foundation that had been in existence for 20 years. There was no real focus or funding priorities before she was hired so this had to be developed. She also had the not-so-common challenge of dealing with the non-monetary assets of the star power and influence of the players and the fact that these players were very young with little to no charitable experience.
Deans brings highly regarded C-Level expertise in celebrity philanthropic engagement as well as global financial services, having held posts with Living Cities, AIG, MBNA, and American Express. In her role as Executive Director, she oversees the philanthropic efforts of the Union and supports the individual efforts of players (past and present) as impact investors, charitable donors and community change-makers both domestically and internationally. She holds a B.A. in economics and political science from Columbia University. Currently, she lives in the Bronx with her husband and son.
The NBPA Foundation provides strategic funding and support for players’ community engagement while also communicating their work to the world in order to accelerate and maximize its impact. The players’ work is global and collectively spans a wide range, from critical charitable initiatives to social entrepreneurship. Check out below their #EverydayDad program – a collection of videos and photo books describing the experiences of NBA dads with their sons as they grew up. It is now a very needed and useful resource for fathers’ groups.
You can listen and enjoy the full discussion with Sherrie Deans in our podcast, but here are some of the highlights.
Formalizing a Foundation: Shifting Funding to Priorities and Focus
Being the first executive director for a foundation that had been in existence for 20 years already, Sherrie explains, brought with it some big challenges. Prior to her being hired, the causes that were supported by NBPA Foundation was a bit haphazard. There was no funding strategy.
The bright side though, was that the fund was allowed to grow to where it could really be impactful. So Sherrie’s first priority was to determine a new vision for the foundation along with a strategy and a plan to make it sustainable.
The difficult part, Sherrie explains, is that the possibilities were completely wide open. That needed to be narrowed down, as well as guidelines determined for funding amounts and duration. Another big question was how to interact with the contributors to their fund? Over 20 years, thousands of players had contributed to the foundation, with 450 of them still in the league. Putting together the history of the foundation’s giving over the prior 20 years was another big challenge. There had been very little documentation or reasoning so it was difficult to determine why particular support was given to organizations and whether continued funding was warranted. You don’t want to start funding something and then not be able to continue to do so.
Recognizing – and Making the Most of – Non-Monetary Assets
Along with the foundation’s monetary assets came another opportunity: the non-monetary assets. Sherrie had the celebrity power of the professional basketball players along with their appeal and megaphone power. Many questions came with that: Do we direct them or support them? How do we meet their interests? Their age also presents a unique challenge: they are very young philanthropists who probably have never thought before about what causes they would want to support. So the foundation has to figure out “how to pace their interaction with them and meet them where they were as individuals.” The Foundation needed to create the support to help them figure out what they want their philanthropic legacy and impact to be. Sherrie has been working to create a supportive environment for the players and to make sure they know the foundation is there to support them.
Changing the Conversation: #EverydayDad
The #EverydayDad program began as a storytelling project to capture some of the history of the organization, but ended up becoming a resource for community programs. Inspiration for the project came from a meeting with a fathers’ group at an All Star weekend. The group consisted of fathers who had sons in the NBA. They shared with Sherrie some of the things that really bothered them about how their relationship with their sons is often dismissed as people just assume that their sons came up in the projects with no one to support them and their moms were on welfare. People didn’t realize that they coached their sons, took them to their practices, supported them along the way.
The idea that grew out of this was the #EverydayDad storytelling videos and books where the dads told their story about their journey with their son. For those not able to do videos, they collected pictures from them to put their story into a book. Those videos and books are now available for use wherever they can provide value, such as in fathers’ support groups such as those that the City of New Orleans set up. There is very little content out their which talks about relationships between fathers and children. The content is public and available on their website at EverydayDad.NBPA.com.
A Recurring Question: What Difference are You Making?
When asked if she had a “failure” that was a good learning experience, Sherrie talked about an event they had in South Africa. After the event concluded, they questioned how impactful it was. Now they use it as a reminder that they need to evaluate the impact of ideas before deciding whether the investment of time and money will be well spent. The NBA sent 30 players to South Africa to participate in the first NBA game being held on the continent. The foundation wanted to include a philanthropic aspect to the event and set up a contest for high school basketball players who had demonstrated a deep commitment to their community. The winners were taken, along with a parent, on the trip. It was a great time for all, but afterwards they questioned what was the philanthropic purpose? Was the impact broad enough?
Never Get Comfortable: The Value of Innovation
Sherrie’s parting words focused around the question of what’s next. She advises to not ever get comfortable when things are going well as there is always opportunity for expansion of what you are doing, to be innovative. The tricky part is figuring out the balance between innovation and reliability and stability. Those who are receiving donations from you rely upon you to be stable long-term so you also need to plan for the long term.