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New funds help athletes score in philanthropy
October 26th, 2014

Justin Verlander didn’t want to become another bad example.

The star Detroit Tigers pitcher has been keenly aware of scrutiny of professional athlete philanthropy, and he wanted to ensure that his giving wouldn’t be held up as another case of slipshod charity by a celebrity athlete.

Verlander had made veteran mental health his cause of choice during his career, and in 2013 he committed $1 million to specific initiatives in Detroit and his native Virginia.

Rather than the traditional (and expensive) method of creating a foundation, he opted for an increasingly common choice for major giving: a donor-advised fund, something that charity industry watchers say is a leading best practice.

Verlander and his advisers, with help from the Tigers, spent time seeking an executive director to oversee his charity, and he hired an established athlete-philanthropy expert instead an inexperienced family member or friend unfamiliar with the complex world of nonprofits and charitable giving.

“My focus most of the year is on the field, so I have a team of advisers with the time and talent to focus on the day-to-day, and we continue to look for ways to partner with those who share my passion for this cause,” Verlander said via an emailed statement.

Philanthropy data shows that donor-advised funds, which basically are a turnkey tool for giving that shifts much of the paperwork onus to an established public charity organization, are one of the fastest-growing charitable donation methods in recent years.

Athletes are turning to donor-advised funds to stay out of the headlines, and get more bang for their buck by eliminating overhead costs that don’t help their charitable cause.

Investigations in the past two years by the Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, and ESPN of professional athlete philanthropy — all foundations — revealed a trend of failing to meet giving industry standards, incomplete recordkeeping, neglect and some questionable practices.

An investigation of 115 athlete charities published in March 2013 by ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” program showed that 74 percent of the nonprofits fell short of one or more acceptable nonprofit operating standards, the network said.

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