When I talk to people about United Way, I usually begin by asking if they have heard of us.
For that, I thank professional football. For 40 years, the United Way and NFL partnership — the longest running in history between a major sports league and a nonprofit organization — has been a shining example of the tangible good that can be leveraged when two sector leaders are harnessed into a powerful vehicle for real change in communities.
In 1973 when United Way met with then-NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle, he immediately recognized the partnership as a viable means of communicating the good works of United Way and the agencies it served while putting faces on a league of players hidden by helmets. Long before the rise in strategic philanthropy, the NFL recognized that social responsibility helps build good reputations. That’s why Commissioner Rozelle’s decision to partner with United Way 40 years ago was not only good for communities nationwide, it was a good business decision for the NFL — a win-win.
More importantly, the partnership has given immense advantages to the communities they serve. When the public service ads (PSAs) first aired in 1974, United Ways across the country had collectively raised $979 million. Today, giving to United Way has soared to nearly $4 billion. While there’s no way to know how much of the growth is directly attributable to the partnership, it’s clear that no other vehicle has been more effective providing visibility and support for United Way over the years.
The NFL’s support of United Way extends far beyond commercials. There is a shared commitment, a joint goal of working together to make an impact in the communities served by both institutions. Across the country, NFL clubs and players work with United Ways to advance health and education for America’s young people through national and local initiatives.