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.
Since 1999, NFL teams have partnered with United Way to make a difference in local communities through Hometown Huddle, an annual event across the country with a variety of youth fitness projects. In 2007, the NFL launched NFL PLAY 60, a national youth health and fitness campaign that encourages young fans to be active for at least 60 minutes a day. The 40th anniversary celebration will also highlight reading, tutoring and mentoring programs.
To engage NFL fans in the celebration, the NFL and United Way are teaming up with USA TODAY Ad Meter to host a nationwide vote to select the favorite NFL-United Way PSA from the last 40 years. Voting began with the Hometown Huddle on October 22 and culminates on November 19. Visit nflunitedway40.usatodaysports.com to vote. The winning ad will be announced during NFL Homecoming on December 15.
Although we aren’t directly participating in NFL community activities, the national increased public awareness of health, fitness, reading, mentoring and tutoring are relevant to United Way’s work in Madison County. That’s a win for all of us.
Nancy Vaughan is president of United Way of Madison County. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.