However low Josh Beckett’s public esteem sank toward the end of his six-plus seasons in Boston, two things often redeemed the pitcher in the eyes of Red Sox fans: his spectacular playoff performance during the team’s 2007 championship season and the generosity of his Josh Beckett Foundation.
The nonprofit’s annual Beckett Bowl, a popular celebrity bowling tournament, typically generated about $100,000 for Boston Children’s Hospital. Even in a season of chicken and beer and a historic late-year collapse, who could complain about that?
But an examination of the group’s financial records — part of a Globe review of more than 150 Internal Revenue Service filings by 50 nonprofits operated by professional athletes — reveals that just 37 cents of every dollar raised by the Josh Beckett Foundation went toward its mission to “improve the health and well-being of children.” That’s far less than the 65 to 75 cents that nonprofit specialists say is an acceptable minimum.
In fact, many nonprofits that help burnish the reputations of pro athletes fall well short of those standards, the Globe review found. Among the 50 nonprofits examined, nearly half spent less than 65 percent of revenues on charitable programs and donations.
For example: New England Patriots receiver Deion Branch formed his own foundation in 2006 — the year after he was named the Super Bowl’s most valuable player — aiming to aid children who, like his son Deiondre, suffer from the effects of meningitis. Branch speaks about the cause with obvious sincerity, but just 28 percent of funds raised went to charitable efforts between 2006 and 2009, before revenues dropped to a level where the foundation was no longer required to submit full financial reports. Half of the money given to charity was directed toward initiatives unrelated to meningitis, such as supplying sports equipment to schools.
A foundation started by New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez gave only 1 percent of proceeds to charity during its first year of operation in 2006, then stopped submitting mandatory financial reports to the IRS and was stripped of its tax-exempt status. Yet the group’s website still tells visitors the A-Rod Family Foundation is a nonprofit organization.
When Baltimore Ravens receiver Anquan Boldin won a team award for charity and volunteerism in 2010, his nonprofit gave away less than a fifth of the money it raised. A celebrity golf tournament ate up most of the funds.
Beckett’s bowling event does the same. And though the Beckett Bowl is the only event on the foundation’s yearly calendar, the organization has consistently reported to the IRS that executive director Jason Oberle , Beckett’s boyhood friend, devotes an average of 20 hours per week to foundation-related work, on top of his other jobs as a luxury real estate agent and president of a sports marketing firm. For his effort, Oberle collected a $50,000 salary from the Josh Beckett Foundation in 2010, the most recent year for which an IRS filing is publicly available.
Oberle insisted the foundation’s money has been well spent and said he has been fairly compensated for “a conservative estimate” of his time commitment to the nonprofit.
“I’ve spent a lot of time working on partnerships with businesses, where we get a percentage of revenue,” Oberle said. “But some of them have fallen through because Josh was traded” to the Los Angeles Dodgers less than a week after his final Beckett Bowl last August.
To be sure, many of the hundreds of nonprofits started by pro athletes offer valuable services or make large donations to charities. Some athletes are almost as good at bringing attention — and money — to important causes as they are at their sports. A nonprofit founded by San Francisco 49ers quarterback Alex Smith, for instance, raised $839,244 between 2008 and 2010 and spent 91 percent of the funds on scholarships and grants to help foster teens attend college and transition to adulthood.
Foundations started by current and former Boston stars like Paul Pierce, Cam Neely, Vince Wilfork, Curt Schilling, and Ray Allen also funnel large portions of revenue to their chosen causes.
But athletes’ foundations often raise surprisingly little money, overspend on fund-raising events, and direct small percentages of revenue toward their stated goals.
“Athletes’ charities are subject to many pitfalls because most of them are not trained in how to raise and distribute money, and it’s difficult,” said Greg Johnson, executive director of the Sports Philanthropy Project in Boston, which has advised Major League Baseball and other sports organizations on charitable best practices. “A lot of them get into expensive golf tournaments and that kind of crap. They can be self-serving as hell.”Continued...