Bills Fans’ Generosity Leaves Nonprofit with Reason to Celebrate

January 3, 2018; New York Times

December 31st was especially stressful for some NFL fans as they awaited the outcome of various games played throughout the day to dictate their team’s post-season fate. Such was the case for fans in snowy Buffalo, New York, where the only hope to end the 17-year playoff appearance drought for the Buffalo Bills called for the dubious combination of not only a win by their team, but a loss by the heavily favored Baltimore Ravens in their NFL game against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Late in the Bengals-Ravens game, it looked like Bills fans had better start pinning their hopes on “next season,” until Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton made an improbable last-minute touchdown pass with seconds left in the game. This immediately cleared the path for the Bills’ first playoff appearance since the 1999 season. Bills fans took to the Internet to show their appreciation, and the beneficiary was Andy Dalton’s foundation. The New York Times reported:

Many of the Bills fans donated $17 as a tribute to breaking their 17-year postseason drought. The Andy & Jordan Dalton Foundation, named for the Bengals quarterback and his wife, provides money and experiences for seriously ill children and their families in Cincinnati and Fort Worth, Tex. Before the Bills fans’ support, the foundation aimed to give six families each month grants averaging $2,000, for an annual budget of about $144,000.

Exceeding their organization’s annual fundraising goal two days into the new year, this is the kind of Cinderella fundraising story that happens once in a lifetime, like the “ice bucket challenge” that pulled in a staggering $115 million for the ALS Association. The donations to the Dalton Foundation following Sunday’s game came as a serendipitous fundraising moment where donors honor you in a moment that is…well, all about them. Development directors could spend their entire careers pulling their hair out or working with the highest-paid consultants and be unable to create such a self-propulsive fundraising event.

The Daltons are on a growing roster of sports celebrities with their own major charitable endeavors, some of them decades old. Cam Neeley opened the Foundation for Cancer Care in 1995 as he wrapped up a stellar career in the NHL with the Vancouver Canucks and Boston Bruins. After a stint in the hospital following a skull fracture, Seattle Mariners pitcher Evan Marshall and his wife started a fund to assist survivors of brain injury. Foundations and charities closely tied to living celebrities can find their fates intertwined; solid programs can be buoyed or hurt by the public image of their namesake, and the celebrity can be haunted by poor management at “their” nonprofit if things go off-track.

Far from playing a passive role, the Dalton Foundation deserves a round of applause. Their social media outlets were primed to interact with donors, with comments from spokespeople and the growing total rolling out in a timely manner. Their online giving platform was easy to find and use, proof of proper and tempered investment in the proverbial nonprofit boogeyman, overhead. With its website’s blog updated with program success stories and interactive video content, Bills fans knew exactly what they were supporting.

The most important ingredient the Dalton Foundation added to the mix was the fun they had with the fans and the self-proclaimed #BillsMafia, celebrating them and their special moment. Perhaps no one would have smiled more than the dearly-departed beloved philanthropist and former Buffalo Bills owner, Ralph Wilson.

The next act for the board and staff at the Dalton Foundation will likely be to engage the new donors in hopes of turning some of them into repeat donors. As in the aftermath of the ice bucket challenge, fans will be curious about what outcomes were achieved by the nonprofit post-windfall. No doubt, the additional exposure will also lead to an increase in applications for assistance, meaning the program and application procedures will need to expand temporarily as well to accommodate the influx.

The Dalton Foundation’s sweet start to 2018 is a great reminder that, in addition to planning for the worst-case scenario, our disaster plans and our strategic plans should also be able to accommodate when things go astray in a most blissful way. At least, we can all hope to be so lucky.—Carrie Collins-Fadell