Thanks to the culture set by chairman and CEO Jeffrey Lurie and team president Don Smolenski, the team has a championship mindset when it comes to Corporate Social Responsibility.
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Few businesses have as close a relationship with their customers as pro sports franchises do — a fact that’s doubly true in the Satell Institute’s two largest markets, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Residents of both cities live and die with their sports teams.
For new Satell Institute member the Philadelphia Eagles, that powerful connection with fans makes the franchise’s strong commitment to Corporate Social Responsibility — which has exploded in the years that Jeffrey Lurie has been chairman and CEO — a natural. Indeed, the Eagles perfectly illustrate why CSR done well is a two-way street: the community gets the benefit of the Eagles’ passion and resources, while the team gets the benefit of an ever-deepening connection with the community.
“What makes this place so special is the incredible passion of Philadelphians and Eagles fans everywhere,” says Julie Hirshey, the Eagles’ vice president of community relations and vice president of the Eagles Charitable Foundation. “Our fans fuel the work that we do. So it doesn’t feel like a responsibility. It feels like a relationship.”
That relationship now encompasses a wide array of efforts, ranging from youth vision care to stemming gun violence in Philadelphia to supporting autism research. (The Eagles Autism Foundation gave a major grant last year to groundbreaking researcher Haitham Amal, who’s also received substantial support from the Satell Family Foundation.)
Meanwhile, with its Eagles Care program, the team has helped nonprofits bolster their basic business operations.
In this conversation, Hirshey talks about the team’s approach to giving back, the culture created by Lurie and team president Don Smolenski, and why the Eagles’ new involvement with the Satell Institute is such a perfect fit.
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We got involved with Satell…
…through the Eagles Charitable Foundation, which is a completely separate 501(c) (3) nonprofit. For 20 years ECF has worked to provide vision care services to kids across the Philadelphia region with the knowledge that if you can’t see, you can’t read.
Six years ago we started a partnership with Vision to Learn. It’s allowed us to really amp up what we do in providing free eye exams, screenings, glasses for every child in the School District of Philadelphia, even surgery when necessary.
Our broader community relations initiatives…
…generally fall into three areas. First is connecting with fans and nonprofits in our community to try and provide the best Eagles experience possible. We’re fed by the passion of our fans , and so when we can give back, that work is really really important.
Then there’s our social justice work. In the last five years we’ve dug deep into that, particularly with our anti-violence campaign. It’s really geared towards directing attention and funds to the nonprofits in our region that are doing that work grass-roots every single day.
And then the third bucket is thinking about how we can empower youth through sports.
One way we empower youth…
…is through our sports bra initiative. We found out that in the School District of Philadelphia many girls really didn’t have sports bras, and there are so many who weren’t playing — or weren’t playing at a high enough level — because of that. So we partnered with a nonprofit to create and fund a program called Fly Forward to manufacture and distribute sports bras. We provided 30,000 of them in the last year. Our goal is make sure that every girl in the district who wants to play any sport, can.
We like to focus on specific solutions because…
…Philadelphia is such an incredible city, but there are really unique needs here. Some of them we are not positioned to fix or support, and that’s okay. Because with the ones that we are positioned to serve, we dive in really deeply so that we can create the best impact possible.
We’re focusing on gun violence because…
… we recognized that far and away it’s the biggest issue here in Philadelphia. And when you look at the people who are being impacted by gun violence, it’s a constituency that’s really important to us and our players. We think that we have an opportunity to speak from a place of authenticity because so many of our players identify with the message they’re able to share.
We find that the business side of nonprofits…
…often gets neglected. That’s why we created our Eagles Care program, where for many years we partnered with a few nonprofits every year and really dedicated a lot of resources to them. Even today, we provide more typical donations to them like jerseys, tickets and money. But we also try to extend the resources of our organization. If, say, a nonprofit is looking for a new CRM solution, we have a great CRM administrator who can sit with them for a few hours and talk them through the process. We try to use all the assets of the organization.
Those relationships help us because…
…we believe that if we dedicate ourselves to a group of nonprofits, they will grow in their ability to make an impact. And they’ll get a sense of what we’re all about. The program is really really successful — just an exciting way to build relationships. We have 26 or 27 nonprofits that we’ve been partnered with for years now. That comes from ongoing relationship building.
The culture of CSR we have…
…really starts with Jeffrey Lurie and our president, Don Smolenski. For example, I get notes from Don all the time where he sees something in the newspaper and suggests ways we can quietly help.
I’ll give you another example: the other day Jalen Hurts was visiting Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and he met a little girl who asked him about our cheerleaders. When we walked out of the room, Jalen said to me, “Let’s get her to meet the cheerleaders.” The cheerleaders organized a special practice for her. They made a trading card just for her with her picture on it. They gave her a custom jacket. Do you know how many people in our building cared in order to make that happen? And then there’s the leadership of Jeffrey and Don, who make it so that we can do that sort of thing. Everyone in our building is empowered to always do the right thing.
Our decision to join the Satell Institute came about when…
…it was two stars swirling each other at the same time. I was speaking at an event where Ed Satell also spoke, and I remember thinking that his view of Corporate Social Responsibility aligned so clearly with what we do here. And then, completely separately, we got a note from Vision to Learn. They were interested in joining Satell, and since we’d already made a significant commitment to them, they asked if we would sponsor them. Two things came together – boom.
We’re excited about the Satell Institute because…
… Satell has really had tremendous growth. You have some big organizations that are associated with it. We’re thrilled to be one of them.
We love the idea of people thinking big about ways to increase impact, as well as deepening the relationships between nonprofits and business. When the alignment is there, it’s just so impactful.