Dallas-born Matt Stover, 54, played in the NFL for 20 seasons, mostly for the Baltimore Ravens. A trusted kicker for the defensive powerhouse, Stover’s best days came in 2000 when he scored all of his team’s points over a five-game streak and was selected as a Pro Bowler. This Ravens team then beat my New York Giants in Super Bowl XXXV.
Moving on to philanthropy, in recent months I’ve been profiling athlete donations in major US sports, including the NFL, MLB and NHL. While NBA players are, on average, the highest paid athletes in the world, the best stars of other sports also earn quite a lot of money. Nearly 40 NFL players now earn at least $20 million per season in average annual salary, per above the ceiling.
Some top-earning stars have already started donating, but with most of their attention focused on their playing careers, these personalities have plenty of time to iron out and deepen their donating interests later on. And beyond money, many of these players also leverage huge social media platforms, brands, and their global influence to fuel fundraising and draw attention to a range of causes. All of this means that many players are currently thinking about what their philanthropy will look like, and even more will in the future.
As Matt Stover recounts, he started thinking about giving quite early while he was still on the grill. In a recent conversation, he told me about what inspired him to start the Matt Stover Foundation alongside his wife Debbie. Stover is also co-founder of Player Philanthropy Fundwhere he helps manage the charities of dozens of athletes, giving him a rare perspective on the current state of athlete philanthropy.
Launching a family foundation
Founded in 2002, The Matt Stover Foundation focuses its charitable work in the Baltimore community, with a particular focus on service to underprivileged children and Christian causes. Since 2012, the foundation has provided more than $3 million to community organizations in Baltimore, including Beachmont Christian Ministries, Southwest Baltimore Charter School, Maryland Film Festival, and Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
Stover is a lifelong Christian, and his beliefs drove his desire to give back, even during his playing days. “Back when I was playing, I knew it wasn’t just me. It’s not just about kicking. If you’ve had the privilege of being able to play in the NFL, I also think there’s a responsibility in using that platform,” he told me.
Stovers also donate to causes that have a personal connection to their family. They donated to McDonogh School in Baltimore, which their children attended, and likewise to Loyola University, where they made a principal donation for a dome project on the athletic field. Matt and Debbie Stover also supported a pitch at Messiah College, which their daughter attended. Continuing the Stover tradition, the couple’s three children are all athletes.
Beyond family philanthropy
In 2021, the minimum annual salary for NFL kickers was $660,000, according to above the ceiling. Luckily for Stover, he also started investing while still playing. Over the years he has been involved with CreditCards.com, Kermitppi and EvoShield, an athletic protective apparel company acquired by Wilson Sporting Goods in 2016.
These smart bets also began to influence Stover’s approach to philanthropy. In 2006, Stover sold his stake in a business and directed it to a donor-advised fund, which then fed into the couple’s family foundation. “I started to understand the best way to give funds, to do it in the most tax-efficient way, and to give more money because of it,” Stover says.
He then became friends with Seth McDonnell, a veteran nonprofit manager who provided services to family offices and private foundations. From his own experience, Stover knew that other athletes struggled with the intricacies of running a nonprofit organization. “It’s not as simple as running programs and organizing an event,” he explains.
In 2010, Stover and McDonnell launched Players Philanthropy Fund (PPF), a public charity that allows athletes, artists and other philanthropists to create dedicated funds that can accept tax-deductible contributions to charity. PPF’s client list has grown over the past decade, now numbering 394 accounts.
Organizations include the 53 Families Foundation, started by former Ravens linebacker Jameel McClain; black girls ride bikes; Brogdon Family Foundation, started by NBA guard Malcolm Brogdon; and the Dwyane Wade Foundation, the NBA legend’s philanthropy.
A philanthropic model for athletes
The PPF offers two options to clients – a donor-advised fund and fiscal sponsorship – providing fiduciary oversight, financial management and other administrative services. PPF started with 16 accounts and is currently growing at a rate of over a dozen per month. The fund awarded approximately $5 million in grants in fiscal year 2020.
“We wanted to be the back-office platform for athletes,” says Stover.
Most people who come to PPF already have an interest or a few interests they want to focus on in their philanthropy. PPF’s job is to provide a ramp.
Stover believes athletes need to find their philanthropic voice and choose the causes that truly resonate with them. He also reflects on the path he followed, which involved thinking about what he wanted to do after football, long before he actually retired.
“They have a platform, the ability to fundraise and win the ears and eyes of our community members. There are a lot of people who want to be connected with you,” adds Stover.
The PPF team includes veteran lawyer Andrew Morton, who specializes in nonprofit compliance. Morton manages some of PPF’s clients, as well as a range of other personalities in the world of athletes and entertainment across the country. He thinks that unless it looks rarefied like a Stephen Curry or a Michael Phelps, the fiscal sponsorship model makes sense because athletes can access expert resources without the overhead associated with training. operation of a foundation.
“You have to be on the A-plus list to justify having your own c3,” says Morton.
For donors wishing to contribute to the charities of athletes and celebrities within PPF, they are also reassured that everything is running efficiently and above board.
Morton has seen his field explode during the pandemic, doubling his total customer base in the first year of COVID. How and when athletes first connect with him varies. Sometimes an athlete’s business manager contacts Morton as soon as he is drafted. Other times, the athlete is a little further along in his career. In Morton’s experience, once athletes decide to turn to donating, they tend to spend a lot of time on it.
“For people who are motivated to start a foundation, it becomes kind of an obsession,” Morton says, adding that he sometimes gets calls from concerned agents who want their client to focus more on the field or in the field.
Echoing Stover, Morton says it’s about making the most of your opportunities during your playing days and having the foresight to set the stage for the next chapter.
“If you’re distracted, you won’t have the downline opportunities to become a philanthropist. There aren’t many professions where you can retire at 30 or 35. These guys are still at the peak of their lives. And a lot of them will turn to the foundation,” Morton says.