What the NFL would look like if it were an actual nonprofit


foam fingerAll right everyone, I hope you are all sitting down for this, because I am filled with mild outrage at the National Football League. But first, go Seahawks! Dudes, sweet touchdown at the last minute to beat the Panthers! We all needed that. We’ve been worried about you guys. Welcome back!

But back to the outrage. Apparently, the NFL has for decades been considered a trade association, kind of like a chamber of commerce, and is granted 501c6 status, which makes it a nonprofit. That’s right, the NFL is a nonprofit! Sure, it makes over $10 billion a year and pays its commissioner, Roger Goodell, $44 million in salary last year. But with the 501c6 status, which it gained through some political voodoo in 1966 when it merged with the American Football League, the NFL is tax-exempt.

Now, before you too get upset and punch your cubicle wall with your carpal-tunnel-afflicted hand, here are some facts to consider. First, even though the NFL is considered a nonprofit, its members (the 32 football teams like the Seahawks) are not, so the revenues they make through licensing and swag and stuff are taxed. Second, the NFL often operates at a loss, which you can clearly see on their 990. Heck, in 2012 they were $304 million in the red. You can’t tax a net loss. Removing their tax-exempt status would only recover about $10 million per year in funds, which is still a lot, but not nearly as much as we were all hoping. 

What is mainly annoying me, however, is the fact that the NFL is considered legally a nonprofit. This is ridiculous. That’s like saying that a donkey is a bunny. Or that a hat is a door. Or that a Hershey’s bar is actually chocolate (it is chocolate-flavored sugar). It is insulting to all of us who proudly wear the title “Nonprofit.” Do I go around telling people that I am a dentist? Of course not! Especially not after the last tooth extraction I did on a colleague who didn’t have dental insurance; it did not go as well as Youtube suggested it would.

We who work tirelessly in this field earn our stripes by being in the trenches, covered in blood, sweat, and tears. And glue, from thousands of year-end appeal letters. I know nonprofit. I live nonprofit. I dream nonprofit (“Please pass the hummus, George Washington”) And the NFL is not a nonprofit. Here is what it would look like it if were an actual nonprofit:

NFL raises $150,000 at annual Super Bowl gala, faces challenges

Sam-Stoltenberg-Matt-Bowman-Jack-Wardyn-2The National Football League (NFL), whose mission is “to empower disadvantaged youth through aggressive contact sports” raised over $150,000 at its annual fundraising event to support its programs. “The Super Bowl,” as the event is known, attracted 400 guests who each paid $100 to attend. Funds will be used to serve thousands of opportunity youth across the country, most of whom are low-income.

“We are so thankful for our donors and supporters,” said Executive Director Roger Goodell, who just recovered from carpal tunnel surgery and whose haunted eyes, sallow skin, and greying hair mark his years in the nonprofit sector, “the Raise the Finger went way better than any of us expected.” Raise the Finger, explained Goodell, is the portion of the event where attendees put up foam fingers labeled with their bid numbers to pledge a donation to the organization. The activity alone brought in over $80,000. “It was so inspiring to look out into the crowd and see so many people raising their fingers toward us.”

Despite the nonprofit’s recent success, it still faces challenges. The organization this year lost a major grant due to a change in federal laws which rendered it, and hundreds of other sports leagues such as the NHL and the PGA, ineligible for funding from the government. A combination of a still-struggling economy and funders’ migration of their priorities to the latest model in social innovation, “Synergistic Paradigm Action Matrix,” or SPAM, led to decrease in support for the NFL’s core programs. This past year the organization had to cut down the number of games it held; the number of youth it served went down by 17%.

In addition to its financial decline, the organization recently went through controversy over Goodell’s salary, which, according to the NFL’s latest tax filing, hovers at $76,000. “He’s making nearly six figures,” complained a local blogger, “while serving kids! Can you believe that? People making so much money while helping other people?! It’s sickening!” Others have griped that the organization spent too much on admin and fundraising, at 14% and 12%, respectively. “For every dollar you donate to the NFL,” said one tweet, “only 74 cents goes to the low-income kids they serve. #messedup.”

“We are trying to reduce overhead costs,” said Ray Anderson, the organization’s Development-and-Operations-Director/Volunteer Manager/Janitor, calling in from the NFL’s office, the basement of a local church, “but people have to understand that we need to build the infrastructure to keep our programs going. Whole families are depending on our services.” Anderson added: “Ooh, I gotta go; a meeting just ended and I want to see if there is any food leftover.”

Dealing with so many obstacles, the NFL’s board of directors gathered sticky dots and easel paper and huddled for an all-day retreat. Recently-elected board Chair Russell Wilson indicated a willingness to tackle the tough issues and move the NFL forward. “Our strategic plan includes increasing earned revenues through the sale of hot-dogs and hamburgers, which our kids will peddle during our games,” he said, “it’s a great way for them to develop job skills. And we will double our effort to cultivate corporate partners and individual donors.” Russell added that the nonprofit will also cut down on expenses, such as eliminating the office water cooler, which will save the NFL $23 per month.

If those strategies do not work, they can always hope more people will Raise the Finger for the NFL at next year’s gala.


Psst: NWB’s Scary Nonprofit Story contest entries are due TODAY, 10/27, at 10pm PST. See details.


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  • Lorraine Thomas

    Nailed it! Thank you for addressing this because it has been bugging me a lot. Like, a LOT a lot.

    • You’re welcome, Lorraine. 44million salary? Sigh…

  • Trish Millines Dziko


  • amy jester

    raise the finger! ha!

    • Amy, we should all raise our fingers for the NFL.