They Sport Charitable Hearts, Foundations

Article excerpt

Byline: STEVE PATTERSON

LOCAL ATHLETES DO THEIR PART

At least 15 sports stars operate charities in the Jacksonville area.

MOST GROUPS MEET GUIDELINES

Seven of 10 of the group met Better Business Bureau standards.

ABUSE CAN BE A CONCERN

Still, some groups could not account for why certain expenses occurred.

Want to party with a pro bowler? Golf with sports greats?

Don't sweat the money. You can do it for charity.

A growing squad of professional athletes, both current and retired, are operating nonprofit foundations in Jacksonville, most financed by events at which sports celebrities hobnob with the rest of us.

"There are a lot more guys out in the community doing things for people in need. I know when I started, there weren't many," said Rick Wilkins, a retired Major League Baseball catcher. His charity, the Rick Wilkins Foundation, opened in 1993 to help developmentally disabled adults.

At least 15 sports star charities operate in the Jacksonville area, spending at least $1.4 million yearly on causes ranging from single mothers to hospice care.

As a group, they do a fair job managing donor money.

The Times-Union reviewed the latest tax returns from a dozen foundations - the rest are new and haven't filed returns yet. Two were essentially inactive in their latest filings.

Of the remaining 10, seven met a guideline of the Better Business Bureau's Wise Giving Alliance that at least 65 percent of yearly spending should be for charity grants and programs. Five met a 75 percent threshold recommended by other charity watchdogs.

But there can be big differences from one foundation to another, in both goals and results.

For example, in 2005 more than 99 percent of the $156,785 spent by pro golfer Vijay Singh's private foundation went to charity projects.

By contrast, a foundation that football wide receiver Rod Gardner started in 2002 used less than 15 percent of its spending on charity, according to its tax return for that year.

That return said the foundation paid nearly $20,000 - about half of its yearly expenses - for a vehicle lease. Why?

"I have no idea. ... It must have been after my term," said Teresa Elam, who was listed as the foundation president on the tax return but said she was replaced soon after the charity was created. The foundation isn't active now.

Gardner was a Jacksonville high school star now playing for the Kansas City Chiefs. He didn't respond to a phone message left with his mother in late June or to questions sent twice by e-mail to his team's press office, which reported forwarding the messages to him.

TAKE STOCK OF ALL ASSETS

Private foundations can hide "a tremendous amount of abuse," said David Kossak, a financial adviser and estate planner in Jacksonville who has helped many clients, including athletes, set up non-profits. Kossak said he's seen people write themselves checks, even buy a house under the cover of charity - but he's seen wonderful good deeds more often and by many more people locally.

Judging how much good a non-profit does is tricky because each is different, said Greg Johnson, executive director of the Sports Philanthropy Project, a non-profit that promotes good management of sports charities. He said that means more than just measuring how much of a charity's money is spent on overhead, or how much money it raises.

"You have to take stock of all the assets they have to wield and think if they're leveraging them," Johnson said.

Athletes' high profiles help their foundations attract important supporters.

Despite looming cuts to other charities, Jacksonville City Council President Daniel Davis has said former Jaguar Tony Boselli's foundation, focused on child development, is the kind of place the city should pool its money with private funds for the public good. …