In the Charity Business: Gary Forbes Runs Second Annual “Strike Out Diabetes” Fundraiser Near Brooklyn’s Hallowed Grounds


The title event of the second annual Gary Forbes Foundation “Strike Out Diabetes” Celebrity Softball Weekend will take place at the Prospect Park Parade Grounds in Brooklyn on Saturday, September 6, just one mile from where Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947 at Ebbets Field. Though the Brooklyn-raised, Panamanian-born Forbes has never faced that level of prejudice, the NBA free agent is using the ball fields at Prospect Park to face down another opponent the MLB Hall of Famer battled, diabetes.

Unfortunately for Robinson and the nation, the legendary number 42 died at age 53 due to complications from the disease, which had already stolen much of his eyesight and mobility. Forbes himself is personally aware of the toll the disease can take unmanaged, himself diagnosed with Type one diabetes after his freshman season with the Virginia Cavaliers after suddenly losing 20 pounds in the course of a week. Since, though, he has learned and now advocates, “You can live a successful life with diabetes.” His vision to model and communicate that message to diabetic youth and to teach other youth how to make wise, long-term health choices is growing through the online platform and the creation of community events that raise awareness and funds. Besides the centerpiece of the softball tournament featuring celebrities, a Friday night VIP Reception and a Saturday afternoon Celebrity-judged Taste Contest will bookend the weekend’s fundraising efforts.

Executive Director of the Gary Forbes Foundation Jane Yin says that she would consider raising $10,000 “fairly successful” for the full event. The goal seems rather modest when compared to superstar Richard Sherman’s behemoth softball fundraiser at Safeco in Seattle this past July, but the sum would allow continued year-round augmentation of the platform. Also, Yin – a long-time PR specialist who has run events for several athletes’ foundations including those of Marshawn Lynch, Lance Briggs, and JT Snow – has an insider’s realism of how a foundation must incrementally grow and the barriers to advancing and funding a cause attached to a relatively unknown sports figure.

One of those fundraising challenges is the need to rely heavily on individual donations, even with an event held in the shadow of New York City’s thousands of corporations. She says, “There have been times that I’ve approached a company to be a sponsor for an event, and they will agree to sponsor only if they receive much more in return. It can be disappointing, given the public information about how much revenue the company is generating versus the relatively little corporations are known to give back. On another note, I’m always impressed by how much individuals would like to give, regardless of how much they have.”

According to Giving USA’s study using IRS data, Yin’s observation is surprisingly accurate at a national level. Domestic corporations gave about $17B in cash or non-cash donations in 2013. Individuals collectively dwarfed that number giving $241B. Coupling those numbers with Census data, businesses gave donations valued at approximately %0.057 of their revenues and %0.75 of their pre-tax profits. This equates to one dollar for every $1765 in revenue and one dollar for every $133 in profit. Though not an apples-to-apples comparison, personal giving provides some measure of contrast. On a per capita basis, Americans gave $1 for every $37 of their personal revenue (i.e. income) and one dollar for every $17 of pre-tax profit (i.e. pre-tax discretionary income).*

Yin explains the common reality, “Corporations will generally give if they find that there is a true benefit to them in some way, and the biggest motive is for publicity and marketing purposes. Ultimately, companies want to see some type of ROI.” That’s why she often has much more success getting companies to provide in-kind donations that naturally fit within an event. “If the corporation makes an in-kind donation, 1) it’s cheaper for them to do that, 2) it gets their product out there so they receive publicity and exposure.”

Her logic has borne out with regards to corporate sponsorship of “Strike Out Diabetes.” Health provider Emblem Health has signed on as a cash sponsor. Trader Joe’s will donate event day produce. Whipped Pastry Boutique, a gluten-free establishment that uses healthier ingredients than most companies in the bakery category, will serve hors d’oeuvres and desserts at the Friday Night VIP Reception. Likewise, seven local Brooklyn barbecue or grill joints will be providing food for spectators and competing in the aforementioned Taste Contest that will be judged by a panel of celebrities highlighted by Celebrity Chef Chris Santos of Chopped. Apropos for the fundraiser, in addition to standard measures such as taste, plating, and uniqueness, the contestants will also be judged on diabetic friendliness and compete for the Most Diabetic Friendly Award. Any altruistic leanings of the sponsors not discounted, each organization’s involvement clearly aligns with their respective organizational purposes.

Beyond corporate supporters, Yin also thinks of ROI in terms of celebrities and the general public. In recruiting volunteer celebrities for “Strike Out Diabetes,” she has to gauge what the individual wants: publicity, the opportunity to network with other influential people, being part of a cause in which they believe, or even the simple opportunity to serve. This keenness has allowed her and Gary to secure the celebrity judges and a supporting cast of NBAers, former Giant Leonard Marshall, additional celebrity chefs, entertainment celebrities, and business and political leaders.

Regarding the general public, Yin comments, “It’s human nature to have a hard time parting with one’s money, and that is why the non-profit industry is so fascinating to me: As a non-profiteer, you have to try to develop ‘returns’ for the potential donor that they will respond to.” Beyond the opportunity to have an event photographer take pictures of them with some of the who’s who, returns include watching and eating at the Taste Contest, playing in the softball games, and the opportunity to win prizes.

And, Jane has to wear her own ROI hat for the Gary Forbes Foundation and other nonprofits with which she is involved. That duty goes well beyond the given aspect of fiscal sustainability as the foundations’ namesakes are looking for a different return. “I have found that athletes that I work with have a genuine desire to impact change. Some of the athletes I’ve worked with have come from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, so they find it incredibly rewarding and important to give back.”

Yet, Yin and Forbes know the reality of the charity business. Robinson was able to advance major social issues because of his extraordinary athletic success. So while Yin works on the business aspects of the foundation, Forbes continues to work at something that could prove much more effective at bolstering its funding and impact, his craft on the court. Though he last played for an NBA team in 2012, he played for the Brooklyn Nets last preseason and has taken multiple opportunities to prove his mettle in NBA D-League and international play. Should Forbes be able to earn an NBA roster spot this upcoming season, it will also augment his philanthropic platform and catalyze support for a truly vital cause.

*(Note: To determine a pre-tax discretionary income percentage estimate of 46%, “BLS Consumer Expenditures—2012” data was used. Necessary expenses were treated as follows: Food at Home, Housing, and Health Care at full value; Away from Home food, Apparel and Services, Transportation, Personal Insurance and Pensions, and All Other Expenditures at half value; Cash Contributions and Entertainment at no value).

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