“When it comes to giving back, every guy has their role.”
Retired NFL lineman Matt Light knows about teamwork. As a three-time Super Bowl champion with the New England Patriots, he’s seen the results of what happens when eleven men work in sync towards a common goal. With his attention now turned to the nonprofit world as the founder of the Matt Light Foundation, he’s using teamwork in the community to change the lives of at-risk youth.
The Matt Light Foundation only employs three people year-round, but it still takes on projects simultaneously across the U.S. thanks to a heavy volunteer base. The public support is what Light is most proud of, and it allows his guidance to sink in with the kids he takes in annually.
“Taking in 16 freshmen and graduating 16 seniors each year, we have a four-year period where we get to know them better than we could through one-time interactions,” Light said in a recent interview. “I’ll go visit them in their cities, make weekly calls, and we have people that check in on them on a weekly basis to keep them on track.”
Light further encourages an attitude of teamwork by making his beautiful 500-acre Ohio facility open free of charge to any nonprofit organization that works with kids. His belief in sharing resources personifies All Sports United’s core message of collaboration, and it’s a primary reason why he’s a finalist for the 2014 Humanitarian Award. For Light, winning the $100,000 award package would help sustain his organization’s progress.
“When I was a player, I told the board ‘We’re going to grow the organization as fast as we can, and then sustain it after I retire.’ Our endowment is our number one priority right now. With so many nonprofits trying to vie for dollars, something like this with an organization receiving $100,000 is an incredible opportunity. Whether we get it or not, the recognition for the people on the team that have put in all the work is an honor to have.”
When the Matt Light Foundation became a nonprofit in 2002, Light looked to learn the business side of philanthropy first. He found out through the years that running a foundation is a full-time job, so when he was a veteran player he did everything he could to discourage players from starting a foundation early in their careers. He advised them instead to first get involved in a nonprofit and learn how it works, then think about what they want to do down the road.
Taking a learn-first approach has several advantages for athletes, but Light feels it benefits them the most by giving them the opportunity to learn what their role is in philanthropy. Conveniently, there are similarities that can be drawn between a player’s position in football and the type of person they might be in a business setting.
“Linemen are the workhorses of the organization that you count on to do the heavy lifting.” Light said. “A quarterback is the ultimate manager. The running backs are like IT process guys, able to multi-task and serve in a variety of roles. The receivers are your sales guys that are telling you ‘throw me the ball.’
“Everyone is different in what works best for them. I played with a lot of guys without a foundation, but they bought $20,000 auction items everywhere they went.”
Light enjoys the management aspect and the ability to “make things happen.” It’s the reason he decided to make a change from the traditional model of athlete-driven nonprofits – what he describes as a through-way – to his current model of complete control.
“Most player nonprofits gather money and then send it out. You host an event around a cause, invite athletes and celebrities, raise money through tickets and auction items, and then put the funds towards some other charity.”
Things weren’t working out for Light in that model, and he knew that if he controlled every aspect at his own facility instead, he could see through the entire process to make sure money raised is having the impact it should. He described this difference as key for his foundation, which is leadership-based and dependent on long-term interaction with youth.
Light was a leader on the line for the Patriots, so his approach comes as no surprise. His ability to keep things in perspective furthers him as a person and has indirectly improved the lives of youth for over a decade.
“Anyone who is looking to give to the nonprofit world is looking to make a difference. Athletes are no different; they’re fulfilling the need to make things better than they were yesterday. If you’re able to do something you enjoy for a living and have a long, successful career, you’re grateful to have that opportunity.”
Matt Light is a finalist for the 2014 All Sports United Humanitarian Award for Excellence in Sports Philanthropy, with final voting and the award presentation scheduled to take place on June 23, 2014 at a private ceremony in Chicago, IL. The winner will receive a feature story here on AllSportsUnited.org and donated services from our provider partners worth over $100,000. All Sports United is still accepting donations to support all of the finalists’ charities in association with our campaign partner GivKwik. Please support the campaign with whatever you can afford at our “All Stars of Giving” campaign website at www.givkwik.com/ASU. Your tax-deductible donation will support all of these fine causes. Continue to visit AllSportsUnited.org for profiles of each finalist in the days leading up to the award presentation.
- Special to All Sports United
Correspondent Anthony Baldini