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NFL Legend Matt Stover is helping fellow athletes navigate the logistics of charitable foundations

By Jim Gehman, Player Engagement Insider

Along with sharing a love for the game of football, NFL players, past and present, have also shared a strong desire to give back to their communities. Or they may support and raise money for specific charities. Because of that wish to help others, many have established foundations.

And while their initiative is nothing less than admirable, developing and maintaining a foundation is much easier said than done. In short, it can be complicated.

Former Baltimore Ravens kicker Matt Stover, the team’s all-time scoring leader, co-founded a company, the Players Philanthropy Fund [PPF], to make it less complex. It builds and maintains legally sturdy, and beneficial foundations for athletes and other account holders. 

A longtime NFL veteran with the Ravens, Cleveland Browns, New York Giants, and Indianapolis Colts, Stover’s launch into the business initially occurred when he and his wife, Debbie, created the Matt Stover Foundation in 2006.

“My wife and I came into an income event outside of football through the sale of a company, and I learned how to gift charitable planning and giving properly,” Stover said. “We gifted a piece of the company to a Donor Advised Fund [DAF] prior to the sale of the company.

“A DAF is a 501(c)(3) organization that allows you to donate funds into it at one particular or multiple events and get the tax deduction for that year that you gifted in, but then have the ability to donate those funds over years to come based on how much you’re donating.

“What that means is – I’m the donor, I advise where the funds get to go. So, let’s say I want to send $100,000 to my church. I can request to the DAF, because they’re the owners of the money, I’m not. They vet to make sure the church is a legal 501(c)(3) entity and if it is, they’ll send the money to that organization.”

In 2012, Stover and philanthropy expert Seth McDonnell organized the PPF. It enables athletes and other account holders to create a fund that can accept tax-deductible contributions in support of any qualified charitable operation.

It offers a simple and capable solution for collecting and distributing assets, which provides an alternative to the trouble of operating a foundation. 

“All these athletes that have their own foundations, it’s actually its own business and you are accountable personally to make sure that those funds are coming in properly, deposited properly and distributed properly. And then you have a tax return to validate it, which is a public record,” Stover said.

“Well, that’s extremely vulnerable if you’re an athlete and you don’t know what you’re doing. So, either you have people that do know what they’re doing or say that they know what they’re doing. There’s the issue. There’s somebody who’s on your board saying they’re doing it and (the athlete) finds out that, in all reality, they don’t know what they’re doing. And if they do, they don’t know the full scope of what they’re doing because there’s so many compliance issues that you have to adhere to be an upstanding organization.

“So, I said to myself, ‘Boy, this would be a great service for many of the athletes who are trying to get things up and running or even don’t want to mess with a back office. There’s the word that we use at the PPF – back office.

“We take care of all the back-office work for the athlete. We take care of all the accounts. The tax return is our tax return; it’s the PPF’s tax return. They go out and raise the funds and they have the ability to operate it if they have their own 501(c)(3), but they don’t. It’s an account set up inside the PPF. We can set up an account in less than two days. We can make it really simple and streamline for the athlete and get himself up and running for a charitable works.”

Stover, who made the move with the team from Cleveland to Baltimore in 1996, spent 18 of his 20 seasons in the league with the organization and helped them win Super Bowl XXXV. What was the key to the longevity of his first career?

“I think multiple things. One, you had an organization that believed in me. Even when I had an off game, they trusted me,” said Stover, who is in the Ravens’ Ring of Honor and was a first-team All-Pro in 2000. “And I think that’s because of how I conducted myself on and off the field. That goes a long way. If they can trust you, they can give you the benefit of doubt on an off day.

“Those are the type of things I always tried to conduct myself with so that if there was a coaching change or a general manager or even an ownership change because I went through one of those. Being able to adapt and being able to go to the next leadership regime, whoever that would be, they didn’t have to worry about the kicking position. And a lot of that has to do with the fact that I stayed healthy.

“I’m a Christian guy and I feel from a faith standpoint, God had all the control to do with it. I had very little. That’s really where I’m coming from. But, of course, I had to go out and do the work and be the man I’m supposed to be. With that, I think that transcended into a longer career.”

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