Instead of simply giving away money, the team is granting funds to specific projects at Philly institutions — acting almost like a mini National Institutes of Health.
The way a standard sports philanthropy partnership works is something like this: A team raises money for an important cause, selects a partner organization, and writes a fat check. The two groups share a photo op, and everyone goes home happy.
But the Eagles are trying something different with their philanthropy efforts to fund autism research. Instead of selecting a research institution and letting it figure out how best to allocate the money, the team is taking a more active approach and picking the specific research projects to receive funding.
The effect is to turn the team into a grant funder, sort of like a miniature National Institutes of Health. The shift, according to Eagles Autism Challenge executive director Ryan Hammond, is grounded in the “idea of not being transactional, and not just putting our money out there and hoping for the best.”
Autism affects one in 59 people under the age of 21 and is increasing in prevalence across the U.S. That increase may have more to do with broadening diagnostic criteria and heightened awareness more than anything else, but the disorder remains poorly understood by researchers. It was an obvious target for the Eagles — owner Jeffrey Lurie’s brother is on the autism spectrum.
“This venture I see as kind of a melding of Jeffrey’s private life and his public life,” Phillies owner John Middleton said of Lurie’s autism fundraising in a 2017 Philly Mag profile of him.
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