An organization’s success begins and ends with people in the community.
The key to an organization’s success lies within creating a strong community.
Community relations professionals actively work to create relationships between an organization and its surrounding community, setting the foundation for success, but often playing the role of the unsung hero.
It is the people that make the place, and the Philadelphia Eagles have made sure to embrace the people to create a better place by building up nonprofits and community members across the Greater Philadelphia area.
Giving mutually to the people who invest in your organization creates strong relationships for all parties involved. Relationships are the most valuable form of currency that an organization can hold, as it allows for the investment in aspects that physical currency cannot buy, such as creating an emotional bond or a meaningful relationship with consumers.
The Philadelphia Eagles’ Community Relations initiatives allow for the organization to be socially responsible.
Julie Hirshey, Director of Community Relations for the Philadelphia Eagles, explains that the Eagles want to give back to their supporters.
“We are the organization we are because of our fans. The fans give us everything, so it is really at the core of who we are to give back to them and the rest of the community.”
A strong community is the key to success.
“Being able to turn a nonprofit into the strongest they can be makes for a strong community because they are at the very foundation of development,” explains Hirshey.
The Eagles perform tangible acts such as donating furniture to nonprofits or intangible acts such as employee development sessions put on by the Eagles’ staff for the nonprofit’s staff.
“We really aim to take a holistic approach to develop the capacity of the nonprofit,” says Hirshey.
Allowing organizations to build not only tangible assets, but also intangible skills, allow them to propel themselves into the best organizations they can be. The more successful nonprofits are in the community, the more service they will be able to provide.
The Philadelphia Eagles have created six main categories the organization focuses current community relations initiatives on. The six include going green, community playground building, youth football, huddling for autism, fan engagement and Eagles Care.
Social responsibility allows the Eagles’ fan base to see the organization’s commitment to their city. With the Go Green initiative, the Eagles have invested in environmentally sustainable practices to ensure a healthier city for their fan base.
“Sustainability and making sure that our community is healthy, long-term, is core to who we are as an organization,” states Hirshey.
The Eagles make sure to have sustainable practices across the board. Whether it is purchasing practices or putting on an event, they set their standards high.
In recent years, they have installed the largest solar panel system in NFL, which is enough to self-sustain power in the stadium for every game and then some.
Eagles Care is another moving initiative the CR team has put into effect.
Starting in 2013, the program focuses on a select few individual non-profit partners in the community each year, and then creates an alumni base of previous years’ partners as well. This year, the Eagles Care partners are Dignity Housing, Philadelphia Wooden Boat Factory and Ryan’s Case for Smiles: Helping Kids Feel Better to Heal Better.
The focus for the partners in 2017 were affordable housing for low-income families, youth empowerment through hands-on activities and quality care for children undergoing medical treatment.
For the Eagles, it’s all about using their high-profile platform to help organizations build on an individual basis. Once each partner grows from the program, they are then able to build one another up.
Hirshey explains, “Over the years, our Eagles Care partners have fallen into a natural pattern of creating this web of networks amongst one another. For example, Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger was looking for ways to get out information about their Summer Meals program, and they found a natural partner in Cradles to Crayons, another Eagles Care Partner that provides basic needs to those in under-deserved communities through packages of essentials like clothing, shoes and underwear. Information on their Summer Meals program can easily be placed into the package, creating a symbiotic partnership which exists to this day.”
Even though the Eagles continue the partnerships after the initial year is complete, by creating these connections among nonprofits, the experience grows beyond the Eagles, creating an everlasting bond by touching the lives of all involved, including the Eagles staff.
“Part of why we started Eagles Care was because we really wanted people to understand that helping others is a fundamental core value of our organization. If we partner with nonprofits for a year and are able to express our core values to them, we made a bet that they would ‘get’ us and so far that bet has paid off,” explains Hirshey.
The Eagles have a vision to create one big family within the Philadelphia community. The mutual relationship existing between the organization and community members allows for inspiration and positivity on both ends. Loyalty is centered around investment and can only be built through time and commitment, which the Eagles have been working towards.
“We do not publicize too much because that is not why we are in this. Doing good for people and your community speaks much louder than any sort of publicity can because it is truly genuine.”
The Eagles also have a 501 c (3) public charity, the Eagles Charitable Foundation. The foundation serves underserved kids in the Philadelphia region through vision care and autism research and services. Each year the Eagles provide thousands of under and uninsured children with vision care and free glasses.
Additionally, the Eagles have revitalized 21 schools through their annual Playground Build, a day where the entire Eagles organization — staff and players included — take a day to transform a school with a new playground, murals and landscaping.
The Eagles hope to set a standard that can empower other organizations across the country. For others looking to build a strong community the way the Eagles have, Hirshey advises, “Do your homework. There are a lot of tremendous nonprofits out there. Find something you’re passionate about supporting, look at the landscape of your community and see what is out there to work with and build upon that rather than creating something new from scratch.”
If there is something the Eagles can teach any one of us, it is to focus on building up others. Though it may not seem like much to start, it can create a force that drives social change. A force that fosters relationships in the most unlikely places. A force that is much bigger than you, much bigger than football, and a force that is big enough to maybe one day change the world.
This piece has been presented to you by SMU’s Master of Science in Sport Management.
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