Anyone who’s ever been to a Sens game has heard of the Sens Foundation. Like any professional sports team, the Ottawa Senators have their own charity organization, which receives the funds from the 50/50 draw, as well as the silent auction and many other fundraisers that happen during games. It is also the recipient of revenue from a number of events that happen during the year, some organized by the Senators and others by loyal fans.
But according to a report recently published by Charity Intelligence Canada, most sports team charities, including the Sens Foundation, are not nearly as charitable as one might think.
CIC uses a four-star rating system to evaluate charities, and the Ottawa Senators Foundation received 1 star, largely for its lack of transparency and high fundraising costs.
The most damning point brought up in the report was that most of the money raised by sports team charities is either going toward the cost of the events they host, or being kept in reserve.
As illustrated by this image from the CBC, the Sens Foundation spends only 46 cents of every dollar it raises, which puts them second last in Canada ahead of only the Calgary Flames. It’s worth noting that CIC considers 75% to be the average spending efficiency for Canadian charities, with anything over 65% being considered reasonably good. 46% is Not Good.
According to the same article, the Sens’ fund reserves are not quite as large as those of some other team charities, which, if I’m interpreting this correctly, means that most of the other 54 cents is going toward fundraising costs.
As someone with a bit of experience organizing charity events, I understand that costs can get pretty high, but the Sens Foundation has a lot of money to work with (more on that later), and I find it very hard to believe that they can’t find a way to cut spending.
Another point brought up by Charity Intelligence Canada is that most sport team charities are not very transparent about their finances. It is not technically a requirement for private organizations to disclose their spending, but needless to say it’s a bit sketchy if they don’t.
This part, though, might not be the fault of the charities themselves. From the CIC report:
Inside sources whisper that NHL or MLB policy may restrict these Canadian registered charities from publicly disclosing audited statements.
The image below, from CIC, shows that only the MLSE Foundation has their financial information available on their website, and that information on the Sens Foundation is so unavailable that donors have to file a request for information with the Charities Directorate.
The most concerning thing about this entire report, to me, is that these organizations are still among the most well-funded charities in Canada. From CIC:
In 2017, Canadians gave $49.7 million to the eight charity foundations associated with professional sports teams. [...] The hockey teams’ charities raise between $4 million and $7 million making them among the largest 3% of donor-supported charities in Canada.
The Sens Foundation does fantastic work and I am very glad it exists. I don’t think this information should spell the end of an organization that does so much to promote mental and physical wellness in young people, but I do think it should push fans to think more critically about which charities we choose to support and why. There are many amazing charities in Canada that could really use our money, so why do we keep donating to the sports teams?
Ultimately, this shows just how much influence sports teams have when it comes to motivating people to donate, and I’m not sure they’re using that influence in the most effective manner possible. Could they not partner with local charities and focus their energy on promoting their initiatives? The 50/50 is one of the most effective fundraising tools - why can’t the Sens have their 50/50 earnings go to a different charity every game? One day it could be the food bank, another day the Cancer Society, and then for some special events it could be a local women’s shelter or LGBTI centre.
The Sens do a lot of good, yes, but they could be doing a lot more good. As the CIC report points out, there are plenty of charities out there that do a lot more, and maybe we should consider giving them our money instead.