Shaq’s “Give Local” Strategy is a Slam Dunk

Shaq’s “Give Local” Strategy is a Slam Dunk

Apr 29, 2021 Patrice Onwuka

Forbes published an interesting profile of NBA great Shaquille O’Neal this month. The Hall of Famer-turned-sports-commentator and businessman is well-known for investments and endorsements, but perhaps not as much for his charitable giving.

What caught my attention is how Shaq approaches philanthropy and how he differs from other high-profile figures. Take a look:

Forbes: Why does your foundation focus on children from Atlanta and Las Vegas?

O'Neal: Because I live in Atlanta and Las Vegas. I can personally show up at any time. I like to live amongst the people. I'm the one that does a carnival every October, like a Halloween party, where 15,000 kids show up.

Shaq doubled down on the point about supporting your local community:

O'Neal: I've always said, one big time person just [needs to] take care of where they're from, and what they represent. They can do their own things...everybody has different causes. But it's my dream for every big time person: Just take care of where you’re from.

This reminds me of a conversation taken from McGuffey’s Reader—the famous grade school textbook—in 1844 and reprinted in the Philanthropy Roundtable’s Almanac. Two men discuss their philosophy on doing good:

Fantom: Sir, I have a plan in my head for relieving the miseries of the whole world…. I would alter all the laws, and put an end to all the wars…. This is what I call doing things on a grand scale….

Goodman: One must begin to love somewhere; and I think it is as natural to love one’s own family, and to do good in one’s own neighborhood…. If every man in every family, village, and county did the same, why then all the schemes would be met, and the end of one village or town where I was doing good would be the beginning of another village where somebody else was doing good….

Americans know the value of giving locally and often give to organizations in their own backyards before they open their wallets for national and international causes. According to an Indiana University study of all million-dollar-plus gifts made from 2000 to 2011, half of them went to recipients in the donor’s state and nearly two-thirds (60 percent) to recipients in the donor’s region. The geographic impact of donor-advised funds (DAFs) tends to be local as well, according to Howard Husock’s recent analysis of the four largest DAF sponsors.

Giving locally is not just a matter of being a nice neighbor or elevating one’s status in the community. It’s strategic. Donors can move the ball on specific issues because they benefit from having firsthand knowledge of the problems, relationships in the communities and a stronger sense of ownership and accountability. Foundations are often conveners of local officials and agencies, service providers and nonprofits for projects. Donors can support innovative solutions and see the impacts of the investments close up. Successful solutions are often replicated elsewhere or scaled nationwide.  

Prioritizing one’s local community doesn’t preclude them from supporting national organizations or international causes. It’s their choice. However, tackling national and global large-scale problems may demand more funding than one donor can provide. But, a few thousand dollars could close the tuition gap for a needy student or fund the painting of murals on abandoned buildings in blighted neighborhoods.

The aggregate impact of countless individual charitable gifts--big and small--to local organizations and causes is to improve the quality of life for millions of people across our nation.

If celebrities and athletes want to make a difference they should consider Shaq’s advice to take care of where they’re from. It could spark new waves of civic renewal and local communities would score.