I have a philanthropy idea that I’ve been pondering for well over a decade and think it may have become ripe. It’s a bit out of left field, but properly executed, this could raise thousands, if not millions, of dollars on an ongoing basis for a whole host of charitable causes. The goal is to develop a new class of recurring, low-overhead opportunities for fundraising among many classes of people, and I think you would be in a great position to try this out among athletes. The advent of NFTs could make this especially effective.

Sometime during the Great Recession, I entertained several thought experiments on how to raise money and resources for local charities. One particular focus was the local food bank. Demand for its services rose greatly at that time and finding a way to get a steady stream of income to accommodate the increased demand, particularly around the holidays. Setting up collection bins and donation jars at stores and places of employment is low-hanging fruit but don’t produce the volume needed for increases in demand just at a time when most everyone’s budgets were facing pressure. 

What was needed was an asset that could be sold or auctioned for charitable purposes. Around that time, I watched a brief documentary on a major auction of Star Trek props and memorabilia that raised millions of dollars. Bidding wars had broken out among collectors over painted pieces of wood and foam. Might there be a class of memorabilia that could be purposefully produced to raise money for charities? With the holidays still in mind, I realized that class of asset already existed and was produced every fall in schools across the United States: hand turkeys. These pieces of art were priceless to the family members for whom they were made. And it wasn’t about the quality or whether they would clinch an Ivy League scholarship to study art. It was about the person who painted or drew the simple design. 

Going to college at Valparaiso University, I was surrounded by sports fans from throughout the northern Midwest. Packers fans would have given a kidney on the spot for Brett Favre. Chicago fans would have gone full Sir Walter Raleigh if they saw Michael Jordan or Mike Ditka approaching a puddle. Michigan and Ohio State fans prayed to gods I’d never even heard of just for their QB to get a first down. With that experience in mind, I cannot help but wonder: How much would Brett Favre’s hand turkey go for in an online auction? Or Tom Brady’s? Shohei Ohtani’s? Those from NCAA players freed up in part by the winds of antitrust change blowing from the Supreme Court? I cannot help but think that, with the right marketing and media exposure for such an auction, it would be enough to fill thousands of pantries or serve whatever charitable purposes participants would prefer.

I think athletes would be a great group for this endeavor. Not only do they have the name recognition, but their hands are also an integral part of their fame (maybe do foot turkeys for soccer players if this went global, but I digress). Athlete participants would also be in a good position to market their own creations. And not just athletes! Musical artists, actors, elected officials, journalists, folks only famous for being famous, you name it.

When I originally started putting this idea together, I had physical works of art in mind. There would be template kits with cut mat board for all hand sizes to preserve the margins, all sorts of media to use, reinforced envelopes to preserve the pieces for framing (for a local team, perhaps solicit framing shops to donate their time (if not materials) for free press), and a few other details covered. However, with NFTs, the greatest limiting factor would be getting a tablet device big enough for many of the hands involved. It might also be the case that the NFT market might not be the best angle for the time being.

There are many more matters in terms of promotion, logistics, securing provenance, maintaining scarcity, etc., most of which I’ve at least noted and thought through. However, I think I’ve laid out enough for you to get the gist. Again, my goal is to see this executed and productive. I’ve written to a few foundations and haven’t heard back (not totally surprising, though). So, where would be a good place to start? This would live and die by marketing, so that’s the key to the whole thing. So whose shoulder should I tap? I’m willing to entertain suggestions!

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I think this is a cute idea and could go viral. A best case scenario would be something where your challenge goes viral like the Ice Bucket Challenge or becomes traditional like giving $$$ to the Salvation Army at Christmas.

Are you involved with a charity that you would want to use this for?

Originally, the idea was to do it to raise money for local food banks, but this could be adapted for most any charitable purpose. In theory, this could be for one particular charity (e.g., Feeding America), but my preference (in a magical world where I get everything I want) currently sits with a stand-alone organization or as a project/subsidiary of a larger foundation. This separate entity would set standards, collect and catalog all of the artwork, and possibly host the online auction. I'm thinking a base fee + a small percentage of the auctions would go to operating this entity, and the rest would go to the eligible charity of the artist's choice. 

However, that would take a good deal of start-up investment and some rock-solid marketing capital. Sticking in the sports realm, if the MLBPA/NFLPA/etc. wanted to do this, we could utilize their existing infrastructure for the auctions (thinking "My Cleats, My Cause"-type operations).