Only about 40% of Russell Wilson foundation's expenses actually go to charity

The foundation argues it has raised millions through partnerships with Seattle Children’s Hospital and grocery giant Safeway Albertsons – donations that don’t appear on its books
Chargers Broncos Football
Posted at 9:09 PM, Feb 09, 2023
and last updated 2023-02-09 23:09:31-05

DENVER — Denver Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson is known for his philanthropic efforts.

The Russell Wilson Foundation, which operates as the Why Not You Foundation, is chief among the reasons he was named the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year – an honor given to “the best of the NFL's commitment to philanthropy and community impact” – in 2020.

An analysis of federal tax documents shows only a fraction of the money it generates actually goes toward charitable efforts.

The foundation, however, argues it has raised millions through partnerships with Seattle Children’s Hospital and grocery giant Safeway Albertsons – donations that don’t appear on its books.

Here’s a look at the numbers in tax records, known as Form 990s.

In 2020, the most recent year for which a Form 990 is publicly available for the Why Not You Foundation, the nonprofit doled out 71% more in salaries ($440,625) to three employees than it did directly to charitable grants ($256,519).

Of the foundation’s roughly $5.8 million in expenses from its inception in 2014 through 2020, less than $2.5 million – about 42% – went directly to charity. In 2020, Why Not You spent $256,519 on charitable grants while racking up $1.2 million in expenses, meaning only 21.3 cents of every dollar spent went to charitable efforts.

The discrepancy was first uncovered in a months-long investigation by USA TODAY, which set out to investigate nonprofits founded by recipients of the Man of the Year Award.

Denver7 looked into Form 990s publicly available through the Internal Revenue Service for several other current and former NFL players to see how Wilson’s foundation stacks up.

  • 2021 Man of the Year Award winner and Andrew Whitworth’s Big Whit 77 Foundation put about 68% of its expenses toward charity between 2017 and 2019.
  • The Chris Long Foundation, started by the 2018 Man of the Year, put about 61% of its overall expenses toward charity between 2018 and 2020.
  • JJ Watt won the award in 2017. About 85% of his foundation’s expenses went toward charity in 2019. In 2018, the year Watt raised millions for Hurricane Harvey recovery in the Houston area, 99% of his foundation's expenses were charitable grants.
  • For Peyton Manning’s PeyBack Foundation, about 80 cents for every dollar spent went toward charity from 2018-2019.
  • The Chubb Charitable Foundation, operated by former Bronco Bradley Chubb and his cousin, Cleveland Browns running back Nick Chubb, put about 98% of its expenses toward charity in 2018-2019

No Form 990s are publicly available for 2019 Man of the Year Calais Campbell's foundation.

Watt’s foundation lists one paid employee, a vice president earning a $50,000 annual salary. Whitworth’s foundation lists an executive director who was paid $12,000 annually. Long’s foundation doesn’t list any paid employees, but did pay a consultant about $73,000 per year.

Manning’s and Chubb’s foundations listed zero paid employees.

Why Not You, by contrast, paid a chief strategy officer, Ryan Tarpley, $208,625 in 2020. Two foundation directors, Carly Young and Scott Pickett, were paid $166,00 and $66,000, respectively.

Paul Lhevine, the president and CEO of the Colorado Nonprofit Association, told Denver7 a rule of thumb is that 15% of a nonprofits expenses go toward administration.

Sources told Denver7 Sports that Russell Wilson was not expected to comment on the revelations about the Why Not You Foundation.

The foundation posted a statement to its website boasting partnerships that have generated more than $13 million “benefiting education, pediatric cancer research and hunger prevention.”

“While the foundation raises funds and provides grants and gifts, our partnerships have allowed for more direct delivery and impact,” it reads. The statement made no mention of USA TODAY’s reporting.

The $13 million includes more than $10 million in donations from Safeway Albertsons through a partnership formed last June.