How basketball is changing the charity game

Everyone who loves college basketball is busy pouring over their bracket for the next few weeks. The NCAA basketball tournament is on, and March Madness has officially infected folks from coast to coast. Already Middle Tennessee State has cracked many brackets, but will those upstarts be this year’s Cinderella story? Too early to tell, but what is already certain is this: March Madness is big business … and it’s big charity too.

Bloomberg introduced its Bracket for a Cause program, inviting some of the country’s wealthiest business people to toss $10,000 in the pot for the right to pit their bracket against their peers. According to Business Insider, all the proceeds from the tournament will be donated to charity.

Participants to date include Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank, T-Mobile CEO John Legere and, of course, Michael Bloomberg. These industry titans have been joined by pro sports team owners such as Mark Cuban, Mark Attanasio, and Steve Ballmer.

The winning bracket owner will donate upwards of $420,000 to the charity of his or her choice.

While sports and charity have long been best pals, this bracket contest provides a template through which charities of any size can create a fun and interesting way for folks to support their cause. People already love bracket contests, and half the country is already obsessed with the Madness so that part wouldn’t be a tough sell at all.

This sort of creative tie-ins with long-established cultural traditions can be a productive way for nonprofits to connect with their current donors and to bring attention to their cause without encountering the typical apathy or request fatigue many otherwise willing donors display when asked to support an unfamiliar cause.

It’s all in the approach. Think about it. Would you rather be asked to support something with which you are unfamiliar, or would you rather be invited to join your friends for some spirited but ultimately harmless competition? Again, it isn’t rocket science, it’s all in how you ask.