‘Major red flags’ with Russell Wilson’s Why Not You Foundation

Feb 9, 2023, 2:53 PM

Russell Wilson...

DENVER, COLORADO - DECEMBER 11: Russell Wilson #3 of the Denver Broncos warms up prior to a game against the Kansas City Chiefs at Empower Field At Mile High on December 11, 2022 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)

(Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)

Russell Wilson has become an easy target in Seattle. But whether you love him or hate him, he usually evokes an emotion.

The latest dart thrown at Wilson is about his foundation, Why Not You. There’s no doubt that the foundation does good. The question is, how much good?

Jason Wolf, a sports investigative reporter, was part of a six-month USA Today investigation into athlete’s nonprofits and found that Wilson’s foundation gave about a quarter of all money raised to the people who need it. The rest of the money went to administrative costs.

The Why Not You Foundation is at the low end of the percentage of giving. Some non-profits go as high as 90 cents on the dollar. Wilson’s group ends up at around 24 cents on the dollar.

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According to USA Today, the foundation raised $7.5 million since its inception and dumped $1.9 million of that into paying executives in 2020 and 2021. The foundation spent $600,000, with almost double that on salaries and benefits. In that time period, for every dollar the foundation raised, it donated just over 24 cents.

“It is a recent egregious example of a nonprofit founded by a Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award winner that has sort of gone off the rails,” Wolf said on KIRO Newsradio’s Gee & Ursula Show. “Nonprofit, legal, and accounting experts say that the IRS could potentially step in and levy significant fines and penalties.”

Wolf said that the legal issue is centered on the foundation paying $200,000+ to a person who allegedly also works for the Wilson family office. “That raises major red flags for people in the nonprofit sector,” Wolf said.

There is no indication that the IRS is investigating that issue.

As far as the amount of money that actually goes into a charity, Wolf said the percentage isn’t unusual. He noted that many athletes’ nonprofits pay about 25 cents on the dollar.

“So this is not exclusively a Russell Wilson issue. It is an issue with NFL players, the league, and the union encouraging these guys to be philanthropic with their most prestigious awards,” Wolf said. “But then not doing enough clearly to educate them on the front end to ensure they don’t find themselves into these kinds of terrible situations.”

Wolf said that Wilson and his representatives had many chances to respond to the story, but of all the nonprofits evaluated, Why Not You was the only one that did not respond.

After the story broke, Shayla Tait, the foundation’s executive director, did Tweet and emailed a statement but did not directly reference the report.

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Since founding the Why Not You Foundation in 2014, we’ve been blessed and fortunate to partner with incredible organizations to maximize our impact. We’ve successfully partnered to deliver over $13,000,000 benefiting education, pediatric cancer research, and hunger prevention. …

We are forever grateful for our dynamic relationship with Children’s Hospital over the past decade and the amazing kids we’ve been able to meet and impact. In a letter to the foundation at the end of 2022, Seattle Children’s expressed “their sincere appreciation to Safeway Albertson and the Why Not You Foundation for the incredible impact that your partnership has made at Seattle Children’s. We are honored that you have joined forces to share in our vision of improving the health of the patients and families we serve. Your partnership has already led to $10,000,000 in donations and impacted countless lives.”

“Because that $10 million from Safeway and Albertsons does not appear on the Why Not You Foundation’s tax returns, they’re not (directly) responsible for that fundraising. That’s third-party fundraising,” Wolf said. “So they can’t rely on whatever money was raised at a grocery store checkout line to justify the six-figure salaries that they’re paying their own executives who may or may not have anything to do with that.”

Wolf explained that according to its tax records, the Why Not You Foundation has donated about $830,000 directly to Seattle Children’s Hospital since it was founded in 2014 through 2021.

Listen to Gee Scott and Ursula Reutin weekday mornings from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. on KIRO Newsradio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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‘Major red flags’ with Russell Wilson’s Why Not You Foundation