Alex Smith is gone from California now, of course, but he’s still doing good back home.
Within the first year or so of his NFL career, he started the Alex Smith Foundation, which provides mentoring and support for foster kids to go to college. The program has been held up as a model not just for other athletes, but for philanthropists in general for both efficiency and efficacy.
Generally, experts say a nonprofit should put at least two-thirds of its proceeds toward its cause.A study by the Boston Globe
found that Smith’s foundation spent 91 percent of its funds on its mission over a three-year period.
“I’ve been to so many deals with so many of my peers,” Smith says. “I hate to say it, but you go and it’s some tournament or big party or dinner, and you don’t even know what you’re raising money for. It’s like, ‘Oh, it’s for the kids.’ Thanks. But what are you doing?”
So far, Smith’s foundation has helped 23 foster children graduate from college — a success rate of around 80 percent, when generally fewer than 5percent of all foster kids graduate college. In part based on the foundation’s success and Smith’s advocacy, California extended its support of foster kids from 18 to 23 years of age.
Smith and his foundation have recently focused on helping San Diego State initiate a similar program.
It’s an interesting cause for Smith, who describes himself as “the total antithesis of a foster kid.” He grew up middle class and happy, with two loving parents who drove him to college and sent money when he needed it and generally taught him the right things.
The cause grew close to his heart when his mother, Pam, now retired from a career in health and human services, took him to visit a high school of foster kids about to graduate out of the system.
Smith says he’s able to keep the foundation lean by limiting overhead costs and funding much of the work himself. The staff is basically his family — his mother runs the program — and when it’s your own money being spent, you make extra sure it’s not wasted. He has the kids in the program at his house, and they know his family by name.
“Instead of being so general, taking on so much, like ‘poverty and youth,’ it was sort of like, ‘OK, let’s narrow the focus,’” Smith says. “Let’s make it foster youth, and foster youth aging out of the system, and we’re going to be in San Diego or the Bay Area. Maybe if we can narrow the focus, we can change these kids’ trajectories and make a real difference.”