Since he arrived in the NFL in 2009, New Orleans Saints punter Thomas Morstead has always embraced community service. With a thriving community program in place at the team level, Morstead, who was drafted by the Saints out of Southern Methodist University, immediately stepped in and took part in many of those events and appearances.
Eventually, he began to consider how he could carve out his own niche. However, forming a foundation can be a minefield because of all the potential legal and financial ramifications, so when he finally decided to take the leap, he began moving forward with careful, methodical steps.
“I’ve never had an entrepreneurial mind. The idea of setting up my own business or charity is daunting. There are lots of elements like book keeping, auditing and insurance for events. The majority of athlete foundations don’t have the best percentage of money raised going to the cause. My fear was always if I’m going to do this one day, I don’t want to be that type of entity. I want things to be very transparent because anybody can look up your records and scrutinize them. I wanted it to be something people would always be proud to be associated with.”
Morstead, and his wife, Lauren, both Houston-area natives and expecting their first child, have become entrenched members of the New Orleans community and they wanted to maintain their focus on making a difference in their adopted city.
Two years ago, Morstead connected with the Greater New Orleans Foundation, an umbrella group that offers philanthropic-minded individuals and groups the opportunity to start what are called Donor Advised Funds. Utilizing the resources and direction of GNOF, they are able to raise funds and donate to any designated 501(c)(3) charity of their choice, while GNOF handles the logistics (taxes, bookkeeping, etc.). The icing on the cake for Morstead was that only one percent of the money goes toward expenses, the other 99 percent goes directly to the designated programs.
Morstead has named his foundation What You Give Will Grow and has honed most of the focus to organizations that support children.
In 2013, Morstead, who had for many years sported thick, chest-length hair, shaved those long locks as part of an event for Wigs for Kids in New Orleans. He shaved his head again in early 2014 to help support children’s cancer awareness.
Another cause that Morstead has lent a hand to in New Orleans is CASA – Court Appointed Special Advocates. His wife Lauren is also extremely active with this group, which provides support, guidance and assistance to children in the foster care system. One of the specific initiatives that they have gotten involved with is Candles of Hope, which arranges birthday parties for children who’ve never had such a celebration. Morstead related a heartbreaking story about one child, who, when the cake was put in front of him, lit with candles, didn’t know what to do.
“You tell him to make a wish, the day is about him, you make him feel special,” he said. What has amazed Morstead, who acknowledged his good fortune at having grown up in a loving and supportive family, is the spirit of these children in spite of their circumstance. “They’re so resilient,” he said. “A lot of them don’t have any scope as to what’s normal or not. It’s cool to turn the light on in their heads and show them there’s more out there.”
Morstead is now in the early stages of transitioning What You Give Will Grow out from the GNOF umbrella and into establishing his own 501(c)(3) foundation. Working with a group called 52 Businesses, which is helping others like Morstead to build their own foundations and businesses, he is assembling his own team and ultimately hopes to continue to grow and expand the foundation so that, down the road, it can become self-sustaining far beyond his years in the NFL.
Going forward, Morstead also hopes to use his foundation as a way to mentor and help other players who have a similar inclination toward community service.
“I want to get young guys to pick something they could give back to. Be a guest giver of the event and get them involved with the foundation.”
He believes that with direction and support, others can more easily follow the path toward giving back.
“I feel like it’s an obligation and responsibility to do that when you play in the NFL,” Morstead said.
“Whether you’re making the minimum or a high salary, everyone’s making a really nice living because of the people who come to the games and buy your jerseys, so you need to put that back in the community as best you can.”