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In the months following the 2020 WNBA season focused on social justice, Amalgamated Bank reached out to the WNBA Players Association with a clear message historically atypical for a women's league: We support your players, we salute them and we want to talk about working together on what they plan to do next.
"I'll tell you, that never happens for us," WNBPA executive director Terri Jackson told Yahoo Sports.
The WNBPA is announcing Monday a first-of-its-kind partnership that makes Amalgamated Bank the official Social Responsibility Partner of the WNBPA. It's believed to be the first such partnership in U.S. sports, and potentially worldwide as they work together on social justice reform, specifically racial and gender equity and voting rights. The deal was initiated by Amalgamated, not the WNBPA as has been customary in the past, and facilitated by OneTeam Partners, the WNBPA's sponsorship and licensing partner.
"[Amalgamated Bank] had been following. They had been paying attention. It was a breath of fresh air. It’s huge. This is huge for us," Jackson said.
WNBPA, Amalgamated to fund social justice causes
Known as "America's socially responsible bank," Amalgamated is a mission-driven institution that for 98 years has used deposited dollars toward businesses that address issues of social, racial, environmental and economic justice. The WNBPA is its first sports partnership.
"We don’t just have a mission that helps to create guardrails for our business. The mission is our business," Amalgamated president and CEO Priscilla Sims Brown told Yahoo Sports. "And so [it's great] when you can partner with an organization that lives the same way. This is an organization that has been established to support the women’s players."
The Amalgamated Foundation will fund the WNBPA's Social Impact Fund and directly support five organizations: the National Council of Negro Women, Black Voters Matter, The New Georgia Project, Sister Song, GLITS, and the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund.
"The Social Impact Fund is an opportunity for us to work together to drive donations [and] to drive attention to these organizations," Jackson said. "And I think putting them on kind of this big-stage platform, the bank’s platform, helps us amplify [them]."
Each organization will receive initial impact grants of $2,500, they said. The foundation has sole discretion over grants and Jackson said the WNBPA has the opportunity to make financial contributions in the future. She views the partnership as one that will gain traction and sustain for years.
Sue Bird, Natasha Cloud highlight organization causes on social
Potentially more important than the fund are the social media shoutouts the WNBPA is launching to advocate for the causes and organizations.
"There’s always a question that the players ask," Jackson said. "What’s our action? What is it that we’re going to do? How is it that this partnership can have some kind of impact?"
For the players, it meant getting involved themselves. Four-time Seattle Storm champion Sue Bird, Atlanta Dream All-Star Elizabeth Williams and Washington Mystics' champion point guard Natasha Cloud are part of a main video as well as individual videos about their personal connections to the causes. Each video is a specific touchpoint for fans to learn more about the organizations that matter to their favorite players.
It was the players' passions that really stuck out for Sims Brown, a longtime WNBA fan from Australia who joined the bank two months ago while the partnership was already in the works. The bank has been involved in social justice for a long time, and Sims Brown wants to see financial services companies and businesses join them in such endeavors.
WNBPA keeps setting new ground
The partnership is not only a first of its kind in type, it's a refreshing approach. Women's sports have rarely been the ones targeted by companies for partnerships in the past. Instead, league offices or players' agents have to bang down doors to chase marketing and partnership deals. There is value in these deals, but it takes investment first and few have been willing to do it.
That Amalgamated reached out is another example of the change in the ecosystem over the past 12-18 months. It's also in stark contrast to loud naysayers who believe players and leagues taking a stand for social justice causes will make fans leave the product en masse.
Women's sports, specifically the WNBA, have seen the opposite. And the younger generation, which is aging into the demographic of disposable income, wants to see action from businesses on values they say they support.
"The fact that [Amalgamated] recognized who the players are and again were just affirming their work meant a lot," Jackson said.
When Jackson was hired as the WNBPA executive director five years ago, she was asked where she saw the organization in five and 10 years.
"Did I think that we’d have a social responsibility partner? I don’t think so," Jackson said. "But did I believe that we would be building our business? Yes, I did. The fact that we have a social responsibility partner in Amalgamated Bank for all that they represent, that’s a bonus."
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