Tailgating for the Greater Good
A table, some food, maybe some beer, a card game.
That’s how Dan Cohen, whose day job is Wall Street bond trader for RBC Capital Markets, recalls how he and his friends started getting together before NFL games. A typical tailgate affair, similar to those on any given Sunday.
Today, those parties have grown into not just a tailgate, but The Tailgate— it’s even in the name of the charitable organization that has grown out of those first gatherings. The pre-game parties now attract 1,000 people. There’s entertainment, sushi, tacos, prime rib, wings, and all the drink options a tailgater could want — and upward of $250,000 raised for charity every year.
Creating a Playbook
The mega-parties started organically.
One guy built a bar on wheels. A chef began cooking up the meals. They got an RV. One hundred people would come. An uncle passed away from brain cancer, and they raised a small amount of money at their tailgate that year to donate to the widow.
That’s when the friends realized they had the platform and the talent to do much more. “We all have everyday jobs and busy lives, but we want to give back,” Cohen says.
So the friends organized themselves as a nonprofit corporation called the Section 16H Group — a nod to where their parking lot tailgates originally began. In 2007, they asked attendees for a suggested donation, hired an event planner, and secured sponsorships. They called the event The Tailgate with a Cause. Donations come from individuals and corporations, both before and during the party.
Causes Close to Home
While football and food attract attendees to the events, what really keeps them engaged is the charitable aspect.
The Section 16H Group picks recipients based on relationships they have, favoring organizations that are impacting the lives of people they know.
“Nothing against larger charities, but we want the proceeds to touch somebody directly,” Cohen notes.
There’s always a primary beneficiary, but they also write smaller checks to several additional charities.
One year, they donated to Little Miracles, a preschool for children with autism and autism spectrum disorders that focuses on both social and academic skills. It was chosen because one of the chefs had a son who attended. Another year, it was Custodes Libertatis Memorial Foundation, which Cohen had learned about through a friend. It funds post-secondary education for the children of fallen United States Naval Academy graduates. Most recently, they fundraised for the family of a 12-year-old boy diagnosed with bone cancer.
Just like the game that happens afterward, the tailgate parties are truly a team effort. The 13 organizers include everyone from hospitality execs and bond traders to chiropractors and sales managers.
“Generally, anybody who comes to our event never wants to miss it,” Cohen shares. “We really do have some of the best party planning. We’ve got guys [who work in nightlife] who do this for a living and know how to bring the energy.”
The tailgates may have expanded in size and number over the years, but at the core of it all are the friendships the members share with each other — many of them have known each other since childhood — and their shared love of the game of football.
What started as catching up over lamb chops and beer has turned into something even greater — something with an impact that lasts long past when the hot dog stand rolls away.
“Football is America’s passion,” Cohen states, “and there’s no better event to bring people together.”
Find The Tailgate with a Cause upcoming events here.
Inspired to throw a tailgate party of your own? Check out these five winning football party game ideas for potential activities.
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