Photos by Hillary Ehlen and J. Alan Paul Photography
Featured photo: Cole Davis and Zach Wentz
Carson Wentz is a real and tangible brand. The NDSU standout turned NFL quarterback turned North Dakota darling is now making his mark in the nonprofit world. Carson, his brother Zach Wentz and Cole Davis are all discovering the trials and tribulations of running a complex organization.
Football + Business
Started in 2017, the AO1 Foundation is aimed at “uplifting individuals and communities around the world by demonstrating God’s love for His people.” Since that founding, the foundation has done work in Haiti and is working on a Haiti Sports Complex, does outdoor experiences for youth and recently launched a food truck called Thy Kingdom Crumb that will distribute free food for those in need.
However, despite the challenges of running a nonprofit, Davis, the director of operations and a former backup quarterback at NDSU, and Zach Wentz, a former Bison pitcher, see a lot of similarities between the business world and sports.
“You have to stay disciplined in your craft,” said Davis. “What our coaches on our team always talked about was protecting your team. I know Zach can speak to that as well. We’re always going to be trying to perfect our craft in what we’re doing in the nonprofit industry.”
Working with Carson
Zach and his brother Carson have been working together since the launch of the foundation and despite all the horror stories of working with your family, things are going great between the two of them.
“Things have certainly changed for us in the last couple of years,” said Zach. “The foundation has continued to grow so every ounce of my effort has gone into the foundation. I’m kind of playing liaison there between Carson and the day to day things that are going on and thinking big picture and running ideas by him.”
Although it’s hard to imagine the schedule that Carson maintains, Zach still says Carson is involved in much of the operations.
“The one quality that I commend about Carson is that if he’s going to put his name on something, he’s going to be heavily involved,” said Zach. “On a macro, even on a micro scale, nothing really happens without Carson’s approval. If we do an event, Carson wants to be there. If we’re doing a fundraising campaign, Carson wants to know all about it, why we’re doing it and the timeframe for it.”
Business + Nonprofits
We could do an entire magazine listing the benefits on nonprofits and businesses working together. From positive PR to increased exposure to helping the bottomline, one of the best things that a partnership with AO1 Foundation offers is Carson’s brand recognition.
“I think anytime a business is associated with Carson or has that brand recognition, people view Carson as somebody of integrity and strong faith, high value and professionalism,” said Zach. “If you can associate yourself with Carson and those adjectives, people will view your business in that sense as well.”
However, what’s even more important than that brand recognition is the good the foundation is doing in the world. Zach and Davis are making a concerted effort on being able to show the work they are doing.
“The biggest thing we have going for us is we’re going to try and make an impact in all the communities, whether it’s in Philadelphia or back in North Dakota, we’re going to have tangible evidence of what we’re doing,” said Zach. “We’re literally just getting off the ground with the potential we have in the North Dakota area. We’re excited to show that progress what we’re going to be doing.”
Edelman, a global communications marketing firm, conducts a Trust Barometer every year. It showed that only 49 percent of the general population and 51 percent of the informed public (ages 25-64, college educated, in top 25 percent of household income and consumes a significant amount of media) trusted nonprofits. Part of this is the fact that, sometimes, nonprofits are set up to skirt tax rules. However, the AO1 Foundation is out to prove that the investments people and organizations are making in them are being put to good use.
“I would tell people that the beautiful thing about that is that all our financial information is going to be 100 percent public,” said Zach. “When we file our tax return, you’ll be able to see exactly how much money we brought in, where the money goes, how much goes to staffing. That’s the beautiful thing of what we’re doing. We’re not shy about where the money goes. We have nothing to hide.”
It’s often said that businesses feed off the founder’s story. Well, that is especially true with Carson.
“On a Carson side, people who know how charitable he is, how much his faith plays a large impact on how much he contributes to society, whether it’s through his givings or contributions to the foundation,” said Zach. “He’s not going to put his dollars he’s earned if he’s not going to believe in what we’re doing. I wouldn’t think of somebody of Carson’s integrity or professionalism, to me it just solidifies what we’re doing because he’s buying into the activities and programs as well.”
Thy Kingdom Crumb
The AO1 Foundation might soon be getting into the franchise business. Their recent food truck, Thy Kingdom Crumb, will be going around the Philadelphia area serving free food to showcase God’s love. Talk to launch this started awhile ago as the Wentz brothers were looking for their next outreach program.
“We were trying to think about what people liked and what is it going to take to get people to come out and feel appreciated,” said Zach. “Food is a universal language. Regardless of your background or what language you speak, good food can transcend all of that. … The end game isn’t for the people just to have food but to feel loved on and hopefully through it, build connections that are there so their spiritual lives can be enhanced through it as well.”
They are going to be testing this in the Philadelphia area and, if it goes well, hope to launch into other marketplaces.