Interview transcript: Allison Engelken, Executive Director of Community Development at the Denver Broncos

Liz:  Today I’m joined by Executive Director of community development at the Denver Broncos, Allison Engelken.  Welcome to the show Alli.  How are you? 

Allison Engelken:  Good morning.

Liz:  Hi, how are you?

Allison Engelken:  Good.  How are you? 

Liz:  I am very well, thank you.  Before we start, I just want to say thanks for taking the time out to speak with me.  The aim of my podcast series is to help fans see the human side of players, the different roles in the NFL and especially to hear from amazing women like you who are making incredible things happen; so thank you.

Allison Engelken: Of course. I’m excited to chat with you. I’ll answer all your questions.

Liz:  Amazing.  Thank you.  So you play a huge part on improving lives in the Colorado Community.  Tell me more about the type of activities that you and the team get involved in.

Allison Engelken:  Absolutely.  So the Denver Broncos are committed to improving lives in the community and we do so by focusing on five key areas: Youth Development, Quality of Life, Health and Wellness, Youth Football and Civic Engagements and because we’re not a direct service organisation, we find it very important to align ourselves with best in brand nonprofits who are doing incredible work that we can help bolster what they’re doing as well as bring awareness to the work that we’re doing.

So within each of those Focus areas we identify those nonprofit Partners and we set goals each year together for what we would like that partnership to look like.  So, some organisations really need assistance on the awareness piece and the campaign of who they are and what they do. 

Some organisations serve a lot of really deserving kids that just need special events and activities to keep them engaged and energized around school athletics meeting their goals.  So every partnership looks different; which is what I love the most about our approach to working in the community because we’re not cookie cutter.  It’s not you get XYZ and we’re done.  It is how can we help you and how can we take this platform and this brand and really do good work and make a difference and have lasting impact on our fans as well as those who are growing up in our community.

Liz:  You’ve been with Broncos for a couple of years now; but prior to this you were also at the Washington Redskins

Allison Engelken: Correct.

Liz:  What was it that drew you to wanting to take on like a community-type role?

Allison Engelken: Yeah that’s a great question and one that I get asked a lot.  So when I was graduating – my undergraduate degree was in journalism and I really didn’t know what I wanted to do with that.  So I took two years to take a full-time position and really explore where my passion areas were.  I found that my passion areas lied in community relations and so I had this dream that I wanted to work for a nonprofit.  

So, I had an informational interview with a family friend who worked at a nonprofit and afterwards he said to me you’ve given me all these textbook answers but what do you love?  What do you love to do? 

I was like: I love kids and I love community service and I love sports.  That was just my personal passion:  Sports.  He looked at me and he said:  Why aren’t you pursuing that? That is an opportunity, a route that you could go. So from there, I went to graduate school studying specifically Sport Management and Business Administration but I always knew at the back of my mind that whatever I was doing, as long as it was impacting the community, it was a right role for me.   So if that was with the team, if that was with the league, if that was with a college; anything that would allow me to make connections between sports and the community was kind of my perfect formula.  

Liz:  So, you say that you’ve always had a desire to go into sports which is pretty exciting.  What’s it like to be a part of the Denver Broncos?

Allison Engelken: The Broncos is an incredible organisation and I have loved my time here because I feel so supported.  Being in a market in a state like Colorado where the Broncos are the only NFL team for hours.  For hours driving, we are the only NFL team and so we feel support from Wyoming to Idaho, all throughout Colorado, New Mexico; these amazing areas where we kind of call ourselves Bronco country.  

So it’s not just one little city, one little town.  It is this great fan base and so Pat Boland who we sadly lost earlier this year, our team owner; his goal was always to be number one in everything.  He took that seriously, on the field and off the field.  He was an incredible philanthropic man and he gave back so much to the community that now that is seen as a core pillar of our organisation.  That is that we give back and so we do that with our players, with your coaches, with our staff.  We have something every single week that is us giving back to the community that supports us so much.  So being in an environment like that, with a lot of flexibility and creativity and resources and funds, to be able to do those things is really invigorating each and every day.  The fact that we can make a difference and we can do so many unique things.  So, I think that’s what I love most about the organisation; that we are football first; we are a team.  So we are football first, absolutely; that is so important to us but we’re so much more than football, especially in this community that loves us so much.

Liz:  So, to me, I feel like you must have such a fulfilling role.  What does a typical day look like for you and what…. let’s just say, you and the team are working on right now?

Allison Engelken: There is no typical day in Community Development.  So I’ll kind of walk you through our year because I think that will help to paint a good picture of how we operate.  

So January through March is a lot of planning.  So that is our time to meet with partner organisations.  We recap the previous year and we talk about what’s coming up.  We set our goals, but we usually use that time to slow down for a second, pump the brakes, make sure that we have everything ready that we want to watch for the next season.  Then once the NFL schedule comes out in April; all of the players are back for off season workouts and activities.  

So when the players are in the building we plan a minimum of one voluntary community service project for the players every single week.  It is always at an off time where it will not interfere with any football related activities and it’s completely voluntary.  Our players do not have any requirements of hours, number of events, appearances or anything like that.  We have a big whiteboard that sits outside the locker room and they sign themselves up on the board if they’re interested in participating.  

So, in the off season, there are a lot of events; just appearances, events and getting the players connected to organisations that they may want to work for and just being a resource to the players.  I feel like that’s first and foremost what our job is.   So then once we get into summer; so in between training camp or minicamp and training camp the players are all off, the coaches are all off.  So we go into full planning mode for the season because once the players come back, then it’s like Full Speed Ahead.

So similar to offseason; when we are in season, we plan a minimum of one voluntary opportunity for players each and every week and then we also have staff opportunity, for staff to volunteer.  So I feel a lot of the core of what we do in our department and who I am as a professional; I am a networker and an event planner.  So it’s a lot of logistics and planning, making connections between different people who are interested in working together, or would like to continue our relationship, things like that. 

Liz:  What kind of impact does what you and the team get involved in, have on the community? 

Allison Engelken: I think it’s really important, and we’ve worked very hard; as our department is to provide ways for our fan base to engage with us in the community. So whether that is donating financially to a fundraiser of ours or volunteering alongside us at a Day of Service.  We always try to connect our fan base into what we’re doing because we’re serving the community.  So without their input and without the community to support back, it is really a one-sided relationship.  So, we see so much value in the things that we do but we don’t always publicise what we do.  We have events and appearances that have no media coverage at all because it’s just the right thing to do.  It’s just something that the players want to do, but they don’t want to do it, to be seen as someone who is doing it for that reason.  So we push our heads as much as we’re comfortable with; but the exposure and the coverage is by no means our driving factor in that.  I think that, that gives us a really good balance between sharing our story but also still doing things because at the core of who we are as an organisation, that is what we should be doing.

Liz:  Yeah, absolutely. I guess with any business, there’s obviously only so much budget of time or resources available. How do you as a team decide how much money to spend how much time is shared across these things?

Allison Engelken: Yeah, that’s a really great question.  We have a few different budgets that we work on throughout the year.  So we have a designated Community Development budget and that’s what we are working within our Department to allocate those resources.  So that’s for special events.  That is for player appearances; not paying the players but the organisations that they are working with and then we have our separate nonprofit, which is the Denver Broncos Charities.  So we actually fundraise and everything that we fund-raise, we are able to give back to the community.  

So we take a lot of pride in having multiple people and multiple says of where that money is spent.  So we vote as a board of where large-scale grants go.  We let the players vote on where they would like to see funds go.  So we want everyone to feel a part of that.  We don’t want to operate in a silo as our department.  We are just four people and so for us it’s important to have feedback from Community Partners, feedback from players, from other staff members; so that we are being good stewards with that; those donations and those resources.

Liz:  And the final question.  Of all the different projects that you’ve been involved in, past and present, which one would you say that you are most proud of and why?

Allison Engelken: It’s a hard question.  It’s almost like picking a favorite child.  So it’s really hard to choose one that is your favorite but I will say that no matter what, there’s always one moment at every single project that means the most to me.  So my favorite moment is that whenever a player connects with a Community member.   So whether that is a six-year-old who is staying the night at the Children’s Hospital or a high school student-athlete who made the honor roll; or someone who is donating blood at the community blood drive after a recent shooting or a natural disaster. When the player interacts with that person; that is the magic that keeps our department going.   That is the special moments where every….. We have had seven events in the last three days but when you stop and look at each of those moments at each of those events; it puts everything into perspective.  

For that 1 moment, that one day, that one hour; that person feels like they’re the center of the universe and that’s so important.  So when we talk about spreading kindness and lifting others up with us; to me that is the crucial part of that.   That’s the human interaction of:  I care about you.  I am here for you and I thank you for being a part of our community.  

Liz:  That’s amazing, especially in today’s world.  So it’s nice that these kind of movements help pick up the community.  Just share kindness like you said

Allison Engelken:  And I think what’s really special…….. So we have a community Jersey.  This is what we call them.  So the Broncos Jerseys, they don’t have the players’ names on the back.  So it’s truly just a Broncos Jersey.  So it doesn’t matter if you are the starting quarterback or you are number 10 on the practice squad.  When you put on a Broncos Jersey, you are elevated to this really unique platform that everyone is looking at you like a role model.  So I think we are very cognizant that we want our players to be seen as these great ambassadors in the community but it doesn’t matter what your name is, how much money you are donating or how much time you’re doing.  If you’re in the moment, in that exact moment and you’re wearing a jersey of ours, you are representing so much more than just yourself at that point too.

Liz:  This has been really lovely.  

Allison Engelken: Yeah, you can tell, I love talking about what we do because they are so special.  We are just the behind the scenes part of making all that happen but I am biased.  I believe that community relations is a really special part of any organisation and that’s teams or companies having an organisation that dedicate a department and resources and funds to making the community a better place. I think it should be talked about and celebrated more. I think it is just so special.

Liz:  I agree; it’s really special.  I think, like you said, any business should absolutely make that a priority.   

Allison Engelken: Right.

Liz:  Absolutely, well listen, obviously it has been lovely to chat with you. I think it’s absolutely incredible what you and the team do for the community.  So keep up the amazing work and thank you again for taking the time to speak to me.

Allison Engelken: Absolutely, it’s so nice to meet you and if you have any other questions or need anything or if you find yourself in Denver, please reach out.  We would love to host you and show you anything game day we are community-related.  We would be happy to show you some.

Liz:  Thank you so much.

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