Hold Your Horses — Rodeo Philanthropy in Texas

Barrel racing cowgirl in the 1930's.

Barrel racing cowgirl in the 1930’s.

I was at a benefit tonight for the fantastic SCENARIOS USA which uses writing and filmmaking to foster youth advocacy and self-expression in students from marginalized communities across the country.  After an evening of great films and inspiring speakers, I chatted with the gentleman next to me who mentioned he is heading down to the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. I love a good rodeo and confessed my backup career plan to make it big as a barrel racing rodeo cowgirl.

I almost fell of my chair when he said, “Well you could always do both and get involved in rodeo charity. Did you know that since its inception in 1932 the Houston Rodeo has given over $330 million to youth programs and education?”

Um, what?! Though I’m sure the annual giving has probably fluctuated significantly over the decades, that’s a solid average of $4 million a year for 81 years. That’s nothing to shake a stick at. Or a lasso at. Or whatever they shake at a rodeo. You know what I mean.

I’ve been to a few rodeos in my day and I knew they did some local charity here and there, but I had no idea that the massive Houston Rodeo had such a significant philanthropic program.  The whole rodeo is evidently a nonprofit, and according to Guidestar they have a nonprofit Inc. for the rodeo itself and both an educational fund and an endowment foundation. According to the rodeo’s website their 2013 educational giving commitments stand at just over $24.5 million dollars.

I’d like to do a little more research to make sure such a big, complex organization isn’t “all hat and no cattle” as the cowboys say. In other words, with over 2 million attendees every year I’d like to understand what their revenues are against operating and administrative costs and what their overall business model looks like.  Because the Houston rodeo only supports programs and students in Texas,  I’m also curious about how many other rodeos in North America are nonprofits or have significant corporate social responsibility programs.

Now in addition to brushing up on my barrel racing, I have a whole new reason to go check out the rodeo.

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