A Historic Boston Brand Stands Up to Help Greater Boston

The story behind the Nike Foundation’s $500,000 gift to the Boston Foundation’s COVID-19 Response Fund

April 2, 2020

On March 18, the Nike Foundation donated $500,000 to the Boston Foundation’s COVID-19 Response Fund, just days after the fund was established, to support Greater Boston’s nonprofits helping those most vulnerable to the impact of the virus.

It was, and remains, the largest single donation to the fund. The story behind this generous gift reaches into the history of another athletic wear giant, Converse which was purchased by Nike in 2003 on Converse’s 95th anniversary. It also shares some interesting parallels with the Boston Foundation’s own history.

Converse was launched in 1908 in Malden, Massachusetts by Marquis Mills Converse. It was known as the 'Converse Rubber Shoe Company' and specialized in galoshes. Soon after opening its doors, however, the company started to use their rubber to manufacture “non-skid” sneakers.

Converse logo

By 1910, Converse was well into daily production, but it wasn't until 1915 that the athletic shoes we've come to know and love were in production.

The Boston Foundation was founded that same year as one of the first community foundations in the country. In 1917, the same year that Converse started producing their iconic “Converse All Star” shoe, the Boston Foundation received a $4 million bequest from a Boston businessman named James Longley. That generous gift gave the Foundation the resources it needed to respond to the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic by funding the hospitals and social service agencies that were on the front lines.

Although the Converse All Star was in production in 1917, it didn't get its iconic name until 1921, when basketball player Charles 'Chuck' Taylor was offered a job as salesman and ambassador for the brand.

It was in 1932, when the Boston Foundation was helping the city cope with the Great Depression, that Converse printed Taylor's name on the ankle patch of the shoe. The Chuck Taylor shoe took over the footwear industry. Eventually, it became the official shoe of the Olympics and the footwear of choice for athletes. The style was so popular that the company stuck with the design, and never looked back.

Fast forward to 2020 and the Nike Foundation’s decision to commit more than $15 million to COVID-19 response efforts. The Nike Foundation decided to focus much of its support on the places where its employees work and live, including a major gift to a Boston charity in recognition of Converse’s local roots and its current headquarters in Boston. Staff at the Nike Foundation consulted with Converse’s Director of Social and Community Impact, Judy Dunbar, to identify a promising giving opportunity in Boston, and she recommended a contribution to the new COVID-19 Response Fund at the Boston Foundation.

“I was confident about recommending the Boston Foundation’s Fund to my colleagues at the Nike Foundation because I know the Boston Foundation has its finger on the pulse of the nonprofit community in Greater Boston and could be trusted to disburse its funds to the most deserving and effective organizations.”

You can learn more about our COVID-19 Response fund here.