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Author's profile photo Madelyn Andree

Design Thinking with the Sharks Foundation

How can organizations go beyond spending money in a financial capacity and create real impact?

A central question to nonprofit efforts, this is how Heather Hooper, Director of the Sharks Foundation (the charitable arm of the San Jose Sharks professional ice hockey team), opened a design thinking workshop with SAP North America’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) team at AppHaus Palo Alto. The partners wanted to, not only continue their five-year legacy of giving back to the Bay Area, but also to establish deep relationships with the community and local non-profits.

“The best collaborations often stem from leveraging each other’s strengths, aligning core values and seeing how together, you can make a stronger impact.” -Heather Hooper, Director of the Sharks Foundation

Following the establishment of their partnership in 2013, the Sharks Foundation and SAP North America’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) team needed to devise a funding plan. A design thinking workshop guided by SAP’s AppHaus Palo Alto helped employees of both organizations collaboratively generate over one hundred new investment ideas, one of which was actualized in 2014: a $750,000 sponsorship of the Pediatric Floor in the Women and Children’s Unit of the Santa Clara Valley Medical Center.


Photos via Katherine Kirsch.

Now, five years later, the partners gathered at the AppHaus, once again, to explore ideas for their next five-years, guided by design thinking coaches. While the mission of the Sharks Foundation is to enhance the lives of youth and families in the community, specifically in areas of education, health and safety, and character development, SAP’s CSR team focuses more on bridging the digital divide and building pathways for students to pursue careers in tech. Together, the companies are able to bring relevant tech education programs and opportunities to underserved youth in the Bay Area.

“Both within SAP and the Sharks Foundation we have passionate employees and team members, and a drive to improve people’s lives,” said Katie Morgan, Head of SAP CSR. “Sports teams are using technology more and more across their organizations. This partnership enables us to bring our teams and brands together to help improve the lives of those in the community. I think what’s unique about it is how collaborative and open the relationship is.”

Design thinking helped the partners think outside the box in this regard, and to search for new, overlapping opportunities, with the collaboration of their employees.

“To hear from individuals who aren’t in this field day in and day out always brings new perspective and ideas. Design Thinking helps us to take a step back instead of automatically jumping into the planning and execution elements,” Hooper went on. “We can think from a grassroots level and open our minds in a different way than what we do without design thinking.”

A new point of focus that emerged during the workshop was the desire to invest more in a few long-term efforts, in contrast to making one large, long-term investment (such as the previous donation to the Santa Clara Valley Medical Center) in tandem with many small projects.

“For me, the session pulled out a larger priority and desire to engage the fan base of the Sharks,” said Morgan.“Moving forward, I think we will have fewer, but larger, partnerships. We’re going to do some unique new things to engage the community.”

While the official funding plan hasn’t been revealed yet, one of the partners’ first initiatives to stem from the workshop has materialized. The Sharks Foundation and SAP CSR donated $150,000 to DonorsChoose, as part of their focus on educational initiatives throughout the month of March. Fans in attendance at the San Jose Sharks game were each given a $25 giving card to donate supplies or fund school projects of their choosing, which are listed on

Current ongoing initiatives funded by the partnership also demonstrate its value to the local community. Innovation on Ice, a design challenge series founded by the partners four years ago, brings San Jose Sharks themed STEM challenges and creative thinking exercises to guests at The Tech Museum of Innovation. The latest design activity, a Zamboni Design Challenge, ran March 1st-17th.

This year’s design thinking workshop at the AppHaus paved the way for another successful five years of community investment and impact from the Sharks Foundation and SAP CSR.

“Our employees are our lifeblood,” continued Morgan.“They are the ones who are doing great things within SAP and out in our local communities…By including our teams and employees at every step of the planning process they feel a sense of ownership, since they helped to build it. The more people who are invested in any partnership the better.”

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      Author's profile photo Sophia Marx
      Sophia Marx

      I was part of this unique Design Thinking workship with the Sharks Foundation. I found it very valuable and successful. I was proud to be a part of it!