That’s When It StartedApr 12, 2023
It’s officially baseball season, so I wanted to pull out one of my all-time favorite baseball stories. Many years ago, when my youngest son Dalton’s baseball team had just played their final game of the season, we were looking for a way to celebrate their hard work all summer. In my normal go-big-or-go-home fashion, I had this wild idea that we should take the whole team and their families to an Indianapolis Indian’s game. You’ve probably been to a Minor League Baseball game before—it's good, old-fashioned family fun. But I didn’t just want them to go to see a Minor League game, although I knew they’d love it. My hope was that they would get to experience some things most of this team had never experienced in their short ten years on earth.
You see, in Grant County, Indiana, where I live, 1 out of every 3 children lives in poverty. So, I knew that some of the team had literally never been outside of our county before. Not only had they not been to a Minor League game, but most had also never even seen the skyline of a city like Indianapolis. Not surprisingly, they hadn’t done these kinds of things because there just wasn’t discretionary money for extravagant activities like this, which would be costly for an entire family. But they were awesome kids, and I was on a mission to figure out how to give them, and their families, a night of firsts—one they would never forget. That’s when it started.
So, I spoke this dream aloud. And my friends at Lightrider Ministries were on board from the beginning. You may have seen their double-decker bus around Grant County, on the highways of Indiana, or somewhere else across the good ole USA before. It’s huge and sleeps up to 30 people for long trips. Although it wasn’t their normal long-term trip, they could easily transport many more than 30 people on a quick back-and-forth trip to Indy. They were amazing and offered me a great rate for these kids to have a night that would go down in the history books.
Next up, I had to call the Indian’s office and was able to get a group rate for the tickets, as long as we sat on the lawn in the outfield. Then, Subway offered us a great deal on a few six-foot long subs with all the fixin’s, to fill their pre-teen bellies. You may have guessed by now, but my husband is no stranger to me taking on such projects, plus he’s a sucker for giving kids positive, life experiences, so he agreed to pack up some coolers with gatorade and pop. The plan was coming together. Now I just had to figure out how to pay for this whole shindig. I’ve always believed that money follows vision. And this entire trip was about planting seeds of vision within the hearts and minds of these kids; seeds that would help them to dream bigger than they’d ever imagined. My prayer was that this night would be a Nat King Cole level of unforgettable—one that they would remember for the rest of their lives. That’s when it started.
My phone was ringing non-stop. I must have made 50 or more calls to my network of generous angels. They say it takes a village and I’m thankful that I have an awesome tribe of people who were willing to donate $25 here and $50 there to make this dream a reality. Next thing I knew, this mammoth double-decker bus was parked in a local parking lot and filling up fast! Cars started pulling in and the kids were wildly excited about the adventure and the fact that they could ride upstairs…on a bus. Packed in like sardines, we were heading south on I-69 giddily excited about all the surprises that awaited. That’s when it started.
It wasn’t really rain, more like a torrential downpour. I couldn’t believe it. Bus loaded, tickets purchased, food and drinks on ice…and no sun in sight. Like the sky, I also wanted to cry. But, the forecast said it was supposed to clear up in Indy, so we kept driving…well, driving and praying. By the time we arrived in Indianapolis, the rain has stopped enough for the kids to see the outline of the downtown skyscrapers from the distance. Try to remember when you saw your first cityscape. They were awestruck, too. When we arrived at the Indian’s field of dreams, the rain had cooled the hot sun and made the outfield look emerald green like a Norman Rockwell painting—I was speechless. That’s when it started.
The rain delay was announced as soon as we walked into the stadium. But a few storm cells weren’t going to ruin our fun. We set up camp in the outfield like a colony of ants building a mound. The adults prepped the food and the kids immediately ran to grab the outfield fence to take their first look at the biggest baseball field they had ever seen. They attentively watched the strategic process of the tarps being unfurled by a troop of volunteers. It really is impressive, more like an art than a science. The rain began again, but it gave the families time to explore the ballpark, under the dry bleachers between first and third…something we hadn’t had time to do earlier because of our own rain delay. That’s when it started.
The sky began to clear. The sun came out and the troop of volunteers reappeared to undo the work they had just done. From the loud speaker, the announcer let us know that the field would be ready for play in about 30 minutes. If you’ve ever had kids, you know that 30 minutes can feel like an eternity! What would I do with a dozen, eager boys for another 30-minutes? It was then I remembered a recent Marion-Grant County Chamber of Commerce event where an Indian’s announcer, Howard Kellman, from ESPN, had said from the mic, “Drop by anytime you’re at the ballpark”. I’m quite sure he was just being nice, but I was about to take him up on his offer--with 12 eager baseball players in tow. That 30-minute rain delay featured every kid live on ESPN radio, along with a tremendous view of the ballpark from the announcer’s box—I couldn’t have planned it any better. That’s when it started.
Hearing the sound of the bat hit the ball after the first pitch was magical. The late start made it even better as we got to enjoy the bright lights of the big city like stars within our reach. They lined up by the fence again. This time with their gloves on, in hopes of catching a fly ball. They experienced a real 7th Inning Stretch. They sang Take Me Out to the Ballgame. They admired the big boys playing America’s game. They experienced pure joy. Fun was had by all, but it was coming to an end—it was time to go back home. That’s when it started.
Our trek back to the bus was slower then the trip in. It was so late when the game ended…all that rain, and the delays, led to a late night finish. The grown-ups tiredly tredged back to the double-decker bus as the kids ran and jumped back on the second floor. Once everyone was accounted for, the doors slammed, but the bus didn’t start. The battery was dead. Seriously. I couldn’t believe it. A special mechanic had to be called to jump-start a bus that big…so we waited. And, waited. That’s when it started.
It was 12:30 p.m. before we heard the roar of the bus engine. I was exhausted. But, the kids cheered! One was excited that he finally got to stay up past midnight for the first time ever. A few others happily started pulling out the upper deck beds…they’d never slept on a bus before. They all loved to see how bright the downtown lights of Indianapolis looked in the pitch dark night. The lower deck was quiet on the ride home. The upper deck was living their best life. We got home around 2:00 a.m. Tired hugs were exchanged and thank-yous were yawned. That’s when it started.
My mind began racing. I wondered if my goals for the night had been achieved. It was then that I realized that I had learned two very important life lessons that very night:
First, none of this would have been possible without the collaboration of many donors, friends, and family members who wanted to give the gift of a beautiful life experience to a scrappy, Little League team from Grant County, Indiana. I can honestly say that the best things I’ve ever done in life have been with the help, generosity, and expertise of others.
Second, my biggest hope was that these kids would have a night they’d never forget. Torrential downpours, a rain delay, and a bus that wouldn’t start obvioulsy wasn’t the night I had planned. But, the double-decker bus, a tour of a fantastic minor league ballpark, a debut on ESPN radio, staying up past midnight, and watching the city lights get smaller and smaller from the bed of a double-decker bus truly made the night unforgettable. That’s when it started.
This is where your Left Brain Marketing Methods and Right Brain Marketing Madness come in.
Your Left Brain tells you to make a plan. Use your resources, outline the goals, and map it all out. That’s important. In order for nonprofit professionals to maintain their cool and stop the marketing madness, the plan helps. This evening that I planned the ballpark required meticulous plans. Yet, as Burns and Steinbeck are oft quoted, ‘the best laid plans of mice and men often go astray”. Also, practice what you preach. If you believe people should be generous, then you should also participate in generosity.
I clearly learned that night that things sometimes work out differently than my plan. As adults, we don’t always appreciate this. My plans for that night were good, but their memories were made because of the things I hadn’t planned—it was even better. Sometimes you have to be nimble and change your plans. And sometimes the plan changes you. You win either way.
Your Right Brain tells you that you need to get creative and think outside the box—after all, variety is the spice of life. That’s also important. This means that you need to remember that your donors are real people, too. Baseball season just began for them, too. They’re experiencing spring and the daffodils popping up just like you are. In the next two months, they’ll enjoy someone’s graduation. They get the concept that big things often take big collaborations like donations of $25 here and $50 there just like you do. Real people have real lives and enjoy real things like baseball, spring, and graduations. Remove the boring from your donor communications and meet them where they are. Help them relate to you. Show them that you’re not just a nonprofit for the wealthy, but you’re a nonprofit for the generous. Stories that you can tell, stories that resonate with them, and stories that show them who you are and how you make a difference always help.
It’s when you start combining your Left Brain plans with your Right Brain creativity that you’ll realize you shouldn't separate them from each other any longer. It’s not either/or, it’s both/and. Combine the two together more often and you’ll start to see results. And when your Board asks you when the metrics started rising, you can easily look back and say, “That’s when it started.” At least that’s what I learned that night at the ballpark.
All My Best,
dawn brown creative, llc.
P.S. Fundraising is hard, even though you make it look
oh-so easy! ♥
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