Dancing (and dialing) for our Dinner

February 25, 2017 By Tom

The past month has been a brutal pace for me and the entire Nine13 team. If you’ve followed us on social media, we were fortunate to be part of a grant contest that had two rounds to it: a public vote for the final 10 to be narrowed down to 5, and an employee vote that engaged their staff and let them decide who got what grant amount.

First place: $125,000

Fifth place: $25,000

Everything else, somewhere in the middle.

We’re a small and scrappy nonprofit, it’s our brand, it’s my motto. To me, this time, this year, this grant, it was personal. $125,000 will get 10,000 more Kids Riding Bikes. It will allow us to grow programs and serve the backlog of 250+ schools in Central Indiana. It will provide additional stability for the success and future of our operations.

We worked with mayors and mascots for the public vote to help spread the word and over the course of the last week, either visited or called hundreds of stores as part of their retail operations.

It’s been a challenge, in addition to getting 1,200 kids on bikes in Central Indiana this week, my Communications Director was dialing 250 stores in dozens of states. I spent my Thursday and Friday on the road to talk with stores in Ohio and Kentucky. The rubber-band that keeps us together as an organization was stretched near its breaking point. Tempers have been short. Days have been long. The alarm has gone off way too early time and time again as I lay there trying to get what little sleep I could in the midst of the stress and strategy and focus. 

one of the 15 stores I personally visited.

But, it has also been one of the most rewarding things I have done recently. Being out in the field, talking with their staff and being able to genuinely thank the managers and retail operations team that helps make their support possible created dozens of conversations that reinforced why I do what I do. Being able to put a face to our brand and share with them the impact they have is something that I hope will ultimately help their internal team continue to reinforce the message on why their corporate philanthropy is important.

Simultaneously, I’m cooked. This has been a commitment above and beyond. We were motivated, and while I never mind dancing/dialing/begging for my dinner (my description of what I actually do when it comes to fundraising and being CEO of a nonprofit)….damn, this was hard.

As I was spending the final hours of my Friday night calling stores on the west coast with my communications director, I had a bit of an epiphany.

This effort is what sets us apart from the rest. This is what makes Nine13 special. We’re relentless, we don’t take no for an answer, we have spent 5 years fighting to get where we are today and I’ll consider us a failure if we ever stop being the scrappy, non-traditional, aggressively positioned nonprofit. We could have been passive and hoped name brand would carry us. We could have shrugged our shoulders and said “it’s all about luck now.”

Instead, we kicked ass. I won’t find out till April 11 on where we finished. We’re privileged for any amount we receive, yet we made a case on why we should have a fighting chance at the top.

Business shouldn’t sound this personal, right? Most CEO’s don’t get so involved in a project like this.

This is personal to me. This is my life. This is my passion. This is my vision. There is no separation between work and personal for me. This is where I have spent the last 6 years of my life. This is the only head-space I know. We’ve had a hell of a lot more losses than victories. I’ve failed more times than I’ve succeeded. But the victories, the wins, those special moments where everything comes together even when I was told time and time again that this would never work—those victories are just so sweet.

All I know is that when I climbed into bed at 1AM this morning I knew we had given it everything we had and we left it all on the field. If we lose, we simply lost.

And if we win? Hell Yes. Because it means more Kids Riding Bikes.