Do kids in Uganda need to throw fast balls? Do teams in Moldova need catchers’ gear? Play Global! believes they do. Play Global! is a new nonprofit organization bringing baseball to youth in developing countries and conflict areas. It uses the baseball experience to teach teamwork, respect, and life skills.
The Play Global! Concept
As a former employee of Major League Baseball in Europe and as a scout for the Pittsburgh Pirates, founder Tom Gillespie has seen first-hand how baseball can impact the lives of kids who have never played it before. Working in communities in Eastern Europe and sub-Saharan Africa, he started to see the baseball diamond as a place where the inequalities that exist off the field don’t matter. While each neighborhood or ethnic group might already have allegiances for familiar sports like soccer, a new game like baseball can bring together participants with cultural, religious, gender, and socio-economic differences.
“I’ve seen the determination that new players have to hit the ball, and the joy in their eyes the first time the ball sticks in their glove,” Gillespie explains. “Even more rewarding is when teammates – who didn’t know each other 24 hours ago – start helping each other to understand the rules or improve their technique. The players are IN that moment. Language doesn’t matter, gender doesn’t matter. Baseball engenders respect and teamwork when it’s taught well, and we want to utilize that in a positive and productive way.”
The Nonprofit Business Model
Gillespie decided to carry on this work outside the MLB umbrella. Considering the lack of resources in host countries who could benefit the most from Tom’s concept, he realized the nonprofit model was the best fit for the mission.
Nonprofit organizations are unique because their revenue source is separate from their clientele. Play Global! appeals to individual donors and foundations to raise money, but relies on personal networks, referrals and the quality of programming in order to connect with host sites.
Living in Hamburg, one of northern Germany’s largest cities, Tom sought out his fellow American and longtime friend Julia McCarthy for her experience in nonprofit administration. Julia lives in Hannover, another northern German city. Together they began to create a business plan.
Tom and Julia wanted to base the organization in the USA, to make it easy to reach and work with a donor base familiar with baseball.
They incorporated Play Global! as a nonprofit organization based in Illinois but operating internationally. Over several months, they developed a business plan, applied for tax-exempt status with the IRS, recruited a Board of Directors, and refined the model for their programs.
They used the Business Plan process over several months to shape the concept into a reality. “It was like a snowball rolling down a hill,” Julia said. “We started with an interesting idea to take what we do well and bring it to those around the world who could really benefit. We picked a name, drafted our mission statement, and then incorporated in Illinois via the Internet.
“Then we realized that our plan needed to fit the interests of donors as well as the needs of our host countries, so we analyzed the market and developed marketing tactics for both. We also knew that a solid program model would speak for itself and appeal to all our audiences. Once we started planning, our idea picked up speed and grew into an organization.”
Recognizing the need for a strong board of directors, they recruited directors experienced in the US baseball coaching arena, international baseball, and nonprofit administration, plus an SCORE advisor for business startups.
“The board has been very involved from day one,” recalls Julia. “They have helped us to develop the organization’s structure so that we are ready to grow. They really keep us on track.”
Ready for Launch: “Opening Day”
While working on the Plan, Julia developed communication plans and website content, filed for tax-exempt status with the IRS, arranged the donation and banking process, and set up accounting. Tom provided content, coordinated logo design, designed the coaching/clinic methodology, and reached out to host countries regarding pilot programs. Meanwhile one of the Board members found the first major donor opportunity!
By March 2013, Play Global! was ready to launch. Emails, Facebook, and LinkedIn messages hit cyberspace beginning March 7, and the new nonprofit was on its way!
While Play Global! is off to a strong start, challenges lie ahead. In order to solicit grants and make donations tax-deductible, the organization’s application for tax-exempt status must be approved by the IRS. That process can take several months.
While Gillespie and McCarthy recognize that evaluating outcomes is crucial to program success, lessons about teamwork, respect, and conflict-resolution are difficult to quantify. Along with board members, they are working to develop tools to evaluate not only how many people participate in baseball camps and clinics, but whether the experience has helped them learn skills for success in adulthood.
Support Play Global!
Learn more about Play Global! by visiting www.play-global.org and following them on LinkedIn and Facebook. Get involved by donating to their work in any amount. Your donation can help that kid in Uganda learn to throw a better fast ball, and then teach his teammates to do the same.