Monday, April 19, 2010

The battle for your wrestling dollar.

“Brother, can you spare a dime?” That iconic song from the Great Depression might just be the theme for American wrestling in the 21st century.

I’ve earned my living in the direct marketing business for about 30 years. For the last 20 I’ve owned my own consulting business. I’ve helped companies sell you magazines, pizza, jewelry and cell phones. I’ve also gotten you to donate to several worthwhile non-profit organizations.

Fund raising is a tough business. You have to battle for every dollar and – frankly - most wrestling organizations are pretty wimpy at it. Over the years I’ve contributed to individual Olympic wrestlers, national organizations and schools trying to save their programs. The associations I’ve built through this blog have also put me on a number of wrestling-related solicitation lists. Folks – you’ve got to work harder – get tougher.

Rule one is “keep asking”. It’s a fact that the top 15 – 20% of your past donors will donate 80% of the money to a new or follow-up campaign. Roughly 15% will come from the rest of the past donors and 5% or less will come from new donors. BUT – those past donors won’t give anything IF YOU DON’T ASK. Of the organizations that I’ve supported, only Cal State Fullerton and Save Oregon Wrestling have ever asked me directly for a second donation. Come on – ask me again. I know from years of research that if you get a second donation from me, I am twice as likely to donate a third time.

Speak directly to me, tell me a good story and then “make the ask”. People don’t give to causes or organizations. One person gives to another person. Last week I received an attempt to get me to attend a fund raiser for a local wrestling club. I cringed. There was no letter – just a reservation form. They gave me no reason to attend. It was a lot like going to the middle of the mat, getting into your stance and then hoping that your opponent falls to his back.

Use all of your weapons. How successful are wrestlers who can only execute an outside single to get a takedown? Take a guess why charities continue to tick you off by calling you at home. BECAUSE IT WORKS! Telephone calls have a higher return on investment than any other fund raising method. In general, wrestling relies far too much on the internet to raise money. Yes – it’s cheap and should be a part of your arsenal – but don’t use it exclusively.

What does the Republican National Committee have in common with the Democratic National Committee? The NRA with the World Wildlife Fund? And those four with US Olympic Committee? All use direct mail as a primary fund raising medium. Get your story down on paper and tell it to me just as if we’re sitting across from each other having coffee. Motivate me to give.

Be proactive. Yes - emergency needs will draw your best response, but, you must have a regular plan that meets your needs. Don’t wait until the elimination announcement comes before you try to raise the money to save the program. If you’re a coach, wrestler, alumnus or fan of a particular college team – just assume that your team is on the chopping block and start raising the money now. Start a campaign to endow a scholarship or the head coach’s salary. Buy the team a van or new mats. Show the administration that important people (donors) care about wrestling and you’ll reduce your chances of being dropped.

It isn’t all bad. Beat the Streets has come up with two disparate, but powerful, concepts to market their annual fund raising gala. First, they are holding it on the aircraft carrier USS Intrepid and honoring wrestlers who have served our country. Then they are holding the “Battle on the Intrepid” – a series of “undercard” matches featuring young Beat the Streets athletes and some of America’s top freestyle and Greco Roman wrestlers – followed by the “Main Event”.

Take a guess – what two athletes would most American fans want to see face each other? Bingo! Brent Metcalf and Darrion Caldwell will do battle as the highlight of the evening. It’s a stroke of genius by the organizers and a credit to these two young men that they are willing to participate. Here’s a link to make your reservation. If you can’t be there you can still make a donation at the site.

Monday, April 5, 2010

What is a legend?

“When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”

That line comes near the end of one of John Ford’s best westerns, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. It is spoken by a newspaper editor after an interview with Jimmy Stewart’s character, Senator Ransom Stoddard. Stoddard has built a long, successful political career based on the “fact” that he killed the evil Liberty Valance in a gunfight. He has come home with his wife to bury the, now, unknown derelict Tom Doniphan (John Wayne). Stoddard reveals in the interview that it was Doniphan – not himself – who shot and killed Valance. An unnamed western territory became a state and thousands of new settlers arrived in part because of the accomplishments of “the man who shot Liberty Valance”.

The terms “wrestling legend” and “coaching legend” have been thrown around on the internet a lot lately – sometimes disparagingly. Occasionally, when we meet or observe “legends”, they disappoint us. It isn’t fair, really, to hold someone to a higher behavior standard than everyone else we encounter in life, simply because at one time they could beat the tar out of almost everyone on the wrestling mat.

For reasons beyond my comprehension, writing this blog has allowed me to meet “wrestling legends” – and some who, perhaps, ought to be legendary.

As a longtime Hawkeye fan, there’s a part of me that is supposed to be hard wired to root against anyone named Smith who wrestled at Oklahoma State. However, I’m not sure that I would still be writing this if it weren’t for Lee Roy Smith. From the very early days, Lee Roy has encouraged me. He has contributed to the blog and promoted it to others. Many fans know Lee Roy as an NCAA champion, World Silver Medallist, head coach at Arizona State University and participant in one of the most famous – and controversial – matches in American wrestling history. It’s his accomplishments as the executive director of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame and Museum that, maybe, go unrecognized. During his tenure, the Hall of Fame has educated the public about the contributions wrestling and wrestlers have made to the defense of our freedom, the expansion of our ethnic diversity and the very growth of our nation. When I finally got to shake Lee Roy’s hand, he was as gracious in person as he has been in our internet correspondence.

When I met Lee Roy at the NWCA National Duals he was accompanied by Richard Small – a name that is legendary at Cornell College – but almost unknown to far too many in the wrestling community. Richard was a Midwest Classic Conference champion and a member of Cornell’s 1947 NCAA and AAU championship team. After graduation in 1950 he went on to be highly successful in the oil business. If the phrase “giving back” ever needed an illustration, Richard’s picture would be there. He has become Cornell’s most generous benefactor and supports wrestling both financially and as a member of the Board of Governors at the Hall of Fame. Upon introduction, he chose to thank ME for my tiny contributions to the sport. Richard, I’m not worthy.

Lloyd Corwin is an unassuming gentleman with an easy laugh. When you meet him it’s hard to imagine that in the 1950’s he was one of America’s toughest wrestlers. Competing at 147 pounds for Cornell College in the “pre-divisional” era, he was a two-time All-American, finishing second and third. Lloyd only lost three matches in his college career and in 1955 he defeated future Olympic champion Doug Blubaugh in the NCAA quarterfinals.

I met Lloyd recently when we were both selected to be marshals at the 2010 NCAA Division III Wrestling Championships. We struck up one of the most enjoyable conversations I’ve ever had with a member of the wrestling community. He never once talked about himself, preferring instead to discuss Coe College’s Clayton Rush. Lloyd lives less than 15 miles from Clayton’s hometown and has been following his career since high school. Of all of the marshals, I think it was Lloyd who most genuinely enjoyed congratulating the young men as he handed them their All-American trophies. Lloyd probably doesn’t qualify as a “legend” in the minds of most fans, but he’s certainly among the top of my list of wrestling family members I’ve been lucky enough to meet.

I’ve never actually met Ben Peterson. A two-time NCAA champion at Iowa State and an Olympic gold medallist in 1972 (and silver medallist in 1976), Ben is truly a wrestling legend. In March, 2008 I was riding down the escalator at the US Cellular Center in Cedar Rapids after the finals of that year’s Division III Championships. A crowd of teenagers surrounded a tall, bespectacled man who was talking to them. As I got to the bottom I thought, “Holy crap, that’s Ben Peterson.” As more people recognized him the crowd started to grow. He was letting the youngsters pass his gold medal among themselves while he was speaking. The message was simple, “Listen to your parents, listen to your teachers, listen to your coaches and work hard and you too can win one of those.” The kids were mesmerized.

Then there’s Dan Gable. I’ve watched Gable on, next to and off the mat for 40 years. I’ve seen the dominating athlete and the fiery coach who occasionally had to be restrained by an assistant. I’ve watched him sign autographs for everyone from little kids to Russian wrestlers. The two times that I’ve had the chance to talk to him he has been warm and engaging. In February we both spoke at an event honoring Barron Bremner. At one point Dan said, “I have a vision for wrestling that most people don’t understand – that’s way up there. We’ve got to build this sport.” It was the look in his eyes as he said it that grabbed me. It grabbed others as well.

When the legend and fact collide – and they’re identical – there’s no need to worry about which to print.