The Unique Place For Both Baseball and Nonprofits In American Culture

I love baseball. It brings me back to childhood when I hustled hard for Mets tickets. In fact, the game’s impact on me goes beyond generations. Baseball allowed me to bond with both my grandfather and then later my twin sons when I coached their teams. One of my sons even went on to play college ball. 

During this time of year, when baseball and warm weather go hand-in-hand, I’ve been thinking more about America’s Pastime and its similarities to my role as COO/Acting CEO at St. Joseph the Worker, a nonprofit that connects low-income individuals who are disadvantaged and experiencing homeless to quality jobs.

The Team. Nonprofit organizations need not only true leaders, but also a strong supporting cast, or bench. The nonprofit game is rigorous and demands fresh thinkers at all levels. And leadership must transparently convey strategy without antagonizing the team and losing the locker room – or even management. After all, anyone can misunderstand the messaging and leaders at all levels must remain humble and ensure all players feel they are heard. It can’t all be about you. Like with baseball, nonprofit work should bring people together despite all the personalities and moving parts.  

Small Ball. In baseball, you have your teams who regularly swing for the fences almost every time a batter stands at the plate. However, other clubs play small ball when they methodically manufacture runs with singles, bunts, stolen bases and sacrifices to move runners to the next base. I’m a small ball type of guy. This means every decision, pitch, run and error impacts the game. Everything counts. This makes it truly a team sport and a thinking person’s game. I take a similar approach at St. Joseph the Worker. Success serving our clients is measured by more than home runs. Details count to win the long game. Not every interaction results in a new job. If clients leave our office feeling one iota better about themselves, that’s a win! It’s a marathon season, not a sprint. It’s not instant gratification. Sometimes, it’s just about singles and doubles, not only grand slams.

Moneyball. My professional roots are in finance and Wall Street. (I left that world for a few reasons and will share that story another time.) I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve watched the movie Moneyball, the 2011 sports film based on how the Oakland Athletics and their general manager Billy Beane attempted to assemble a winning team by taking a sophisticated, analytical approach to scouting and analyzing players. I once met the real Billy Beane in person, and my man crush on him was obvious. You shouldn’t analyze nonprofits only by the numbers. However, figures matter. And even if talk of metrics makes you roll your eyes,  statistics and credible information often matter to your stakeholders and those you would like to influence. You can’t always measure success with anecdotes and flowery language. You must show your audiences how you’re genuinely making a difference in people’s lives.  

Spring Training. This is one glaring way the nonprofit world is not like baseball. We in nonprofits don’t get the luxury of a preseason with tryouts, practices and exhibition games. There is no “Opening Day.” Every day is the regular season. It’s always competitive play. We must always stay in shape to persuade people to donate. The future is now.  

The Underdog. As a native New Yorker who cheers for the Mets, I understand as well as any sports fan the concept of feeling down and out and then somehow winning against all odds. The “Miracle Mets” of 1969 were 10 games out of first place in mid-August before winning the World Series that season. The 1986 Mets were down to their last strike and about to lose the World Series before somehow they didn’t. What organizations know about the underdog mentality more than nonprofits? Our mission by its very definition is against all odds. However, unbelievable leaders and difference makers can set the tone and complete the mission against those odds. It’s not a job for everyone. 

Both baseball and the concept of giving and helping others hold unique and important places in American culture. As in sports, we make a choice:  Will we only be spectators or will we also get involved and attempt to make a difference? I’m passionate about both baseball and uplifting the disadvantaged. And for those we help through teamwork and leadership, the reward is far greater than fame or a World Series ring.

In addition to his role as COO/Acting CEO at St. Joseph the Worker, Dean Scheinert is a member of the Phoenix Business and Workforce Development Board, and chairs the Governance Committee and sits on the  Investment Committee for the Arizona Public Safety Personnel Retirement System – the second largest public pension plan in Arizona. He holds an MBA from The Wharton School. 

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