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LiftUp Basketball: Part 1 - The Beginning

This is part 1 of a 3 part series. Read part 2 or part 3.

LiftUp Basketball—co-founding a non-profit to teach kids how to play basketball

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Our kids trying some street b-ball

Kids on the block

One night in June, I was having dinner with my mentor, Shahid Rahman of iSay, when he asked me few questions, “What can we do to help in your neighborhood? How can you give back?” He was always nudging me on the importance of building for our community. 

I remembered those kids hanging on the block. The ones that would come by and borrow my scooter. They’d roam around the building, chasing each other around wrought iron fences. After a while, they’d get bored of playing tag or chasing stray cats. They'd just hang in front of the building, with nothing to do. I had a hunch that basketball could be their outlet for boredom.

After dinner, I called up my best friend Amit and asked him to meet. I posited the idea of him as a basketball coach, and with me behind the scenes running things smoothly. We could have our own all-star team. 

He was ready: "I'm in. But we need a game plan. And whistles."

Passionate for basketball and community

Amit is a basketball geek, nerd, and enthusiast, all rolled up into one. I, on the other hand, was not much of a sports guy. However, I had previous experience volunteering and building community programs. I wanted to fuse our talents and create a stellar program for these kids. 

I really believed that shaping the story early on helped cement our non-profit's purpose. It gave us a script to stick to and a momentum to move forward. We set out a timeline to make the most of our kids summer vacation.

Writing the story

To distill down the basketball program to its essence, I wrote a word bank to get the creative juices flowing. Then, I scratched out some quick facts in bulleted form. I teased out core themes for our purpose, mission, and vision by free writing a few bullets and paragraphs. 

With this rough outline in hand, I wrote a 250-word description of LiftUp Basketball. This snippet was a top-down view of the program including what it’s all about, the audience, the activities, the mission, and vision of the program. Then, I start to cut down the statements into smaller chunks: a 100 word summary and a one liner.

Every stage of writing helped refine the focus of the basketball program step by step.

Word banks helped me get the creative juices flowing

Rapid fire bullets to try and understand what LiftUp Basketball could be as a program

I thought it was important to understand the underpinnings of our drivers, our mission, and our vision

This is a free write session to give form to the bullets

Editing the free write session into a top-down view of the program; a summary of LiftUp Basketball

Trimmed down description

One sentence summary

Amit would write a few ideas, I'd write a few ideas, and we'd mix and match our streams of consciousness. My master copy document was a living document, changing as we collaborated. As the language of the program began to take shape, I kept some style notes at the beginning of the document to introduce consistency. I hashed out other copy elements such as quirky biographies and one sentence captions for social media. 

Style notes helped to introduce consistency across the writing

Quirkiness gave our writing a personalized, grassroots vibe

One sentence phrases were useful when scheduling posts on social media

The core of our social media campaign used photos accompanied with captions that were written beforehand

The final result was a ownable story that was easily understood, explaining exactly what we were doing and why we were doing it. 

From a germ of an idea to a final story, our program was becoming real.

Developing the program

Before jumping on to the court, we wanted to put a name to what we were building. We brainstormed several options using a little vocabulary and plenty of Google-fu. It’s was also important to understand our competition so I listed out the URLs for our competitors.

Seed words

And more seed words

Plus our competitors

Led to name ideas!

Amit developed the focus of the program while I determined the initial equipment costs and funding sources. We also nailed down the timing for our sessions and starting purchasing essentials, bootstrapped with our own money and created a task list to keep us on track.

Initial cost estimates

Initial dates for the program

Quick task list in Google Docs

Draft of the program's basics

Branding LiftUp Basketball

Continuing the momentum, I fired up Illustrator and Photoshop to mock up a poster of the program.

After an hour or so, I was able to nail down the concept: a kid being “lifted” by basketballs shaped as balloons. We realized that the best name came from our poster designLiftUp Basketball. Nailed it!

With a few lines of copy, a tentative date, and my phone number, I quickly printed a few copies. When I showed the poster to Amit, he was pumped.

We were ready to train some kids! But first, we needed to recruit them.

Signing up young basketball players

Our recruits!

It was a challenge to sign up kids because we’d need to convince their parents who were concerned about the cost. Even though the $50 would include a basketball, a jersey, and snacks after every practice for 16 sessions, it was still too high to justify the cost.

With all of the students coming from families who earn near the poverty line, it was important for us to be sensitive.

So we cut our price in half. At $25, we hit the best price point because the parents were eager to sign up. We’d figure we’d bootstrap and crowd fund the rest of the money. We didn’t want to turn down any kid.

After two weeks of patient meetings and follow-ups, we had 13 sign-up forms all filled out! It was the perfect initial batch to start our program. The next 8 weeks would start our whirlwind of a summer.


Continue to part 2