Hall of Fame lesson in fundraising
Brennaman shot off at the mouth that if the Reds won 10 games in a row, he would shave off his long, silver locks of hair. When Cincinnati did just that, the Reds’ radio play-by-play announcer not only proved to be a man of his word, he also proved to be a brilliant fundraiser.
The pledge was turned into a public spectacle, but only, Brennaman said, if fans would pledge $20,000 for the Reds Community Fund, which pays for the improvement of inner-city baseball fields, encourages and teaches youth the sport, and also supports Miracle League fields, which are designed for handicapped players. Donations exceeded $50,000. So on August 3, after the Reds defeated the Pittsburgh Pirates, Brennaman, on his 70th birthday, got his head shaved on the field in front of a sellout crowd at Great American Ball Park.
The funds raised were doubled two days later when actor Charlie Sheen also donated $50,000 to the Reds Community Fund. Sheen and his father, Martin, who is a native of Dayton, Ohio, were in attendance at all three weekend games in Cincinnati to celebrate Martin’s 70th birthday.
Much has been written and studied about fundraising in sports, including the recently published Fundraising for Sport and Athletics, by Richard Leonard. Brennaman’s actions and ideas after his bet proved that he was thinking outside the traditional avenues of fundraising and resulted in $100,000 for the Reds Community Fund.
But he didn’t stop there. A simple gesture after his head was shaved proved to be fundraising and public relations gold for a local Cincinnati charity.
A friend of Brennaman’s is on the board of directors at The Dragonfly Foundation, which works with children suffering from cancer or blood diseases to make the recovery period for the patients and their families as comfortable as possible. The friend told Brennaman a young patient made the comment that after Friday night Brennaman would look just like her.
The comment touched Brennaman, and he agreed to wear a Dragonfly Foundation shirt on the field for the hair-cutting ceremony. The Hall of Famer delivered on his promise and then some. After having his dome shaved, Brennaman unbuttoned his Reds jersey to reveal an “I’m Still Me” Dragonfly Foundation T-shirt. Immediately, three young cancer patients ran up to Brennaman and gave him a huge hug. It was an inspirational moment for Dragonfly Foundation co-founders Ria Davidson and Christine Neitzke.
“Literally, he opened his arms and they ran to him. They just ran,” Davidson told the Cincinnati Enquirer. “It was a wonderful moment. You can’t put a dollar amount on what that did for us. As a PR person, you dream of these days for your clients. It was a Clark Kent moment. As much as he was beloved before, he became Superman to us.”
Brennaman then took the microphone and addressed the sellout crowd, explaining the meaning of the shirt, the presence of the children, and a bit of the organization’s purpose.
Immediately The Dragonfly Foundation experienced a huge growth on its website and Facebook page. Forty-eight hours later, the foundation’s Facebook page had received a 24% increase in “likes” (approximately 700). And people visited the group’s website, soliciting information about how they may donate to The Dragonfly Foundation or purchase one of the “I’m Still Me” shirts worn by Brennaman.
The boost comes at a perfect time for the two-year-old organization, which aspires to branch out to other children’s hospitals in the Midwest. In addition to the increase in visitors and donations, the co-founders have been busy the last three days doing regional and national interviews, all because of the words of a young girl and the actions of a Hall of Famer.
“All it takes is one moment,” Davidson told the Enquirer. “And this was our moment. This is why he was supposed to cut his hair. We are on the brink of doing major things just because the right people found out about us at the right time.”
Click below to watch video of the ceremony, including the touching moments when The Dragonfly Foundation youths ran to Brennaman.