(Ed Note: We love to spotlight organizations we think are Pretty Good. Good Sports is one of them! Good Sports gives kids the lifelong benefits of sport and physical activity by providing new equipment, apparel and footwear to those most in need. Meet the two women who founded this national nonprofit – CEO Melissa Harper and COO Christy Keswick – and learn more about how they are helping kids get in the game.)
PT: How did you came together to create Good Sports?
MH/CK: We met on our first day of work outside of college when we were assigned to share an office in Cambridge, MA. Long hours and a shared office led to becoming trusted advisors, fast friends and running partners. After we went off to continue our business careers, we remained friends and always knew we would come together again when the right opportunity arose.
The opportunity presented itself in 2002 when a friend was looking to unload extra sports equipment and we recognized there could be something bigger here. This idea brought together a small group of lifelong athletes who couldn’t accept the fact that not all kids were going to have the same opportunities. Over the course of the next 18 months, we met in living rooms and coffee shops and built the model around how Good Sports would work. Soon after, the two of us quit our jobs and worked full-time to build the organization. We were 28 years old at the time. The remaining group remained involved as our founding board.
PT: What is the mission and impact of Good Sports?
MH/CK: Good Sports gives all kids the lifelong benefits of sport and physical activity by providing new equipment, apparel and footwear to those most in need.
Since our launch in 2003, Good Sports has donated more than $17 million in equipment, apparel and footwear, impacting approximately 2,700 youth programs and over 3 million kids. In 2015 alone, Good Sports donated $4.3 million in new sports equipment to over 1 millions kids, enabling approximately 61 more minutes of play time per week for each child.
We served 24 different sports in 2015 so our reach definitely goes beyond the traditional sports. Overall, we’re trying to get kids active and exposed to things they’re not already exposed to. We’re trying to solve a problem and it’s not always a one-size fits all solution. We don’t care what kids are playing, just as long as they play and stay active.
PT: What is your business philosophy and how have you been successful in the male-dominated sports industry:
MH/CK: We have always had a tremendous amount of respect for each other professionally and our philosophies are aligned. We love strategy, building and solving problems. We believe building mutually beneficial relationships is critical to long-term success. You need to deliver what you say you can do, when you say you can do it. Tough and nice are not mutually exclusive, and respect and integrity are more important above all else.
We also believe in hustle. We came into this when we were both only 28-years-old with zero experience or connections in the sports industry. We had to hustle, pitch and deliver again and again for years to build a strong reputation. But we knew how to pitch and who we needed to pitch, so we always had our eye on the end goal. One of our favorite sayings is “move the needle”. If you aren’t working on something that is going to get us closer to where we want to go, then stop doing it.
PT: How do you overcome challenges in business?
MH/CK: Early on, it wasn’t easy. We were young and female in an industry and network where we stood out. While there were doors we walked into that were not welcoming, there were many that were. We took those opportunities and crushed them, and then we used those to build up the next one. We never used our youth or gender as an excuse not to continue.
And to be fair, we understood the hesitation. In those early days, we were walking in with an unproven business model and risk taking isn’t for everyone. We are forever grateful to those that did take that risk, and were determined to make the most of those opportunities.
PT: How do you balance the role of executive and working mother:
MH/CK: Balance is such a tough topic. It’s forever a work in progress. One thing we have learned is that balance doesn’t exist within every day or even every week. We are lucky to have a strong support system at work and at home which makes that balance more attainable. It can be challenging when we excel at work as this builds more demand and in turn creates more challenges at home. Balance comes from a constant evaluation of what we value.
We don’t believe in multitasking. When we are executives, we are executives. When are moms, we are moms. We are ruthless about prioritization. We choose to be a team at work, with ultimate trust and confidence, which allows us to support both Good Sports and our families.
During the last 12 years, we have five maternity leaves and two sabbaticals between us. And Good Sports has still thrived and grown from serving 2,200 kids in the first year to a 1 million kids in 2015.
PT: Do you have tips for other female entrepreneurs?
MH/CK: Stay the course but don’t expect everything to look logical. One of our favorite quotes is by Sheryl Sandberg in her book “Lean In” where she talks about careers looking more like jungle gyms than ladders. We think that is pretty fair to say too as an entrepreneur.
Show enough discipline to stay focused on the activities that will move the needle and don’t spend time on those that won’t, even if they are successful.
Melissa Harper is a founding member and CEO of Good Sports. As CEO, Ms. Harper spearheads Good Sports’ growth, organizational strategy and partnership development. Under her leadership, Good Sports has developed successful partnerships with the country’s top sporting goods manufacturers, corporate partners like Dr. Pepper Snapple Group, Dunkin’ Donuts and GEICO, as well as numerous professional sports franchises and athletes.
Christy Keswick is a founding member and Chief Operating Officer of Good Sports. Ms. Keswick is responsible for guiding organizational strategy, corporate partnership development and marketing, and has helped to grow Good Sports to a multi-million dollar nonprofit serving millions of kids across 50 states.
To learn more, visit http://www.GoodSports.org or check out his video: