It’s Christmas Eve. Here in North Texas, it’s 52 degrees Fahrenheit but feels like 47, which is cold by our regional standards. I’ve spent the morning wrapping up some minor work for clients, doing some digital organizing, and working a couple crossword puzzles (with my family’s help).
Outside, the world carries on mostly as it would in any other year. I still hear planes flying over as they approach DFW airport for landing. Folks are out and about, getting some exercise in or doing last-minute shopping. We’re fortunate that Texas doesn’t have strict lockdowns, which preserves quite a bit of normalcy.
Even though I don’t show it, I’m one of those people who really gets into the mentality of the “holiday season”. If Thanksgiving is a day to give thanks and reflect on your blessings, Christmas is a day to give gifts and reflect on how you have blessed others. That’s how I’ve thought of it in recent years, anyway. As God set the example by giving us the gift of His Son, Jesus, to bring salvation to the world, so we too should give generously to others.
I give to various charities and organizations every month, but at Christmastime I get involved by supporting a local non-profit, Bikes for Mission Arlington. Bikes is an “extension” of Mission Arlington/Mission Metroplex, a Christian non-profit that serves the needy in Arlington and the greater DFW area.
Bikes started over a decade ago when just a few dads and their kids bought bicycles to donate to Mission Arlington as gifts to kids in need. Since then, it’s grown and multiplied in ways I don’t think they could have imagined those first few years.
Bikes’s mission is to acquire and deliver bicycles to Mission Arlington’s Christmas Store, where parents are allowed to pick one gift for each of their kids—kids who, in most cases, won’t receive anything else for Christmas. Because many kids use their bikes to get to school or work, they are some of the most-requested items each year, and Mission Arlington can never have enough.
My former boss/current mentor has been on the Bikes Board for several years, and back in 2014 he got me involved in Bikes when I was working for him. That first year, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I arrived at a parking lot where rows of cars and trucks, all loaded with bicycles, were parked and ready to deliver bicycles to Mission Arlington. Families, small businesses, and organizations donate bicycles, and Bikes caravans them to Mission Arlington with the help of the Pantego police and fire departments. Once at Mission Arlington, volunteers unload and tally the bikes before they are distributed between the Christmas Store and various apartment ministries.
It’s a unique cause, and a really great one to be part of. I’ve participated all but one year since—showing up on “Bikes Day” to help deliver and unload bikes, picking up bikes from local businesses, dropping off flyers around town, and a few other odds and ends while working for my former boss.
I also designed the Bikes website several years back, but it wasn’t that great. Since starting my own design, marketing, and branding agency this year, I took it upon myself to redesign the entire site (trust me, it needed help—badly). I put together a “refined draft” on a Saturday morning in September and presented it to my mentor that afternoon. He looked it over, very impressed, and offered me the role of Webmaster and Social Media Manager. He’d have to check with the Board first, but it was almost certain that they’d agree.
At first, I was honored and a little uncertain. My focus and expertise was doing website design, branding, and copywriting. I didn’t think I knew enough about social media to take the task on.
But, I put my uncertainties aside and accepted the role, hopeful that I could contribute my skills to this year’s bike drive in some way.
Because of COVID, Bikes was going to be different from every year prior. First, due to tighter budgets and our inability to host fundraising events, donations would likely be down. Second, due to fewer shipments out of Asia, bicycle inventory at some of the big-box stores we purchase from would also be down. And finally, due to fluctuating COVID cases, we weren’t sure any families would want to show up on Bikes Day.
We knew one thing for sure, though: Bikes for Mission Arlington was still going to happen. The motto has always been “One bike, one child”, so even if we only delivered one bike this Christmas, we knew that we would still be blessing at least that one child’s life. So, asking God’s blessing upon our efforts and expecting a great result, we set to work.
My assigned task was to take over all the social media channels: Facebook and Twitter primarily. It would be crucial to communicate to past participants that Bikes was still happening despite COVID, to urge them to join us again in 2020, and to ask them to invite their friends and family.
I realized that what we needed was exposure, both for individuals and families to participate on Bikes Day and also for donations from whomever wouldn’t want to participate. Due to limitations on social media’s reach, and the fact that most people who see a post or tweet aren’t likely to share it with all their friends, I knew we would need more traction elsewhere.
So, I started reaching out to local news media: TV stations, newspapers, magazines, and radio stations. I spent an entire Sunday afternoon cold-emailing every media outlet I could think of that would be a good medium for featuring our event. I don’t know that anyone ever did this before, or thought about doing it, but it seemed like a good idea regardless of COVID.
Since owning a business, I’ve had to learn to deal with rejection. For someone like me, who is introverted and doesn’t like to put himself “out there”, and who doesn’t like being “pitched” or “sold” himself, prospecting is not fun.* But in Bikes’s case, I was “prospecting” for publicity for a good cause. So, darn the rejections, full speed ahead!
I am glad to report that my cold emails helped us get Bikes featured on at least six radio stations, on one local TV station, in one major newspaper, and in one major magazine.
And on Bikes Day this year, we ended up with 2,321 bicycles donated—more than we were expecting—for a cumulative total of over 15,000 bikes donated since 2007. It’s pretty amazing to see what God can do.
Now, that’s not to say that my efforts directly or even indirectly helped us get more bikes than we otherwise would have. I haven’t heard one way or the other. In fact, if I could do it all over again, I’d be a lot more aggressive with contacting media outlets and pushing for more exposure. I already know what I’m going to do better next year. But, I am grateful I could contribute my time and talents to such a great cause, and learn quite a bit along the way. To God be the glory.
I also was the official Bikes photographer and videographer. Every year, folks take photos on Bikes Day, but it’s hard to request and assemble pictures and video from the dozens of people who attend. We now have a great library of photos and footage to use when promoting future events.
To me, being involved in something like Bikes is what Christmas is all about. It’s giving of the time, skills, and money you have to bless those who have not. Just think about it—because a few good men wanted to make a difference in some kids’ lives, over a decade ago, 2,321 kids will have presents this Christmas, and they and their parents will get to hear the story of Jesus’ birth. How cool is that?!
I am humbled and grateful to be part of such a great group of guys who do this every year. I’ve learned a lot in a short amount of time—not just about marketing and outreach, but also about my own self, how I can use what God’s given me in order to bless others, and how God honors our desires to serve Him and the people He loves.
I’m already looking forward to an even bigger, better Bikes Day next year. I’ve got some great ideas on how to better raise awareness and get more people involved, and I can’t wait to try them out.
But until then… Merry Christmas!
*Folks who get prospected, I empathize with you—I really do. If there were a way I could prospect that wouldn’t tick you off, I’d do it. But I haven’t found a way yet. If you know of one, let me know!