Barbara Blalock of Treasures 4 Teachers Says Everyone Walks Away a Winner from Fast Pitch Participation
Barbara Blalock, founder and executive director of Treasures 4 Teachers, didn’t nab the Social Venture Partners Arizona (SVPAZ) Fast Pitch grand prize in 2013. But thanks to the experience, she’s parlayed the $2,500 Mentor’s Choice Award into tens of thousands of dollars by becoming a more effective storyteller.
“Fast Pitch is like American Idol: the judges and mentors tell you where you need to improve, what you need to do to make your pitch better.”
Blalock says that night gave her the opportunity to connect with so many current, potential and new donors.
“One donor in particular made a $30,000 commitment over three years and many other checks came in the mail after Fast Pitch,” she explains. “In addition, it also brought together all of these many nonprofits that were not aware of each other or their missions. This has added value because many of us now collaborate, use each other as a resource and even volunteer and donate items.”
The organization recently landed a $10,000 check from the Tempe Diablos Foundation, which she credits to her more polished speaking skills. Treasures 4 Teachers has also garnered a great deal of media exposure.
In Blalock’s case, that meant connecting her nonprofit’s mission more directly to students.
“Before Fast Pitch, I used to talk about how teachers and parents couldn’t afford supplies,” says Blalock. “Now I talk about students who don’t have the supplies they need to be successful. That pulls heartstrings tighter and connects more directly with our mission.”
Founded in 2004, Treasures 4 Teachers provides free and low-cost teaching supplies to those who work with youth, including public, private and home schoolteachers, church groups and Scouts. Operating from a base in Tempe, the organization serves the entire state, providing support for educators. One of 32 affiliates of the national Kids in Need Foundation, it helps bridge the gap that communities suffer, offering basic school supplies including paper, pencils, markers, erasers and the like.
It’s part of a national movement that begun some 15 years ago to help teachers defray the rising out-of-pocket expenses due to fiscal cutbacks.
According to the National School Supply and Equipment Association, the average public educator spends $485 annually of his or her own money on basic supplies. Arizona, Blalock says, ranks a dismal 49th in the country on per-pupil spending, which has led to a statewide exodus of qualified teachers.
Here’s how it works: teachers pay an annual membership fee of $35—which Blalock encourages the school to pick up—for the ability to “shop” in the 12,000-square-foot warehouse. Those that live more than 100 miles away can buy a $10 day pass. A smaller affiliate is located in Tucson; the eventual goal is to have more locations open across the state.
Currently, Treasures 4 Teachers has more than 3,000 members, but Blalock says that’s just a fraction of those who qualify.
“Our biggest challenge is marketing,” she says. “The number one thing we hear from those who shop with us is, ‘why didn’t I know about you sooner?’ We just hired a membership coordinator to help with outreach.”
When educators do arrive, they’ll find fully stocked shelves, no matter the time of year. Despite never marketing itself, Treasures for Teachers enjoys an outstanding relationship with its donors, who include such well-known companies as Intel, Office Max and Shutterfly.
“We have the best donation stream you can imagine,” Blalock says. “We have a 5,000-square-foot overflow warehouse.”
Some members come two or three times daily to comb the shelves, finding “creative reuse” items such as DVD cases (they have new life as mini dry-erase boards) that might otherwise have been destined for the landfill. Filing cabinets and chairs go for $10; for $5, members can fill a grocery-sized bag with as many as 30 books; $1 buys a package of markers. Binders are always free. There are no limits on how many supplies an educator can take, and even during the busy back-to-school season, Treasures 4 Teachers has plenty of stock. Hours are flexible to accommodate educators’ schedules.
Blalock has encouraged other nonprofit leaders to participate in SVPAZ’s Fast Pitch competition. She says the unique application process itself was enjoyable and helpful in shaping her “elevator pitch” to prospective donors.
“No matter if you win or lose, you’ll become a better speaker thanks to the critiques you receive,” Blalock says. “You’ll learn to weave your story in a way that moves donors.”