slammabelle lee - jersey shore roller girls

building derby-centric business relationships

I have worn many hats since I became involved in roller derby.

I have been a fresh meat skater, veteran skater, jammer, blocker, pivot, impromptu coach, captain, interleague coordinator, and events and community service, coordinator. I’ve juggled a lot of moving parts in different ways to get things done effectively, and the skills I’ve utilized serve me well in derby, as well as in my professional, educational, and personal lives.

As Events and Community Service Coordinator, one of my most important duties was building functional professional relationships between our league and other local/national non-profit organizations, as well as local businesses whom we partnered with for promotional events and fundraisers. My two-and-a-half-year tenure as Events Coordinator helped me (and therefore, my league) cultivate many valuable relationships that were mutually beneficial for both our league and the organizations in question.

One of the most prolific organizations my league was able to partner with was Special Olympics New Jersey. I had initially reached out to SONJ to have league members volunteer at the annual Polar Bear Plunge – a fundraising event that takes place each February, where participants run into the freezing Atlantic Ocean. While none of the league members actually took the plunge, we spent an early morning checking in registrants and handing out swag to those who were brave enough for the freezing water. Later that same year, we volunteered at SONJ’s Great Coaster Race. We stamped coaster “passports” at the exits of roller coasters at Six Flags Great Adventure (in Jackson, NJ), another great fundraising event put on by SONJ. On smaller scales, several of our skaters volunteered during the spring and fall sports league and with the young athletes’ programs, giving us the opportunity to work firsthand with the athletes’ SONJ benefits throughout the year.

By involving ourselves with such a great organization, we were able to elevate ourselves within the community as well. When we give back, we show that derby is more than just a sport – we are active, involved members of the communities where we live, and we skate.

While SONJ was the organization we paired up with the most, they were not the only organization we worked with. At our home, intraleague bouts, we held two fundraisers in the last home season. We held a food drive/fundraiser in conjunction with Move for Hunger NJ, and a fundraiser/animal adoption event with SAVE Animal Shelter in a themed Team Cat vs Team Dog bout. We have also, in the past, worked at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore, a thrift store that directly benefits the mission of Habitat. By pairing our relatively unknown league with big names in non-profits, we were able to show how far roller derby is able to reach.

In partnering with these organizations – as well as pairing up with restaurants to have Dine to Donate fundraisers (where a portion of sales is returned to the league) – one thread holds it all together. That thread is communication. To be successful in these sorts of ventures, you need someone strong at the helm of your organization in an Events Coordinator-type position. You need someone who isn’t afraid to contact someone who they think might be in charge. In my tenure, I made a few missteps. I contacted people who didn’t work for certain companies anymore. I missed an important contact’s maternity leave and though we no longer had a presence with a certain organization. I’ve tried to schedule things too late and ended up missing the boat completely. The good news is – especially in dealing with other volunteer organizations – is that people understand. When we are all volunteers, it seems that mistakes get forgiven a little more easily. We tend to have jobs and lives outside of this crazy volunteer side gig. Be prepared to make mistakes and own them, and make sure that you keep communication open all the time. When you’re working on these types of business relationships, constant communication is the key. You need to constantly remind people that you’re there to help them. You want to prove your organization as one that can show up in droves to volunteer for a good cause. In the same vein, you have to show that the relationship will be mutually beneficial. For example, when we do a Dine to Donate, we make it a practice to patronize that restaurant to show that we want to help the business do well. When they support us, we support them. 

To wrap up, in building beneficial business relationships outside of the immediate derby world, open communication and mutual beneficence are the two main keys. Focus your sights on organizations that match how you want your league to be perceived, and go from there. Persevere if your first path doesn’t work out, and continue the hard work to build lasting relationships.

Like what we do? Consider chipping in a few bucks.