Sometimes, through shrewd strategy, careful planning and disciplined execution you can achieve tremendous goals that can impact thousands of lives. And sometimes, through pure blind luck, a seemingly humble idea can blow up into a runaway phenomenon that achieves outcomes beyond anything we could have imagined.
When YPO member David Baldwin had the “crazy” idea one morning of riding his bike across the country to raise awareness for a local nonprofit, he had no idea it would unite thousands of followers, draw huge crowds of enthusiastic supporters at stops around the country and ultimate raise nearly USD13 million in contributions.
It all started so innocently.
The Center is a Houston, Texas, USA based nonprofit that promotes the pursuit of choice, growth and personal independence for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. For more than 25 years, Baldwin and his wife, Maire, have been very involved and hands-on in their support of this important institution.
“The Center has been our extended family for such a long time,” admits Baldwin, Co-president of SCF Partners, a Houston-based accelerator of energy-sector companies. “We’ve hosted their Christmas parties, painted their walls and cleaned their bathrooms. The cause is very intimate to us.”
As with many nonprofits, The Center is in a constant financial struggle, and Baldwin bears the stress of that struggle personally – one night more so than usual.
“I was so stressed out about how The Center was going to make ends meet that I couldn’t sleep. So I went for an early morning bike ride to relax and that’s when I had the idea for a cross-country ride. I thought by riding across the country and visiting 20-30 other organizations like ours, I could see how they are coping and bring home their best ideas to help us reincarnate ourselves into The Center 2.0.”
Baldwin branded his venture as Pursuit.
“We basically had three goals: raise money, learn more about how to help The Center and raise awareness for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.”
Maire was instantly dedicated to the pursuit of Pursuit and the two followed paths, opened doors and set off on a journey that, in retrospect, Baldwin says exceeded his wildest dreams.
Pursuit was a 60-day ride across the United States. What started on 6 June 2016 in Portland, Oregon, USA ended 3,500 miles later in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, USA on 3 August 2016. Baldwin stuck with his goal of visiting similar nonprofits along the way to learn and gain insights that could be applied to The Center back home.
But with each mile he rode, the awareness and enthusiasm for his effort grew. He won’t say his initiative went viral, but that is just a matter of academic perspective: for all practical purposes, Pursuit became a phenomenon.
With each new stop, the crowds grew larger. Boise, Idaho Falls, Yellowstone, Badlands. The daily blog gained followers and the press began covering the adventure. Soon, the buzz of Pursuit started to precede his arrivals and more people showed up in Minneapolis and again in Madison.
Others joined him for various segments along the way. By the time Baldwin rolled into Chicago, the crowds reached 300. In Cleveland, the dance team from the newly crowned NBA Champion Cleveland Cavaliers greeted him with an autographed LeBron James jersey. On to Pittsburgh, Washington DC and, finally, Rehoboth Beach.
Back home in Houston, Pursuit garnered such enormous support that a “Mission Control” was created in an auditorium for enthusiasts to virtually ride along.
“Every day we sent home a 90-minute video of our prior day’s ride which they would show. Stationary bikes were set up in the theater and the community was encouraged to ride to the footage. More than 800 people participated in that alone,” says Baldwin.
When it was all over, Baldwin’s humble little inspiration had amassed a daily blog reaching more than 10,000, collected nearly 2,500 donors, had more than 100 other cyclists join him for segments along the way, engaged in 31 amazing learning visits and raised nearly USD13 million.
“It was by far the greatest thing I have ever done in my life.”
It’s rare when those words are an understatement. It was an individual achievement, but one that was not possible without the support of hundreds upon hundreds of others. Baldwin constantly redirects credit to everyone else who jumped on the bandwagon and helped make Pursuit such a wild success – his YPO forum notwithstanding.
“My forum mates have heard all my emotional struggles over the years for wanting to do more for The Center,” he shares. “So when they heard about what I was going to do, every one of them dove into action and contributed something special to make Pursuit really significant.”
Still fresh from the shock of this success, Baldwin recognizes the momentum and support that Pursuit created cannot be left to fizzle. He already has ideas for Pursuit 2.0.
“First, we want to transform The Center and finish the job we started. The money raised will allow us to do incredible things,” he continues. “I believe Pursuit can become a platform that supports other organizations wanting to achieve their own Pursuits. Not unlike Susan G. Komen or March of Dimes. We’re going to take a year or two and figure how to proceed, and then we’ll back to do it again. But bigger!”
Learn more about Pursuit and review all of Baldwin’s adventures at pursuitride.org.