Play Like a Girl began as a PhD student’s public health project and grew into a nationally recognized charitable organization focusing on helping young girls stay active and succeed in their careers later on in life.
“Play like a girl was never intended to be a nonprofit. It was a classroom project that took on a life of its own and continued to thrive on the shoulders of volunteers.”
-Dr. Kimberly S. Clay
Dr. Clay initially set out to address the Issue of obesity as a precursor to chronic illnesses. It was part of her PhD program, which focused on breast and cervical cancer
Two years later, the organization was incorporated. Then, in 2014, Dr. Clay received an email from ESPN that changed everything.
Watch or Read the Conversation
We were live on June 9th, 2021 with Dr. Clay to talk all about Play Like a Girl. Watch the conversation or read the recap below.
From Women’s Health to Playing Like a Girl
ESPN was awarding grants to various sports organizations that stood out to them. However, up until that point, Dr. Clay hadn’t thought of what she was doing as sports-oriented.
“Even though we were doing Tennis programs here in Dallas, I never considered what we were doing a sport until ESPN called… That was the transformative moment for us.”
In 2015 or 2016, ESPN and Ernst Young did a global study asking four-hundred c-suite women if they played sports. Ninety-five percent of them responded saying they had played spots at some point in their lives. Fifty-two percent of them had played through college.
These statistics helped Dr. Clay to reposition the work of Play Like a Girl. Rather than simply keeping girls healthy, the organization now views sports as a conduit to success in male-dominated fields like STEM as well.
How Do Sports Build STEM Career Skills?
Play Like a Girl focuses on ten main principles. Three that Dr. Clay mentions are:
- Know where you’re going: They take girls through SMART goal-setting. SMART goals are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time bound.
- Know your strengths: They encourage girls to identify their strong suites so that they can also recognize what they call “stretches.” Stretches are the things you’re not so great at and need to “stretch.”
- Know when to ask for help: They also teach girls to rely on their teammates and know when they need to ask for help.
Another principle mentioned is to use failure as fuel. During the middle school years, girls are twice as likely to drop out of sports and lose interest in STEM. This is often because they do not see themselves reflected in those fields and because they get paralyzed by fear. Using this fear or failure as fuel helps girls overcome this stage in life successfully.
Play Like a Girl teaches a scientific approach to life. Everything starts with testing and often testing fails. You have to go back through the iterative process again and try doing something different to win.
“Try again until you get it right… using your failure as fuel really helps to overcome the fear factor.”
Many of the women in the c-suite survey mentioned previously attributed their success to the resiliency they built up from failing in sports. Most also mention teamwork and leadership skills built from rallying around players in different positions on a sports field.
What About Non-Athletes and Non-STEM Careers?
Dr. Clay actually did not play sports growing up and grew up struggling with obesity. That’s how she ended up working in the field of public health to begin with. As such, it is important to her and the organization that girls who are not “athletically motivated” and/or interested in careers in STEM are also represented.
“For us it’s important to provide balance, so that they also see individuals who started with no athletic background who later became an athlete.”
Over the past year, Dr. Clay herself lost seventy pounds by rowing, walking, and golfing. This kind of example is critical for Play Like a Girl so that the girls can see it’s not necessary to be the best at a sport. It’s just important to play one and get moving.
“We’re all athletes”
Secondarily, Play Like a Girl recognizes that some of the girls in their programs won’t go on the path of STEM-related careers. However, they still engage them and mentor them in ways that they would otherwise not have access to.
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STEM is Everywhere
Play Like a Girl emphasizes the concept that STEM is in everything, even if you aren’t specifically working in that field.
One of the projects they’re planning in Tulsa is focused on fly fishing and the great outdoors. But they also emphasize the mechanical piece behind making the rods and reels that they use.
Other times, they talk about the architecture of massive sports facilities or the physics and statistics and analytics that goes into sports.
“We all are doing STEM at the end of the day”
For this reason, Play Like a Girl opts to use “STEM+” rather than “STEAM.” They believe that there is a lot more to STEAM. There are no limits and they want the girls in their programs to know that their potential is limitless.
Women in STEM
While the STEM industry is growing overall, women are still underrepresented. Less than a quarter of the STEM workforce is female. Play Like a Girl creates a diverse pipeline of young women to help balance this out.
Over the next five to ten years, they want to expand their programs from middle and high school to college. Maturing their programs is the natural next step for the organization.
This is the first year that they are seeing some of their girls enter the workforce. For example, one young woman who joined in the fourth grade is now a college intern in a STEM career. So, the big focus for them now is expanding alumni program for girls like this.
Growing the Play Like a Girl Footprint
Right now, Dr. Clay is focused on getting into new markets by rolling out programs with a national partner.
“It is our partnership with corporations that really helps us to build and sustain the community…. When I talk about volunteers, I’m not just talking about community volunteers… large and small companies.”
For the past eleven years, Play Like a Girl has been run by one or two people alongside the support of volunteers. Dr. Clay said that growing their programs and footprint is heavily reliant on external partnerships as well as online fundraising.
In order to scale, Dr. Clay wants to focus on sustainability by first growing their staff. Over the next two years, her goal is to replace herself as CEO and build the development team.
How is GiveWP Helping?
Because Play Like a Girl is essentially a two-woman show with a squad of volunteers, having an easy-to-use online donation platform was essential for them.
“In the area of development, in the interim, Give has been so instrumental because it has allowed us a structured way to cultivate and retain donors. On the back end we can explore reports.”
They integrate their GiveWP donor database with Little Green Light, which is their donor CRM. This has enabled them to engage with different donor segments in more targeted ways as well as plan strategic fundraising campaigns throughout the year, like Giving Tuesday.
“For us, Give has been instrumental in creating structure on so many levels that we would not otherwise have, because we don’t have the staff to support a development function… it’s our person.”
Automatic and annual receipts as well as the ability for donors to have access and control of their own profile has been critical in keeping Play Like a Girl running. They don’t have the people power to generate and manage those things without GiveWP.
“Giving is a Team Sport”
The fundraising slogan for Play Like a Girl is “Giving is a Team Sport.” But for them, it’s more than just a saying. It’s critical that donors don’t see their impact as a one-off.
“We want to engage our donors at a deeper, broader, more meaningful level of impact. That’s honestly where Give came in for us. The plugin has really helped facilitate us to do just that… We’ve grown with the Give plugin. We started with what was basic and free at the very beginning and over time, as more updates and features were added, we grew with you all.”
Play Like a Girl also uses Recurring Donations to power their memberships, like the Young Professionals Network. The Young Professionals Network includes an investment of $35 or more each month.
There is also a Play Like a Girl Squad. These are monthly donors that give $35, $50, or more on a monthly basis. These members also get a quarterly impact report emailed to them so they can really see the impact of their gifts.
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Connecting with Donors
Storytelling is one of the cornerstones of the community-building strategy for Dr. Clay.
“There is so much value in telling the story of the people who are impacted by the donor’s gift”
Donors want to see how Play Like a Girl will sustain their work. This past year, they’ve shifted away from program grants to more operational revenue. Their GiveWP recurring donation messaging is about how these recurring giving members will sustain the organization.
It’s critical for Play Like a Girl to create the jobs they promised within the next six to nine months because that is what they’ve been promising donors.
“We have to make good on the promise that we’re hiring paid and professional staff”
Dr. Clay believes that the secret to good fundraising is to be honest, consistent, and deliver on what you promise.
Support Play Like a Girl
There are a multitude of ways you can support Play Like a Girl right now!
- Donate! Play Like a Girl has a general donation form where you can choose to give one-time or on a monthly basis.
- Mentor! Apply to become a mentor for Play Like a Girl to help guide young girls to success in their lives.
- Join the YP Network! If you’re forty and under, you can join as a young professional to help advance the mission of Play Like a Girl.
There are many, many more ways to support this organization. Check it out and find out where you fit into their mission!