[alert style=”green”] This is a 3 part series on the art of buy-in. In my last post, I talked about how smart people often get great ideas shot down. In this post I share a story of how I overcame the naysayers and got buy-in for team dues.[/alert]
I would venture there are few groups harder to organize than a bunch of cocky college athletes. Gymnasts especially, since we all spend the first 10+ years of training by ourselves, without much of “team” mentality. That’s why I want to share this story of how I won over my gymnastics team and got everyone to pay team dues.
Our team’s money problem
Photo credit: JMR Photography
September 2008: fall training for the Stanford Men’s Gymnastics team was about to start.
I was meeting with the other team captains to plan for the upcoming year. We had discussed attitude in the gym, our focus during training competitions, etc. While most of the conversation was on how we were going to win the national championship, there was one logistical item on the table: team dues.
As a team, we had become close over the years – organizing annual gifts for coaches and graduating seniors, printed handbooks for freshmen, a camping retreat in the fall and a team banquet in the spring. Usually the captains or other seniors would front the money (around $1,000 total for the year) for these sorts of activities and then try to collect afterward.
Collecting money, a few dollars at a time, from 15+ guys who are usually close to broke, sucks. No one has the exact amount on them, you forget to ask, it’s hard to keep track of who paid and who hasn’t and generally speaking, this is a big hassle. Inevitably the person who fronted the money gets screwed.
The dismal history behind team dues
Now the previous year we had a captain named Dylan. This guy was brilliant – earning above a 4.0 GPA as a Stanford premed – but his ideas for the team often didn’t go anywhere, much to his frustration.
He had tried to push through the idea of team dues – where people would pay an advance to the captains which would be spent on the various team sponsored-activities. It’s a win for everyone – team members would stop getting hassled all the time, and captains would have the necessary funds to do their job.
It died. People said it wasn’t necessary, too much work, and that the current system was just fine and the conversation just fizzled. 
Despite this failure, I felt that team dues was still a really good idea – and I knew that once implemented, it’d become institutionalized as a part of the culture and thus worth giving another shot. My co-captains agreed hesitantly – as long as I did all the work, they would support the idea.
Try, try again
Photo credit: Felixtsao
I had some clout as a captain, but given that Dylan, as a captain, wasn’t able to push it through, I knew I would need to do a lot more this year if I wanted to get it through.
To make my case, I had to get the numbers right so no one could challenge the final amount owed. I built a spreadsheet and estimated how much each activity would cost (a basic budget) and calculated how much each person would have to pay – it wasn’t bad, around $50. Definitely not chump change for a bunch of poor college athletes but not outrageous.
I also started forming my base of support: I already had the other captains behind me but I also had some one on one conversations with other teammates I was closer to about team dues and asked them to get behind the idea. I knew if I could get a critical mass of people to agree, the freshmen and sophomores would get in line.
Winning over naysayers
The last thing I knew I needed to was talk to two of my teammates – Luke and Eric. These guys were/are awesome and hilarious guys, but they had a habit of making really snide and sarcastic comments about everything. I had a feeling they weren’t going look kindly on round two of the team dues idea. 
I knew if I tried to fight them, they’d just resist even harder. So instead, I sent each of them personal emails explaining my plan to implement team dues but then told them that since they were upperclassmen and I trusted them to pay back the money, they wouldn’t have to be a part of it. My only request was that they not shoot down the idea publicly when I announced it.
The next day, I talked to each one in person and they both thought it was hilarious that I had sent them this advance email. “It’s fine Jason,” they each said, “I’ll pay the dues.” That was a surprise, but a welcome one.
(see the email I sent Eric and Luke)
The end game
I waited until after we had gotten our per diem – the funds we received for the week of training we’d do before the dorm cafeterias opened which were to be used on food. It was something like $24 a day (usually for seven days but this year it was four, as you can see from the email below) so this meant we all had at least some cash in our pockets.
I sent the email about team dues very matter of factly – not as a proposal but as a done deal, knowing that I had already talked to the upper classmen and that the naysayers would stay silent. I talked about it the next day after practice and then started collecting. I had a sheet of paper on my locker indicating who had paid and who hadn’t until I got what I needed from everyone.
Below you can see the email I sent the team.
How I got it done
Does this sound like a lot of work? It was.
Was it worth it? Definitely. It made my life way easier that season and the team has continued to use the budget I set up as a basis for future activities, making us a more organized group that’s got their stuff together. It makes me feel great to know I’ve established a team institution, a little legacy for myself.
Now there’s a lot to learn from this story – and if you look carefully, there are 6 specific strategies that I used to gain the buy-in necessary to make this happen. Once you understand a buy-in a strategy, you can apply it to your own situation to get your ideas implemented.
I’ll be explaining in detail the 6 buy-in strategies I used plus several others I’ve learned since in an upcoming post — which will go straight into the inboxes of my email subscribers. If you want to get it first, click here to join hundreds of smart readers who want to make things happen.
You’ll also get a free copy of Guide to YC (the indispensable 92-pg book for founders applying to Y Combinator) and some other great goodies. Sign up for the Art of Ass-Kicking newsletter.
 I even vocally supported dues the first time around on the email list:
 Dylan had actually called Eric out in his own email about team dues – but in a way that was more antagonistic than productive: “Voice your opinion to the list (except for Eric – your opinion no longer matters).”
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