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The Fox Valley Blues Umpires Association (FVB) is a baseball umpires association in the Chicago metropolitan area which has been in steady growth mode for 20 years. In 2014, it reached an all-time low on recruiting, and as a result, the membership curve flattened.

The first thing FVB did in its program to attract new umpires was hold a garage sale. The main hurdle in recruiting new baseball umpires in Chicago is the start-up costs. Equipment, uniforms, cold-weather gear, dues and training costs can easily run $700.

“We asked our membership to empty out their closets, donate their stuff back to our association so we could sell it to rookie prospects in a garage sale,” Jeff Collis FVB assignment supervisor,  said.

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The objective initially was to just lower the cost. As it turned out, it created a huge opportunity to connect with prospects and answer their questions.

“We had 15-20 veterans just come and help out,” Collis said. “They’d grab a rookie, take them around and in two years with this program we’ve on-boarded 60 rookies that have all taken the field, and we raised $7,000.”

What did FVB do with the $7,000? It funded program number two, which was a youth umpire program.

“Once we tied these two programs together and we said to our members, ‘Hey, donate your stuff back so we can sell it and buy these kids shirts,’ the stuff just started flooding in and these two programs became hugely successful. In two years, our roster for youth umpires is up to 80. We buy these kids new uniforms, we buy new equipment, we put on a training program,” Collis said.

The result? In the last three years FVB membership has grown from 487 to 602 and recruiting was a best ever 170 last year.

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