Some alternatives to the elusive millionaire backer

If you’ve been a member of a community rugby club for more than about twenty minutes then you’ve almost certainly been a part of a discussion which starts “Imagine if we won the lottery/EuroMillions/found a millionaire…”

If you’ve been on the committee of a community rugby club, you probably have this conversation at least once a season. Normally in the bar after a game – after all, this is where the best ideas are generated!

Now don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love thought experiments and could easily spend several hours on listing out all the things that I think are key for a club to invest in.

As an aside, just in case you’re wondering, my brief answer to what I would spend the money if I won the lottery. Investment would be especially focused on facilities since they’re an easy way to improve a club but also to allow for a financial return in the future (e.g. an AGP could be hired out). New players would be the last thing on my agenda.

But the truth is that the chances of winning the EuroMillions is 1 in 139,838,160. I’ll let you guys decide whether finding a millionaire backer is more or less likely than that!

In this article, I want to take the principle behind these discussions and propose a couple of other thought experiments we could use instead of “what would we spend the money on if we had lots of it?” Hopefully this can help to spark some discussion. The answers will naturally be different for each club, but they can hopefully reveal some important information that we can then use to improve our clubs. After all, waiting for a windfall is a hope not a plan. Taking action, regardless of current circumstances is going to help us grow.

What would we do if someone gave us £5,000?

One of the nice things about the millionaire question is that it highlights priorities. When someone says they’d invest in facilities, that’s a priority judgement. If someone says players, that’s a priority judgement. While it’s nice to think about a large pot of gold, where we could spend money on everything, what if we got a smaller amount of money?

Getting £5000 is a lot more reasonable and achievable, but how we get the money is less important than what we’re going to do with it.

So… what would you spend it on?

Your answer will give you a good idea of where your priorities lie. You might think that £5000 could be invested wisely over a few years to host some coach and volunteer development evenings and a bit of stash for your volunteers.

Or you might think that £5000 could be better spent on a redecoration of your clubhouse to make the environment nicer so that people will stay longer on a Saturday, and therefore you make more bar income.

Perhaps you want to put it towards some marketing budget – making sure that your key fundraising events are well attended to help secure income over the next few years.

What next?

Now that you’ve identified a priority, you’ve got three choices:

  1. You can go out and find £5000
  2. You can work out ways to start it for free
  3. Some combination of 1 & 2

A club looking for £5000 may or may not be successful. A club looking for £5000 for a specific project suddenly improves their chances. For example, let’s take the volunteer idea from earlier. You’re looking for some stash, you’re looking to host some development evenings and probably would like a volunteer recognition event or something similar.

If you packaged all that up as a sponsorship offer – £5000 to sponsor our volunteer programme over three years – you’ve got an attractive package for a business. They might not want to just give you the £5000, but they might be able to provide the stash through their own suppliers with their logo on it as well as yours. Depending on their industry, they might also be able to run a few volunteer development evenings on specific business topics that would be useful. Not only would it be great PR for them, but it would cost them less than the £5000 in return for their engagement. Some companies now offer their employees a limited amount of time to work on community projects. Imagine if you could have access to a professional business consultant for two hours a week. What would that do for your club’s business?

Let’s say that you can’t find a business to make that sponsorship happen. For example, you might have decided to redecorate. You might not be able to find £5000 to help you, but can you do some of the work with volunteers? Is there a decorator within your club membership who could advise you on the project and help you source materials at trade prices? If it’s a repainting and cleaning job, you could host an event over a weekend – get as many people from the different teams to come down and give an hour or so. Maybe put some food on if people stay longer than that. You could also make an offer to your members – a small donation (£5?) or give an hour of your time. That way, some people will help with the work and others would help with the cost of materials etc. Because it’s all towards a specific project, it’s easier for people to see the benefit of giving their time or money.

To summarise:

  • Use the question “What would we do if someone gave us £5000?” to quickly identify a couple of priority areas for your club
  • Can you package the project up and use it to find the money – whether that’s sponsorship, grants (e.g. sustainability grants) or fundraising?
  • Can you create a lesser version that could be done by volunteers to achieve some of the benefits with less of the cost?

What would we do if we got given 5 new volunteers?

I’ve always liked this one – a local RDO once used it while we were chatting about finding volunteers. A lot of clubs say they need more volunteers and his response was always “ok, say I found you 5 volunteers, what would you do with them?” By the time we spoke, there hadn’t been a single time where the club was able to answer with any detail.

It’s crazy, isn’t it? We’re desperate for more people to help us run our clubs, but the truth is that it’s really hard for someone to get involved. If someone asks if we need any help with the club, we don’t really know what to tell them. All too often, the onus is on the potential volunteer to try and scope out their own role. This might work for some, but the majority of people who want to volunteer would like some direction over it. They don’t want to feel like they’re going to do something wrong, so they want clarity around their role and its expectations.

I get it – we’re all busy people. We’ve got jobs and families and lives to live, and we do this rugby thing on the side. But too often people use their busy-ness as a shield. A way to ignore thinking about whether they’re being effective in their role. If you’ve got too much to do in your volunteer role, then the worst thing you can do is to continue doing all that work. It won’t go away by itself!

When I was younger, my dad always used to tell me “you should deal with things as they come in” and I hated that advice. If we’re constantly reacting to what’s happening, then we’re at the mercy of what other people decide are priorities.

When we have such limited time, we have to work harder than most to define our clear priorities and guard our time jealously to ensure that these priorities get done.

Going back to the volunteer point – if you’ve got too few people doing too much work, then finding new volunteers absolutely has to be the highest priority you have.

Getting clear on what you need from volunteers

I still think this poster from the RFU is a great place to start. It has a list of many different potential roles. Print it off, grab a pen and get started.

First of all, write in any names of people doing that role. There are some roles that your club might not need – e.g. you won’t need a bar manager if you don’t run a bar. You can cross them out.

You’re now looking for two patterns – the first is where you have any gaps. This means a role isn’t being fulfilled which might mean a key part of your club isn’t functioning. The second, and one that we tend not to think of enough, is where a name crops up too many times. We all know that doing too much leads to volunteer burnout so we have to be proactive in our approach to this. Work with that person to identify which role(s) they’d like to give up and add these to your list of the blank ones.

Using that list, you can then start to identify the priority roles that you need to fill. Create some role descriptions for these positions so it’s easy for new volunteers to choose a position that works for them, but also so they know what’s involved.

With this in mind, when you get someone ask about volunteering, you’ve got a ready made list of roles to fill.

Now, some of you might turn around and say that you just don’t have time to go through this process – you have too much else to do. My answer for you is: tough. The definition of insanity is doing the same things and expecting different results. If you haven’t had magical volunteers come and ease your burdens so far, what makes you think they’re just about to show up? And what would be worse – you giving up some of your role for a week or two to really spend some time thinking about volunteers to help you, or you burning out and giving up all of your roles permanently? Unless you’re planning on working at your club until you drop dead, you’re going to have to spend some time thinking about this stuff, or you’re going to leave your club in a much worse position when you stop.

What lessons can we learn from these thought experiments?

Sometimes these “what if” scenarios can seem like an exercise in wishful thinking, and in some way they are.

But they can also be a great opportunity for us to think about our priorities.

If I asked 100 clubs to tell me their business goals for the next 3-5 years, how many do you think would be able to do so?

I would be surprised if as many as 20% of clubs were able to articulate business goals. Most of them probably won’t have even thought about it.

As players and coaches, we’re often taught the importance of goal-setting. Why wouldn’t this apply to volunteers and clubs as well?

As I said earlier, it can be tough finding the time to do these plans, whether that’s an individual development plan for yourself as a volunteer or a set of business goals for your club. However, if you don’t plan anything, then you’re going to be at the mercy of someone else’s priorities.

I once received a great piece of career advice, that eventually led me changing careers into rugby, which is probably one of the single best decisions I’ve ever made for myself. “Don’t focus too hard on climbing the ladder just to realise it’s leaning against the wrong wall.” It’s easy to get caught up in the day to day, in responding to emails, in having meetings and discussing the small things. It’s a lot harder to spend time thinking “is that what I want to be doing?” And it applies to your club as well.

What’s most important to you?

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