Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Planning and financing

Recently, we attended a talk by Istvan Balyi, an imminent sports figure, who spoke in part about the importance of planning for successful completion of athletic goals. He gave the specific example that if there's an event in two years time the plan and budget should be created in the first year, including hiring coaches and managers. He suggested that planning session would be a two day process involving representatives of all the necessary constituencies.

The budget is a concern, of course, as it can dictate what you can do in those two years of preparation. But he stressed that the quality of the planning and the implementation of that plan can drive financial contributions from sponsors.

This makes sense. Consider someone coming to you, as a potential sponsor, and they say either (a) please sponsor our sport, or (b) please sponsor our sport so we can promote it better (for example), or (c) please sponsor our sport so we can promote it better and here's our detailed plan on how we are going to do so. Which of those options are you most likely to support with your money?

Both USA Racquetball (USAR) and Racquetball Canada have embarked on new fundraising efforts, and here's how they're doing so.

USA Racquetball

In a letter "to the Racquetball Players Of America," USAR President Cheryl Kirk and Executive Director James Hiser outlined what the USAR does, including tournament organizing, regulation of rules and regulations, USA National Team administration, facilitating communication within the racquetball community, and some provisions for insurance and risk management.

Moreover, they stated that the USAR has "an aggressive agenda," which includes (a) "working with venues (clubs, universities, YMCAs, etc.) to position and maintain racquetball as a great sport and fitness activity - "Fitness and Fun, Rolled Into One!", (b) "creating and supplying promotional materials for marketing and visibility," and (c) "providing mechanisms (e.g., portable court, TV, on-line broadcasts) to bring the sport to the masses."

To this end, USAR will be increasing their annual membership dues to $50 from $35 as of January 1, 2009, and further ask for "occasional financial contribution[s] to USAR" when possible.

Whether the USAR's plans are detailed enough to convince sponsors and individuals to contribute is an open question. To grow the game, they will need to convince sponsors outside of the sport that it is an activity worth supporting. It's not enough to preach to the choir.

A plan also has to be evaluated, so as to identify what was successful and what wasn't. Doing so will mean some form of measurement. The three items Kirk and Hiser highlighted from their "aggressive agenda" won't be the easiest to evaluate, because they aren't the easiest to measure. How will we know if enough promotional materials were created to make racquetball more visible and marketable? (and how are we going to measure racquetball's visibility and marketablity?) How will we know if enough work has been done with facilities to best position racquetball as "Fitness and Fun, Rolled Into One!"?

Moreover, these are things that aren't completely in the control of USAR. That is, the USAR could work as hard as possible with facilities, but if a facility perceives the wind is blowing more favorably for another sport or activity, then anything the USAR does may be ineffective in changing that facility's opinion.

In short, while the USAR's agenda is aggressive, achieving its goals will be difficult.

Racquetball Canada

Racquetball Canada has embarked on a "Shop and Support" program to raise funds. It is asking its members to purchase gift cards to use for their retail purchases, and a small percentage of the gift cards purchased will go back to Racquetball Canada. Thus, using these cards when shopping for groceries or buying gas, for example, would benefit Racquetball Canada.

However, Racquetball Canada has not issued any planning statement on what they would do with the raised funds or even why they need them. One could speculate on why more funds are needed and what they would be used for, but again would you be more willing to financially support someone just because he or she asks for the money or someone who comes to you with a complete plan - including how they will measure their performance and evaluate the outcome of their plan?

If you were a venture capitalist, sometimes called a dragon, whose venture would you support?

Planning and volunteers

Planning is fundamentally important in any activity, and good plans can encourage contributions both financial and voluntary. Organizations that have clear plans can be more successful in recruiting volunteers, because they will know what to look for in their volunteers and what to ask of or tell potential volunteers.

When someone asks you to do something, isn't your first question going to be "what exactly do you want me to do?" before you decide whether to help or not? If the person has a clear answer for you, then you'll be more likely to help than if they hum and haw about it and don't really seem to know what they want from you.

Planning isn't a lot of fun. We don't imagine that Balyi's suggested two planning days for a two year sport cycle would two fun filled days, as they'd basically be two days of meetings.

However, not doing the necessary planning could mean even less fun down the road, because without adequate planning there are no achievements or progress to our goals.

As is often said, failing to plan is planning to fail.

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