Viability and planning

Both viability and planning are often seen are tedious and boring topics by those involved in leading a range of community organisations, this is especially true of those involved in sport sector where ‘business orientated’ topics like planning and viability are often not seen as relevant or fun and the focus is to get on with it rather than plan.

Many sports clubs, community groups and smaller social enterprises are quite rightly focused on ‘getting things done’ and far less concerned about their longer term plans, but ignoring these areas can turn out to be a big and sometimes costly mistake. The temptation to focus on today or just get on with things is often powerful because this is what the organisation exists to do or perhaps the mindset and skills needed to develop a clear plan for the future is simply not available, equally where the skills exist volunteers are already stretched keeping things going. This situation is quite common, especially in volunteer run or smaller enterprises and as a result this is an area where external support is really helpful and in the longer term is likely to replay any investment many times over.

In this blog we cover some really good reasons why every club, community association or social enterprise should make sure they don’t fall into this trap and have at least some form of basic business plan in place.

Ensuring viability requires:

  • A shared goal
  • Enough money to meet your day to day costs
  • Buy in form the right people
  • Clear plans

1. Knowing what you want to do
It’s surprisingly common to ask a group of people involved in a sports club, community association or even a social enterprise what they are trying to do and get either no response or a different response from everyone you ask. For many groups this seems fine as they believe that people will continue to get involved if they see a personal benefit. Combined with a reluctance to consider changes to what they have always done, this supports the status quo. and can over time lead to big problems.

The risk here is that where an organisation doesn’t have a clear view on what it’s trying to do and how it wants to get there they tend to ‘drift’, little is achieved and dangerous internal frustrations grow over time. For clubs and community groups this can lead to people falling out, members leaving and a slow creeping decline taking hold. For social enterprises, as a form of small business, the risks are more often immediate with financial failure typically only ever being a short distance away. In both cases as this drift takes hold its very easy to fall into a cycle of decline and ultimately this can lead to the organisations complete failure.

2. Getting people to 'buy in'
If you want to get people to buy into your organisation they normally want to understand what you are all about, this is very hard to articulate if you are not totally sure of this yourself. This problem effects existing and new members, prospective customers, funders and people you want to work with from other groups and organisations. It’s also a major cornerstone in attracting volunteers and supporters who are often ready to commit their time and energy towards achieving clear goals but who are far less likely to volunteer their help if these are not clearly set out for them to readily understand and support.

3. Planning for succession
Succession planning (i.e.. who will take over a role or task once current volunteers step down or move on) is often looked down on by sports and community organisations as something only businesses need to consider. Most people however wont need to think for long to find an example of when they have avoided or even attended an AGM where very few people turn up because they all know someone will be pressurised into taking on a role they don’t really want? Whilst finding a new chairperson will always be challenging, this is helped considerably with good advanced planning so that you know well ahead of time the people in the organisation who have developed the skills and knowledge needed to take on key roles.

4. Sufficient money to remain viable and meet your goals
Once a clear idea exists of what an organisation is seeking to do its is important to set out how its going to get there in a sustainable manner. This requires a clear plan which everyone can understand and commit to. However these plans need not to be lengthy or highly technical and the level of detail will vary depending on what your goals are, but it does need to consider the key elements that will help meet the groups goals. One of the many critical aspects of this should be consideration of the organisations finances.

All to often organisation’s focus on keeping the cost of participation low as this is popular with their existing members / customers. The desire to keep the cost of involvement low is a good thing, but this can also become a big barrier to the viability of achieving the organisations goals and place the it at risk of stagnation and failure if the wrong balance is struck.

It is unwise to let a situation develop where grants and external funding are needed each year just to meet the costs of running an organisation, ultimately however successful at bidding you are, grants will eventually run out and can over dependency on this kind of funding can impact the future of the organisation. Instead grants should be used to give a powerful kick-start to help the organisation develop and grow, or to test new ideas and ways of working.

The organisations running costs should where ever possible be met from it’s basic core income such as membership subscriptions, sale of goods or other dependable income which are not strongly influenced by external factors. Making this work requires a good knowledge of the organisations financial affairs, its typical income and expenditure and the establishment of some simple annual budgets to help make sure that its finances are well-managed each year. This is one of the most important reasons to develop a business plan.

5. Access to external funding
To access the many grants that are available it is vital that an organisation meets a few basic requirements that will help prospective funders decide group is well run and financially stable. These vary with the scale of the grant being sought and the funder concerned but a well organised organisation with an appropriate business plan will almost always have most of these sorted reducing the need for extra work before a successful bid can be made.

Effective business plans that link the day-to-day activity to any significant projects or proposals you may be developing such as new facilities or major changes / growth in what you do, are normally a critical part of any medium or large-scale grant application process. Those organisations who already have a business plan covering their day-to-day activity will find meeting funders requirements far easier as they already have a basic platform to work a new more comprehensive plan up from.

Planning for viability
The points above have hopefully helped explain why having some form of business plan is really important for any organisation. Ultimately it can in the long-term make the difference between the success and failure of an organisation and at the very least make it easier to focus on getting on with key day-to-day activity in the knowledge that everything fits with achieving the organisations longer term goals. Producing a business plan can be a daunting task however comprehensive or simple a format suits your needs, we have extensive experience of this process and can support, guide and aid our clients in many ways ranging from acting as an advisor and editor of a plan they develop right through to taking on the bulk of the work, what’s right for any organisation will depend heavily on each clients circumstances and needs, this is normally discussed in detail during a free initial consultation.

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