Prior to Energize becoming a company Ltd by guarantee with charitable status in 2012, we had been a Sport England lottery funded 'project' based in a local authority Leisure services department.
The issues we faced
Most of our policies and practices were handed down to us from on high and our working approaches and culture could thus be described:
- The work we were performing was good for society and so should be funded by the public purse. We came from an assumption of value added - no need to make the case for investment.
- A lack of clarity about our role and who we were - the messages we gave out were inconsistent and we had difficulty (and to be honest still do sometimes) to get the message out that we are 'infrastructure support' and not front line deliverers.
- We developed and delivered ‘Sport for Sport Sake’ - tending to operate with a missionary zeal which had and has some benefits but also failed to understand those 'non believers' who we were trying to help achieve a more active lifestyle.
The actions we took
Clearly in our brave new world of being a Social Enterprise this culture needed to be modified. From the start we adopted a Balanced Scorecard of measures to help us stay true to our objectives, assess our progress and help us to grow. We looked at four areas:
- Impact - ie what results were we seeing in the community as a result of our actions?
- People – ie are our Board, staff and volunteers motivated and on task?
- Stakeholders – ie what do our customers think of us?
- Finance / Governance – ie are we achieving resources and best practice in terms of compliance?
In 2013 we started our work with Big Assist and external professional support but actually the self-assessment and then external review really helped us to clarify what we needed to help us.
Together we agreed Energize needed a new business and marketing strategy - to help us 'tell our story', make better business decisions and focus our time and resources better.
We got support to undertake a concerted effort to find out what our stakeholders thought of us and what they’d like more of in future and we combined this with an in depth SWOT analysis of the organisation to identify a ‘2020 Vision’ for the future.
The support we received really helped with our message and now we talk about “helping everyone to find an activity to make their heart beat faster”.
To potential financial supporters we say – “because we know the difference this makes to people's lives” - and now we've also got examples of people and groups whose lives have been changed and data to back the impact up. Follow this link for an example - Oswestry Substance Misuse Project
We’ve also joined with other local infrastructure support organisations like Shropshire Provider Consortium and Shropshire Youth Association to help us collaborate on projects and have had some success in winning resources to extend our reach and impact.
More recently and with further assistance / voucher from Big Assist, we have been undergoing training and development for team members to improve their business development skills and outlook and although it is still early days a number of projects have been developed. Not all have been progressed but we have learnt from the experiences and we have certainly sharpened our approach to assessing the full cost recovery of any new activity.
We have experienced greater expectations from voluntary and community sector – because we are often now seen as ‘a go to organisation’. If you’re not careful this can be a distraction but managed well it can also be positive.
As a result of our raised profile I think there is also a general assumption from the public sector that we’ll mitigate the impact of local authority cuts. If we’re not careful this could be a ‘poisoned chalice’ in the future unless additional resources can be secured.
As the importance of an active and healthy nation is better understood we are also experiencing greater expectations from National Government and other agencies. Again we need to be careful not to assume whole responsibility for outcomes that we may not be resourced to deliver.
We have experienced the importance of a good, strong Trustee Board – with a range of skills and a willingness / time to contribute. At various times they have provided excellent sounding Boards for executive team ideas and also been important advocates with local key strategic partners.
When the whole team get behind something amazing things can happen. This has definitely been the case around our theme of ‘using sport as a vehicle for change’ in people’s lives. The case study link above highlights this.
Make sure new activity is properly resourced and be patient to allow change and growth to get a foothold. Two years ago we supported our Senior Business Manager by providing a focus (around young people and anti-social behaviour) and also the funding to create a new Business Devlopment Officer post. In the last six months they have been the catalyst for us to bid for 5 different projects of which one has been successful. We have learnt and grown from all these.