Many club volunteers and board members have asked me directly in one way or another how they get in front of a politician to plead their case for more fields, better infrastructure and more money. The simple answer is you don’t, but that’s because you haven’t developed a strategy to get on their radar yet.
My background is in politics and if you haven’t noticed yet our #GrowTheGame strategy is firmly entrenched in the principles of grassroots campaigning, but we aren’t trying to elect a President, we are trying to help soccer reach its potential here in the U.S. With this prior knowledge we decided to compile a ‘cheat sheet’ to help your club, league or association become an influential group with the power to demand their attention and deliver on your needs.
This post will provide you with a simple roadmap to grassroots action. We hope it can be the catalyst for improvements to our soccer infrastructure up and down the country and while every proposal and politician is different, the guiding principles should help get your foot in the door of decision makers to help your club be heard through all the community clutter.
DEVELOPING YOUR STRATEGY
As like all businesses you need a plan before you pitch to those that pull the financial levers. Don’t just knock on their door hoping for a handout – you will be cast aside in two seconds.
Ask yourselves two simple questions that will help you establish realistic goals.
What do you want? Understand what you really want from this project. Don’t chase 1 10,000 all-seater stadium if you have only 100 members. If you can’t convey what you want in 30 seconds then you don’t know what you want.
What is your current situation? Be honest with your financial situation and your members. Is your time and energy better suited to fundraising for new equipment in the short term? Are your fields really that bad or are you too big for your current facilities which are impeding your growth?
Once you have answered these questions it’s now time to start the planning phase of your project.
Discuss the proposal at a board level: Board members might have audacious plans for a new soccer complex but this might not reflect the direction of the club and funding might be prioritized elsewhere. Make sure any potential projects are discussed at a board level and a resolution is made to progress with the proposal. It is also important that one person is appointed to oversee the project and a potential sub-committee is flagged.
Back-up your plans with statistics: – Most proposals lack the necessary data that adds weight and a strong argument to the proposal. Review the census data of the local area (are you located in a low-socioeconomic area, is your region growing above state averages), discuss the number of players in your league, the growth of the competition etc. You need to paint a picture of your situation to someone that doesn’t know anything about the working of your club. Give them the reasons why you need these upgrades.
Hold community discussions: When a project is considered it isn’t a simple case of yes/no. Consultations with the community and impact statements are red tape factors that you will encounter along the way. Make that job easier by pre-empting these moves and working collaboratively with local businesses, parents, chamber of commerce etc so they know what is going on, how it will benefit the community and so on. Communication is an important part of any successful project. Who knows it might even lead to future sponsorship!
Survey other sports: Soccer has always played second fiddle to American Football and Baseball projects. Take some time to check out the local area and see what has been funded over the past decade. You can make a real issue of funding not being shared equally especially if the local baseball field has seen three major upgrades over the past 5 years. Take photos of these facilities and compare them against your grounds. A picture tells a thousand words…
Flag proposal with local leagues and associations: Never put your eggs in one basket. While this post is geared towards obtaining government funds, many leagues and state associations have grants for field upgrades and have matching components which might make the decision to fund your project from a government perspective a bit easier. Once your board has signed off on an infrastructure project let these organizations know that this is on your agenda.
Don’t start spending money on drawing up plans: Progress the concept before you spend thousands on drawing up plans of what it will look like. If the fields are run by the local city council then it is they who will draft the plans. At this stage you are looking at substance over style.
Set timelines: As with all projects it is important that you set timelines for the project and establish a set of key performance indicators (KPI’s) to see if the project is proceeding according to plan. It also helps you highlight what is stalling any progress so you can revisit that part in a timely fashion. Trust us when we say they will not be chasing you up!
Business plan/Prospectus: Develop a comprehensive business plan. Outline all of the above points. Make conservative estimates of the costs and compile them all into a stylish looking prospectus. This document is what is going to change views and opinions so make it look professional. Upload it to your website, link it to social media platforms, post it to local community groups and spread it far and wide to build support for the project.
BUILDING COMMUNITY SUPPORT
The next step of your project should be to build broad support for its implementation. Awareness is the key and can be achieved in the following ways.
Media: An important part of any community project is getting attention and community support for its implementation. A free and powerful resource is your local newspaper. Find your angle for the story and pitch it to local reporters, outline how your club is suffering and the positives it will bring to the local community if supported. If you have no luck with this, write your own media release, take a photo that represents the story (include kids and parents looking disappointed for maximum effect) and send it to the papers directly.
Create a sports advisory group: Creating influence can come in many forms. Alliances are a great way of developing instant credibility compared to starting a brand new organization. A sports advisory group is an informal group of representatives from each local sporting organization (no matter how small) which gets together to discuss local sporting infrastructure which helps develop thriving sporting hubs in the local community and most importantly, an input into its development.
From this approach all sports benefit across the city from shared networks and skills. Make sure your project is on any future blueprints for sport in the city.
Letters of Support: If you are looking at adding more weight and credibility to your project, we suggest you source letters of support from reputable sources including politicians and prominent community leaders/businesses and the city/state association which outline the benefits of the project to the local community and the sport.
Advertise: Do a direct mail drop to the local area stressing the importance of the project to the community, advertise in local school newsletter etc – go where your membership goes and don’t be afraid to look outside the box to get your message out. Remember is successful you could obtain a multi-million dollar complex…I’m sure you would agree this is all worth it in the end!
With other clubs: Some cities have too many clubs which has diluted the quality of talent and stretched facilities to their limit. If appropriate/applicable discuss the possibilities of partnering with other local clubs to move to bigger and better facilities. This can involve club mergers or ground sharing agreements – either way you will see the benefits of improved facilities and cost sharing.
With other sports: Do you share multi-purpose fields with American Football and Baseball? Include them in your ongoing discussions and planning. Never think that an upgrade to your complex will result in the transition from multi-sport fields to soccer specific alternatives. Embrace your neighbors and share in their contacts and experience – it’s better if you all win than receive nothing.
Public Private Partnerships: This e-book might give the impression that Government is a piñata waiting to be smashed open. Sadly it is not, and they are not obliged to fund your proposals regardless of how great they might be. Given this fact, don’t be afraid to approach local businesses who would be willing to pay for part of the project in return for naming rights sponsorship, joint use of the new facilities etc. Find out what is available and whether it might suit your situation.
It’s all about the numbers!
Politicians are obsessed with numbers. If you can accrue a large number of supporters you will have their attention. The easiest way of doing this includes;
Petitions: The most traditional and quickest way of amassing large numbers is by organizing a petition. Outline what it is you are getting people to sign in support of and go to training sessions, matches, and tournaments (even MLS games for that matter) and get people to sign it. People will sign petitions if they are not polarizing in anyway and it can be done in 30 seconds.
Social Media: Supplement your projects with things that take 5 minutes to set-up and can yield quick results and help sell your message. Don’t mess around with other platforms like FlickR, Instagram etc. Use those that the majority of your club supporters will be on.
Facebook: Put your project up as a page/cause and invite all your friends. Post updates of the projects or invite them to future club events. Join your local politicians’ page or send them a friend request so you can invite them to future events etc.
Twitter: Post updates about the project regularly and link it back to your website/blog that has information about the plan on it. Also use the hashtag #GrowTheGame to get your project on the radar of other grassroots clubs and supporters that might be able to assist.
Follow your local politicians and businesses and cc them into posts to keep them informed. But don’t spam or call them out for RT’s – its unprofessional
Blog: Put your plans on your website – upload the links to Reddit & StumbleUpon with some clever tags and create more exposure for your project. Some of my most widely read blog posts have been through the momentum generated through these platforms.
YouTube: Make a video about your project and post it online. You can find talented videographers for cheap these days and this will help visualize your project to those that don’t see the ‘big picture’
Don’t wait on a phone call. Drive the agenda yourself – you are stronger when you are the one directing the flow of information about your project.
Fundraising $$$’s: Many government or association grants have $ for $ matching components so it’s important that you are aware that there is no such thing as a blank check. Do the hard work to prove that you are serious in achieving this goal in any way possible – micro funding through your members, crowd funding platforms etc are innovative new ways to raise dollars for your projects fast.
Connecting with Staffers: Don’t worry if you don’t get a direct face-to-face meeting with your elected official – building relationships with their staff is just as important. A politician’s advisor is their eyes and ears in the community and a trusted advisor will always be able to sway their bosses’ decision in your favor. The staffer will be your first point of contact and it is he/she who you will need to convince first of the merits/benefits of your project if you are to get a meeting your local politician.
Letters to editor: Write in to your local paper saying how bad the soccer facilities are. Generate community interest.
Talk back radio: Phone up your local sports show when soccer is being discussed (not when its Super Bowl Weekend) and tell them about the need for an upgrade. Discuss the positives of the game and emphasize kids and families.
Pro forma letters/postcards to officials: Design some free postcards/letters at Vistaprint and have members of the community sign and send them in. This will show you are organized and professional and always sends a shiver up the spine of any political office.
CONCLUSION: 2012 IS ‘THE’ YEAR TO BE HEARD
The great news is that 2012 is an election year which means organizations that have large memberships (read: voting blocs) will be well placed to demand outcomes from candidates running for office.
Feel free to approach your member or their staff to organize a meeting to discuss your project. Just make sure you are prepared for it. Politicians are very astute and you will need to articulate to them the entire project in two minutes or you will lose their attention.
Don’t be sold on ‘talk’ – they will promise you the world in return for your support. Ask for a media event (they come to your club to announce what they will do for the local soccer community) or a joint media release outlining any potential support for a project should they be elected. Better still if one candidate pledges to support your endeavors the others should follow suit which will make the likelihood of its implementation a bit stronger.
NB: Projects might be promised but are often shelved due to budget cuts (especially in the current economic climate) so always continue campaigning and getting your message out until it is built. We have seen projects have millions of dollars in planning spent and then construction never happened – don’t let that happen to you.
WHAT CLUBS SHOULD BE DOING…NOW
Whether clubs have a project ready to go or this post has just inspired you to start the journey towards new soccer facilities, there is something that all clubs can do to help develop local grassroots soccer and help #GrowTheGame.
Through the primary season and up until the general election in November we are encouraging clubs, leagues and associations to get in contact with their local representatives and ask for them to commit to a review into citywide soccer infrastructure and to add in any local issues you deem fit.
Getting soccer on the agenda for grassroots development is an important strategy if we are to #GrowTheGame and is as simple as sending in a letter or email. Together we can help soccer realize its potential in the U.S.
We would love to hear about you projects (both ongoing and prospective) and if there is any help we can provide your club to making your objectives a reality contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
About Soccer Support
Soccer Support develops and advocates policies on behalf of our members and stakeholders, with the aim of making a positive difference for our members, our communities and our sport with respect to sporting infrastructure, health initiatives, funding streams and the current needs of sports number one consumer – the grassroots of the game.
Through ongoing activities and our State of Soccer Report, Soccer Support acts as the largest Independent voice of grassroots soccer giving players, fans, coaches and administrators a chance to outline ways, in which the sport can continue to innovate, improve and grow to reach its potential here in the U.S.
Advocacy is one of the most important intangible services Soccer Support contributes to the grassroots of the game.
Soccer Support, as the collective voice of grassroots soccer, formulates recommendations for the game in consultation with the soccer community to help ‘Grow The Game’. Soccer Support focuses on issues such as investment in the grassroots of the sport, soccer infrastructure and coaching and refereeing best practice to name but a few. To put it simply, it’s about having a conversation about the sport, making our views known to U.S. Soccer and FIFA, while unlocking the doors to investment and growth.
Soccer Support prides itself on being the grassroots ‘go-to’ group for providing a balanced and honest account of where the game currently is, and advocating for positive change at every opportunity.
Another significant part of our advocacy efforts is to educate our members about key changes to the sport and funding streams through programs that may include webinars, trade fairs, publications, group presentations, and other online avenues.
Many grassroots clubs and leagues are restricted in their growth due to a lack of sporting infrastructure amongst the other things outlined above. Soccer Support, through its membership, liaises with soccer administrators, government, business and the community to create awareness of the needs of the soccer community and deliver strong tangible outcomes for the sport. These lobbying activities help progress our advocacy agenda.
Our advocacy and lobbying activities are just two services of our attractive membership packages to help modernizing grassroots clubs for the 21st century.
By working directly with its members, Soccer Support helps create new revenue streams, an increased exposure to sponsors and players, sustainability measures and most importantly future planning, in what is a saturated and extremely competitive market.
Soccer Support acts as the following;
• Sponsorship Brokers;
• Soccer Lobbyists;
• Grant Writers;
• Club Consultants; and
• Marketing Specialists
Soccer Support has three levels of membership available to clubs as well as individual options. For more information on these packages email email@example.com