What's your social capital?...from Sports Marketing Network
28 May 2014

What's your social capital?...from Sports Marketing Network

Sports Marketing Network

The following article has been produced by Svend Elkjaer of Sports Marketing Network<1R>

01423 326660

What's your social capital?

Every sports and leisure organisation must develop considerable goodwill and engagement with your community if you are to develop - and indeed survive.

Too many sports clubs and leisure centres suffer from 'sporting myopia' where the main success criteria are being associated with sport only: number of users or members, the performance of the first team or the elite athletes and everything else has to support that. So what happens out there in the community and the 'real world' is often regarded as a bit of an irrelevance, even a nuisance, sometimes.

This narrow view then creates a disconnect between sport and society and both lose out. If your values are just 'to coach sport' or 'provide enjoyment for your members' then you'll probably find that people within the community surrounding you care little for you and your activities unless they are directly involved with your club. If you only have a narrow focus on 'your club' then your scope will be very limited. How can you grow membership and sponsorship if you are only interested in yourself?

However, one can then often see the same clubs 'playing the community card' when it comes to applying for various grants!

Sport does compete for the resources of the community. Community groups, faith, arts, etc. are also vying for volunteers, goodwill and money - if they are better engaged and involved than you and your club they will be more successful in attracting support and resources.

At the same time many of our non-traditional, successful community sport/activity providers from outside the traditional sports world regard the success of their community engagement as just as important as the outcomes of their sporting activities. Often, because their roots are in the community they design and deliver the programmes to suit people's real needs, not what the club coach wants to do.

Growing your social capital helps to develop sporting and community prosperity

Some might say for clubs and centres to develop social capital they must become community hubs and a place where one could say that 'people live their lives'. But, even for clubs without their own facilities this principle applies as they go out into the community and engage with people and groups where they are and not wait for them to come to their club.

Any club that wants to share value with its community must open up the club and the way it operates to people from outside its 'inner circle'. By gradually engaging with new groups and institutions e.g. from Women's Institutes to colleges, you will also connect with new audiences who will bring new ideas, people and skills to your club.

The point here is to embrace all these new opportunities as they could be key to improving the way you run your club in many ways.

Developing social capital is a great way of developing new tools and ways of sporting and enterprise success for your facility and club. You will attract people with new ideas, skills and contacts so new opportunities will open up for you.

Social capital = goodwill account with your community

You need to develop what we call 'social capital' which we define as the shared norms and values which your club, enterprise or centre has with your community. You could also call it your goodwill account with your community. The bigger your goodwill account is, the more people will want to become members, volunteers and partners - it becomes a fortuitous circle.

This isn't just for the big boys

I have come across a large number of sport and physical activity providers who start out as a 'homeless' one-man-bands and who are now delivering great programmes for their communities. Have a look at vi-ability.org and oomph-wellness.org

So, even, if you are 'small club' we can only urge you to start growing your social capital within your community.

How to connect (here are some ideas and examples of how you can connect and build social capital)

  • Engage with housing associations to deliver sporting and social events for their tenants

  • Engage with the Police to help reduce anti-social behaviour amongst young people using sport as a lever

  • Engage with local college/university to bring in students as volunteers. They get work-experience and you skilled volunteers with new ideas

  • Invite community groups, public bodies, charities and others to set up a Network where you could deliver joint projects

  • Link up with community partners possibility of jointly taking over community assets

  • Organise community, sporting events such as Fun Runs, Doggy Walks, Midnight Walks etc. You raise money for your club and a local charity and are seen as a community partner
  • Prove to the local NHS that you can help improve health and reduce obesity and deliver programmes for them

Tadcaster Community Swimming Pool demonstrates the value of developing social capital

Tadcaster lies 10 miles south-west of York. It has population of 7,000 and its three brewers provide much of the employment there. They also provided the land and support when local residents got together in 1994 to set up a Community Trust and the pool was opened. In 2007 a tile failure in the main pool resulted in the pool being closed for eight months. But, again, the community rallied around the pool and raised the £150,000 required to fund the repairs.

Since then the Trust and the pool has gone from strength to strength. Run by eight staff and 100+ volunteers the two pools and the small gym are always busy and every single consumer feedback site is full of praise. They have almost 1000 children at their swimming lessons every week and run an approved lifeguard and swimming teacher training centre and an approved apprenticeship scheme. Volunteers are offered training and often report improved employment opportunities as a result of their involvement with the Trust. There is a number of fundraising and community engagement activities taking place around the pool constantly keeping it in the centre of the community.

In a world where many pools are facing closure it's great to see how a pool run by the community, for the community, keeps developing social capital and is run at a surplus.

Helping you to engage and attract new people

The more people from outside your club feel that by being involved with you there is a sense of greater purpose, the more likely they are to want to volunteer at your club. In particular young people who volunteer want to have an impact on society, the club (ensuring vibrancy, visibility and viability), users/members (providing great service), other volunteers (adding value/having fun) and finally, themselves. It also helps to attract new members who feel your club is more relevant to them because they feel you are 'part of their world' and vice versa. I do wonder how many of the 1,500 cricket clubs which have folded over the last 10 years are missed by their communities.

And, finally...
Remember, successful partnerships have to be win-win
Create meaningful connection
Give something back and say 'thank you'