BCB is working on developing a Club Development Workshop to teach clubs how to run a bowls club effectively. While this workshop is still being developed, read what Ontario’s Ralph Ellis has to say about one of the most crucial aspects of running a club: finances.
The main barrier facing Canadian lawn bowling clubs today is a lack of financial resources. We can plan. We can promote. However, clubs will not be able to grow and develop without proper financial support. I became convinced of this when in 2016, I travelled around Ontario visiting lawn bowling clubs 1) to teach them how to recruit members and 2) tell them about how to get government grants. I managed to visit 25 clubs and after another year, I contacted them to see what programs they had run and what the results were. Of the 25 clubs, 5 clubs had run an actual program and all of those had some success. I then asked the other clubs what had held them back from running a program and the answer was almost always money. If your club marketing budget is $300, you can only make progress via good luck or an incredible effort by your volunteers.
One element that clubs did not discuss but which is always present is the poor state of many of our clubs – slow greens, club houses in need of repair and poor facilities. Playing in a shack next to a cow pasture will not pull anyone into the game. To make our clubs attractive to new members, they must be well maintained, and it should not take a cannon to send the bowl from one end to another.
I posed this question to myself: “How much money would it take to save lawn bowling in Canada.” My answer was about 2 million dollars a year for about 10 years. Then I laughed at the thought of sending large groups of seniors to rob banks. There is an easier and less criminal way. Our clubs have three main potential sources of revenue that combined across Canada could bring in this sort of income – government grants, corporate events and membership fees.
Government Grants are the most efficient way to bring large amounts of money into our clubs. The most commonly applied for grant by our clubs is the federal New Horizons Grant which provides up to $25,000 for activities to support seniors. The grant has been around since the 1970s and my first club, Cornwall-Whitham, received 3 grants for a new mower and verticutter, new lighting and new ditch boards. Other common targets today are new club bowls, bowling equipment, marketing materials, a club laptop, appliances and, essentially, programs aimed at recruitment. In Ontario, we regularly pulled in $200,000 a year from New Horizons. We spent two years teaching clubs how to apply, editing and even writing applications for clubs. Our New Horizons numbers jumped to $640,000 a year. Those numbers will rise year after year as we coordinate with clubs submitting applications and provide direct and continuous support in the application process. We are just now reaching out, with the help of Bowls Canada, to expand this program across Canada so that we have a national support network to assist clubs in applying for the federal New Horizons Grant.
Ontario also offers the Trillium and Ontario Senior Community Program Grants which are specific to our province. When you add those numbers in, our current grant totals in Ontario are just under $900,000 per year. Other provinces have provincially specific grants that work for them. Provincial bodies across the country must mobilize to promote applications for these grants and create a support network to ensure their success.
It is never enough to just tell clubs about the available grants. To make this effort work, we have to 1) reach out to clubs and teach them how to apply 2) edit their applications as needed to ensure their success and 3) in some cases, write the applications for them. Once clubs successfully jump over the hurdle to get that first grant, they are strongly motivated to continue the process. At my own club, James Gardens, we started with $25,000 from New Horizons and 3 years later, we have gone over $90,000 in grant money from various sources. Other Ontario clubs – Preston, Muskoka, Kingston, and Glenridge for example – have all done the same. Imagine how much money that we can bring in across Canada with a fully functional national grants program.
Corporate events could not help us much in this last year due to Covid-19. However, clubs across Canada have been pulling in money for years by hosting corporate outings. Leaside LBC limits itself to $10,000 a year and sends excess inquiries to other clubs. I know other small clubs of 25 people who pull in $3000 to $4000 each year from hosting corporate team building groups. Never charge less than $500 for an event to make it worth your while. If you have a large event, always charge at least $30 per person to justify your time. At these levels, we are a very inexpensive alternative for businesses looking to do team building events. Compare our costs versus an afternoon of alley bowling and you can see how this works.
Put corporate events on your website and/or Facebook page and reach out with some local advertising on business sites or Chamber of Commerce newsletters. After the first 2 years, most of your business will be from word of mouth and you will not need to advertise. Everyone’s situation is different but even clubs in small towns can easily pull in a few thousand dollars per year with 4 or 5 events. This is a handy source of immediate cash that you can put toward special projects and promotion of your club in the community. Don’t consider these events to be membership recruitment. Consider them as ways to raise money to finance your marketing.
Other Fundraising Ideas
Clubs have raised money in various ways. London Thistle raised $10,000 by a Go Fund Me campaign with help from Lawn Summer Nights during Covid-19. Burlington has run a garage sale for years that brings in significant money. Richmond Hill runs a similar campaign but instead collects donations from members and sells them on Kijiji. Be creative and you can usually find a way to add a few thousand to your club’s income.
This is the discussion that most of you hoped to avoid. Membership fees in Canada are far too low and are one of the main reasons why clubs are in trouble. In 1980, the average club membership fee was $70. If you adjust for inflation using the Consumer Price Index, the average club fee should be $210. Instead, it is $130 to $150.
The first time that I became a club president was in 1980 in Cornwall. I was 20 years old and my election did scare some of our older members. That was nothing compared to how they felt after my first club speech where I told them that they were slowly going bankrupt and that there was no more reserve money to cover expenses. I told them that the membership fees would have to double from $50 to $100 ($300 in today’s money) and for that, they would be able to pay all of their bills on time and have the best greens in the District. We setup a meeting to go over the numbers and explain how the money would be spent. The club members bought in and agreed to the fee increase. I was very unpopular in the spring but re-elected unanimously in the fall and our club had 13 second greens. We did not lose one single member.
If your club cannot cover basic expenses, you first have to look in the mirror and ask yourself if you are not undervaluing your club experience. Compare what it costs to lawn bowl vs alley bowling or curling. Clubs have ludicrously undercharged for years and need to get their houses in order. We cannot charge effectively 30% less in real dollars than in 1980 and have half the number of members and still make the finances work. You can sell proper membership fees to your club members if you explain where the money will go and how it will improve the club experience.
The Lack of Money is the Root of All Evil
When you look at grant money, corporate events, membership fees and other fundraising tools, that 2 million dollars a year is reachable each and every year in Canada. We need to coordinate our efforts and teach clubs how to raise money. Better facilities, more marketing dollars and resources to reach out into the community will be what brings our sport back to health. Chase the money and your club will be rewarded. Need help? Reach out – Ralph Ellis firstname.lastname@example.org
We can get you going.