Now is the time – Sport Making a Positive Difference

Part 2: How to Make the ‘Changing Lives Through Sport’ Approach Sustainable

The aim of this blog series is to engage clubs in a new way of thinking about sport whilst they are in period of reflection. This is part 2 of a 4-part blog series targeted at basketball club leaders who have a passion for positively changing lives through sport. Here, we will cover sustainability when using the changing lives approach.

During the last blog, we detailed that the profile of sport may be greater with the focus on rebuilding communities post COVID-19. I anticipate social enterprises and sport clubs will be central to local and national strategy, especially sport clubs that can adopt the changing lives approach effectively. But this is easier said than done. Sports clubs have traditionally been run a ‘certain way’ for decades. I am challenging this and encourage you to think about running your club differently in order be a thriving organisation at the other side of this pandemic.

Last time, we discussed that the changing lives approach was the ‘sweetspot’ between the social impacting nature of the third sector, the business acumen of the commercial sector along with the club’s sporting ambitions. It is an approach delivering social purpose and at the same time, commercial and sporting sense.

At the end of blog 1, I could understand if you thought what a great approach it was, but how could our club with a not-for-profit nature already, make an approach like this sustainable? Because surely, it would require significant investment? Well it doesn’t, not all the time. You can make subtle ‘changing lives approach’ tweaks which will prove positive without doing so. Remember last week’s Falkirk Junior Bike Club example? It will not have taken much to produce their ‘passport’ and supporting life and bike skill development is free through their volunteer delivery. In this piece, I will try to convince you that the ‘changing lives through sport’ approach can be a sustainable enterprise.

How to Approach your Club’s Business Model

For a social enterprise or a ‘changing lives through sport’ organisation, a surplus on the balance sheet is an enabler for social impact. The difference for a corporate business, or one might argue traditional sports clubs, is that a surplus is used to enhance the organisation. A changing lives approach will no doubt invest in this area, but primarily will have an intentional approach to positively changing someone’s life through sport. Rather than the key outcome being on the member to generate profit, creating and sustaining competitive advantage on the court, it will have a clear intention for a beneficiary from a disadvantaged group.

To demonstrate that clear intention, a ‘changing lives through sport’ club will have a primary component to their business model that details how social impact is generated through their activities and drives all their decisions.

The Challenges of this Business Model

Clearly, running your organisation like this is more complicated than a traditional basketball club, but the benefits to the club and community are worth it. Operating like this may mean unfamiliar combinations of activities and complexities that your leadership should consider before activating this approach. Social impact, commercial and sporting decisions should have as much time inputted into them to keep the plates spinning. If anything, the social should have more input. If you are not in this area already, you may be focusing heavily on your membership just now and undertaking this unfamiliar approach may mean your time commitments are split and shifting towards your social impact commitment. Because of this shift in commitment, your communications about what your club does and how it does it will need to evolve. Finally, I consider the following to be a huge challenge for sports organisations to overcome; a ‘changing lives through sport’ organisation should never stop another organisation with a shared vision from succeeding. This will mean all sporting grudges are put to one side.

Small Tweaks

Doing some of the small things can aid your reflection and help evolve your organisations business model in this area. A worthwhile task is to categorise all your club activities into:

  • ‘cash cows’,
  • those that provide ‘social impact’ and,
  • the ‘star’ activities which provide a mix of both.

Naturally, to begin with, there won’t be many ‘stars’. So, focus on the ‘social impact’ activities, and could evolving them into a slightly more profitable product allow you to impact more with the same service. Or could this additional surplus allow you to start a new positive ‘changing lives’ service. Now divert your attention to the ‘cows’. Could you nudge them towards the ‘social impact’ column to ensure they serve purpose? This goes back to the point made previously in the blog about the beneficiary.

Finally, why not try some of these measures which may support a financially disadvantaged member:

  • Buy one, Give one: When a member pays for a month, or a year’s membership. The member then has the option to contribute to someone else’s membership who may not be able to afford it. This contribution could be big, or little.
  • Robin Hood: Using the products people pay for, to support those who cannot afford to. Profits of the service are used to support people who cannot afford to pay it.

Deciding to be a ‘changing lives through sport’ club requires some hard work and a change of mindset. There will be some challenges to overcome, however the problems are worth solving because it is a rewarding model to adopt.

The Real Time Example – Scottish Fencing

There is value in demonstrating what other sports do in this area. Hear how Scottish Fencing have the ‘changing lives’ approach embedded in their strategy and the creation of Project Forte. The Project Forte programme is a therapy to support survivors of sexual violence. Hear from Blair Cremin, Pathways Manager at Scottish Fencing, detailing the programme here.


If you want to discuss anything in this blog, please don’t hesitate to contact me at: