Sport Sister Podcast - Season 1, Episode 4

Episode 4 – Funding Ideas For Clubs: Caroline McRoyall and Keith DiPalma.

Caroline McRoyall and Keith DiPalma

Caroline McRoyall has worked in the sport and leisure industry for over 20 years and was previously the CEO of Surrey FA.  Keith DiPalma has been the Chair of Tigers JFC in Essex for 19 years.  Tigers have 53 teams in total, 13 of which are female teams.  In this episode they share some of the best ways that clubs can raise funds to support their teams, and some of their top tips for accessing funding.

I find that people tend to have a scattergun approach and try to apply for as much as possible, but if you can be a bit more focused, you’re more likely to have success.

- Caroline McRoyall

Read this episode’s transcript

Natalie Doyle:

Welcome to the Sport Sister Podcast, where we bring together professional experts with grassroots pioneers to discuss key topics for grassroots sport. 

I’m Natalie Dole, and in this episode, I’m joined by two people with a lot of sporting experience. 

Caroline McRoyall has worked in the sport and leisure industry for over 20 years and was previously the CEO of Surrey FA. She’s also a tutor for Sport England’s Club Matters workshops. 

Keith DiPalma has been the Chair of Tigers JFC in Essex for 19 years. Tigers have 53 teams altogether 13 of which are female and have over 90 girls attending their Weetabix Wildcats sessions. Both of them have a lot of experience in raising funds for sports clubs. Let’s pick their brains.

Caroline and Keith, thank you so much for giving up your time today. We’re going to talk funding, which is always interesting. It’s always something that comes up that clubs need a bit of support with. 

Keith, you’ve been involved with Tigers for a long time. How do you approach getting funding into the club?

Keith DiPalma:

With the funding, with our younger ones, when they’ve finished at development, we have a very nice company that volunteered about five years ago to sponsor every new team that comes into the club and they’ve literally stuck to their promise. Every year, if we put five teams forward, six teams forward, or seven, they always sponsor their very first kit. So by getting them in early doors and where they saw for the first couple years what we were all about, where we were promoting the football etc, and giving everybody a stepping stone, they’ve moved on, and for the last five years, they’ve managed to carry on sponsoring us. Even when our original sponsor ceased trading, the new company that we use now, stepped in and they’ve just taken over from where the old company left off. And it gives the managers a really good stepping stone. They haven’t got to chase funding to get started. We give them an easy stepping stone to get on their pathway into football. Where we’ve got the sponsor, it gives the managers a stepping stone to get started, so they don’t have all of the hassle of trying to find a sponsor, have they got a kit, what equipment are they going to be using, so it gives them a steady flow into management.

Natalie Doyle:

That’s really interesting. So how did you find those companies?

Keith DiPalma:

The first company we originally got was actually run by professional footballers. They owned a restaurant. The restaurant went into receivership. They carried on abroad, but the UK franchise didn’t work. But the accountants from the business, they knew exactly what we’d done. So they stepped in. So the accountants, that were part of the business, said we’d like to continue the sponsorship. So they give us a lump sum at the beginning of every season. We go out, buy the kit, buy some training equipment and it literally gives them a stepping stone to where we start.

Natalie Doyle:

Brilliant. I really like that. That’s a great start for a new coach coming in and taking a team to know that that’s one less thing that they need to worry about.

How about you, Caroline? You’ve worked with clubs for a long time. What are some of the examples that you’ve heard of people accessing funded sport? What are they doing?

Caroline McRoyall:

A variety of different things. The sponsorship that Keith just touched on just shows that relationship that you can build with companies and once they know what you’re about, they’re willing to invest. So it’s really important about looking for that right connection with an organization. But even just the simple things around fundraising events and activities. I think people can get really creative with them, whether it’s a sponsored penalty shoot-out, sponsored walk, whether it’s, lottery type activities, crowdfunding, even business networking, which we see more of a success of late, where companies join an organization that gives back to the club as part of their membership fee.

Merchandise as well. There’s so many different ways of doing it, but I think what clubs need to be quite clear about from the start is what they want the money for and how much time they’ve got to access it because obviously doing these different things all take a different amount of time. And there’s no point trying to do everything at once. It’s about thinking quite clearly about what you need the money for, what you’ve got time to deliver, and then just growing it gradually from there. So get something that’s successful, whether it’s an event or an activity, and then maybe the next year, push on and do something a bit bigger and just grow slowly. I think sometimes clubs tend to try to do too much at once.

Natalie Doyle:

Yeah, definitely. That’s a key bit isn’t it, thinking about what you want the money for? I know that when I’ve had conversations with some clubs before and you say, what do you need to grow participation? It’s really easy to say funding or money, but what is it that you actually need it for? Is it because you want to put some coaches through their coaching badges? Is it because you’ve got facility costs that you need to pick up? Is it kit, for example, Keith, which you talked about? 

You’ve done that really well obviously with your sponsor because they’ve said that they’ll fund a kit for each new team, do you try and take that approach regularly in terms of, this is what we are fundraising for, and this is how we’re gonna do it, or is it more of a general club approach?

Keith DiPalma:

When we’ve got the sponsor doing the kits, we then focus on everything else i.e balls, bibs, cones, etc. The club will predominantly supply the majority of that equipment. And what Caroline just picked up on there, the penalty shoot-out etc. We as a club, we’ve got money in our kitty to put managers through their training, and courses and stuff like that, but we do a lot in the community for funding as well. So local charities where they’re struggling at the moment, so Easter weekend, we knew a lot of children were gonna be away on holiday, so we couldn’t organize a normal training session at our Wildcats and cubs, which is the boy’s version for reception and year ones. So we had a ‘Fun Weekend’ and we said footgolf, a pound a go, a penalty shoot-out, a pound a go, we did foot bowling, so we set up 10 skittles kicked balls at the skittles, a pound a go. We raised over £700 on a one-hour session, which we donated to charity, but turn that on its head, if you’re going to be raising money for your club, there’s some great ideas there. One, the children are having fun, the parents are quite happy to put their hand in their pocket and you are raising money as well.

Natalie Doyle:

Yeah, exactly. That’s the thing, isn’t it? You think as well, parents are always looking for things that their kids can be doing during the Easter weekend if they’re not away, so anything like that, which provides some entertainment while also raising money for the club is going to be well received. Whether you do that either for the club or for charity, depending on what your situation is.

Caroline McRoyall:

Yeah. That sounds like a really great event. I know a lot of clubs do like to do charity fundraising and that’s good, but sometimes I think it’s saying why not do a 50/50 split? So you are raising money for the charity and for the club at the same time and vice versa, the charity can help promote the club activity. So both are winning out of it. And then you are getting some income from some of the activities that you’re doing.

Natalie Doyle:

Yeah. That’s a really good point. So you can then do the best of both worlds really can’t you? The other element is more formal funding pots. So what sort of experience have you both had in terms of applying for those funding pots and have you got any tips for people who might be looking at those sort of more, more formal funding applications?

Keith DiPalma:

I can vouch very much for the goalpost funding by the Football Foundation. We have literally just done the whole of our club renewing goals. Now we’ve got 53 teams within Tigers, so we’ve got roughly 12 pitches going every Sunday. And our goals were in a state. They were the big heavy metal ones. No one wanted to put them up, etc. So I filled out a Football Foundation application and I’ll be honest with you, the way it’s now done, I did it many years ago, and it was a long-winded process. Now, it’s so easy. Once you’ve done one grant if you then want to apply for another grant, it’s all saved and it’s nowhere near as time-consuming as it used to be. So I put thumbs up for the goalpost funding straightaway.

Caroline McRoyall:

Yeah, you’re right. The Football Foundation application process is so much easier now for the smaller grants, and you get a quicker turnaround, which is really good. And I think for any football club, that should be your first point of call to have a look at those funding streams. But then there are obviously a lot of other funding applications that are out there. And I’ve been involved in doing a lot of funding for clubs and other organizations. It is hard work in some respects, and there is a lot of competition at the moment, particularly because of COVID, and a lot of funding goes towards the COVID relief side of things. But if you are really clear about what you want, you can filter out some of those grant opportunities and make sure that you are clear about what the guidelines are of those grants and what the outcomes are and make sure that your project meets those.

And I think that sometimes you find that people tend to do a scattergun approach and try to apply for as much as possible. But if you can be a bit more focused, you’re probably more likely to have success. And it’s not just looking at sporting grants, but there are also other grants and thinking about how you can sell sport in a different way. So, if you’re not applying to Football Foundation, Sport England, or a sporting body, and you’re applying to say a local council application or a community funding place, thinking about sport in a different way. So talking about the mental health benefits, the teamwork, the learning and development, and the wider aspects of sport and show how that can make a positive difference.

I suppose one of the top tips I would always say is getting somebody else to read the application because you can do it and think, oh, it’s so clear. It meets all the outcomes and everything else, but get someone else just to have a quick read-through because they’ll spot some things that you’ve missed. It could be as simple as your budget doesn’t quite add up properly, which are simple things that might turn somebody off because so many grant funders get so many applications they have to go through. And I think I’d also say that if you’re unsuccessful, don’t be too disheartened because there’s a lot of competition out there unfortunately. Just keep going.

Natalie Doyle:

Yeah, definitely. I think demonstrating the wider outcomes of sport is really important, isn’t it? And we’ll all be aware of those additional benefits that you get. And Keith, when you have got a sponsor on board, they’re not just doing that because they know you’ve got X amount of kids who are playing football, they’re doing that because they know the impact that sport will be having on those young people.

Keith DiPalma:

Absolutely. And they know that they’re investing their money into something that’s giving kids something to do, taking them off the streets and getting them involved in physical activity. They know that because one of their directors is part of the club. That’s how we got them involved. 

Their sons are old enough now to have finished their football careers, but they’re still investing in the youth set-up of the younger ones, starting their journey in grassroots football. So I think it’s very important that you keep all of your sponsors involved. The older teams have got individual sponsors. They’re as valid to the club as the ones that are sponsoring all of the team like the younger teams are. So I think with business, yes, they’re getting a bit of sponsorship out of it, getting a bit of coverage on websites, etc, but they don’t have to. And it’s really good that they’re willing to do it to put their time and their effort and their businesses forward into a grassroots football club.

Caroline McRoyall:

Yeah. I think you’ve seen a lot more of that more recently, haven’t you, since COVID with the whole trying to give back to the local community and that community spirit coming together more. So I think that relationship with your local sponsors in your local area is really important. And once you’ve got the sponsor on board, it’s making sure they’re happy, so you can keep them for longer and then they’ll possibly give you contacts with other organizations and it can kind of snowball from there, and that’s what’s important.

Natalie Doyle:

Yeah, definitely. You talked then, Keith, about how some of your older teams have their own sponsors, how have they come about? Is that by relationships with parents or other businesses that you work with? How did you approach that?

Keith DiPalma:

Yeah, so what we do is with our main sponsor, we let them sponsor from U7 to U8s. When they get to U8s, the kits get a bit small for them, so the teams then go and find their own sponsors. 

There might be a parent in the team that has his own business and asks how much it costs to sponsor a kit. Then you’ll have other people, family, friends or bigger businesses that want to invest more money, then it goes down to tracksuits, more training equipment, away kits, home kits. So, whatever money they want to invest, the teams are the ones that are going to be promoting that business on their shirts, week in week out, on their social media sites, which I’ll be honest with you, social media now, is a massive thing where to put a company’s name on a picture or a photo, or on the front of a shirt, or ‘so and so kindly sponsored by’ and a company name, a hashtag here of the name of the company or something like that, it just gives that company more scope of getting more business in by sponsoring a youth football team.

Natalie Doyle:

Yeah, definitely. And it’s a good way, isn’t it, of spreading the name of that business on a wider scale? So you’re not relying on people seeing it on the shirts or in a program or on the website, social media content can go everywhere, can’t it? So it’s a really good way of them promoting their own business.

Keith DiPalma:

Yeah, absolutely. And going back to funding where Caroline was saying about the business is getting involved, even so much as a company asking a shop or a store for a prize for a raffle, that goes so far. You just go and approach them – we’re a local grassroots club, would you mind sponsoring us or giving us a raffle prize? – Then you have a massive raffle draw. If you’ve got 100 tickets at £5 each, there’s £500. You haven’t spent any money because these companies have donated, but just give them a little bit of advertisement and it goes a long way.

Natalie Doyle:

Yeah, definitely. Caroline, you’re also a tutor for Sport England’s Club Matters workshops, aren’t you? Would you like to tell us a little bit more about what that program is and how that might support clubs who are looking for funding?

Caroline McRoyall:

Yeah, sure. Sport England’s Club Matters program is a range of resources and a website. It’s really a one-stop shop for clubs involved in physical activity and sport. There’s so much content and information on there, it’s unbelievable. And they’re also specific workshops that people can book onto and courses that are two hours long and do. So, one of those, for example, is on financial sustainability. And some of these are delivered through national governing bodies or through the active partnerships, but other times they have open workshops as well. So you can go on the website, register your interest in a specific course and then get on the next course, or, there are loads of free resources on there. So if you look through the section, there’s information specifically around funding ideas, there’s videos and clips from other clubs, so you can see some best practice as well. So there is a lot of information there and it will probably take a club a lot of time to go through it all. But if you know specifically what you’re looking for, whether it’s support around funding or whether it’s support around volunteers or good governance, there is a lot of resources on there and I would encourage any club to have a look and sign up to that.

Natalie Doyle:

Great. I’ll share the link for the website in the show notes as well. If anyone wants to go and have a little look at that website, you’ll be able to find the link in the notes for this episode. Feel free to go and have a little look at that. Okay. Let’s start thinking creative now then. I love all the penalty shootout ideas, the events are great. What is the most creative way that either of you have heard of, or have tried in terms of getting some funding into a club?

Caroline McRoyall:

I was going to say, as soon as you say the most creative way everybody goes, oh, I dunno if it’s creative. I think the one that I’ve picked up on more recently that I hadn’t seen before is the business networking side of things. It came about mainly that I saw during the lockdown, unfortunately. Obviously, everybody was at home, but they did some virtual networking and they used it as an opportunity to raise money for their club. And by businesses signing up to this networking session, they were putting money back into the club effectively and the club managed to raise a significant amount of money. And I got in contact with that organisation and I said, look, this seems like a really good idea. I know a few clubs that have done some business networking, would you be willing to roll this out to other clubs?

And they agreed and this is known as the Sports Business Network. It is now running at another couple of clubs. They do virtual, they do face-to-face networking, and it’s something that I’ve kind of been involved in. I think what’s nice about it is it’s not just your bog standard business networking where everybody’s trying to sell really hard. They are obviously trying to do that and get business, but they’ve also all got a love of sport and a willingness to want to give back to the local community, whether it’s a club or a charity. I think that’s what’s nice because as soon as you start that networking session, you’ve got that common bond already. You all love sport, whatever type of sport it is, it’s not specific to football. So I think that works quite well. And I’ve seen that grow more recently, obviously because of the lockdown and the fact that you can do virtual networking as well as face-to-face.

Natalie Doyle:

Yeah, that’s the good thing, isn’t it? Is that whether you are involved in sport or not a lot of people like sport in some way, and a lot of people want to get involved in it and support either young people or people in general, to be active. So I think you’ve always got a good selling point in that respect, haven’t you? What about you, Keith? What, what have you got for us? What have you come up with in the past?

Keith DiPalma:

What we are currently doing at the club, and we’ve done it for the last 10 years at least, we’ve got a thing called a 200 Club. So we have 200 members, they all pay £12, £1 per month, and they’re all given a number, 1 to 200. Every month we do a draw on an electronic wheel, all the names are entered, and the winner gets £100, the club gets £100 and we’ve got 12 draws, so they’ve got 12 monthly draws. They’re paying £1 a month and it’s been that successful, it started off as a 50 club, then 100, 200, we’re now looking at 250 Club to a 300 Club. So we’re looking at more people coming on.

Natalie Doyle:

Yeah. That’s a really good idea. I like that because it’s like playing the lottery, but with better odds, right?

Keith DiPalma:

Yeah, absolutely.

Natalie Doyle:

Interesting.

Keith DiPalma:

It works as well. Another thing we do down the lines of that, is we do Super Six, like Soccer Six, where six games, put the scores on. We only started that a couple of years ago, so we’ve got 50 people involved in that. We call that £10 Super Six. They all pay £10 in, we do a monthly winner and then we’ll have an overall winner at the end of the season. So again, 50/50 is raising money for the club and we’re giving prize funds out as well.

Natalie Doyle:

Yeah. Brilliant. I love that. A nice and creative idea.

Caroline McRoyall:

There are also online lotteries as well. If the club, for example, wants to do something like Keith was talking about, but don’t necessarily have the time or the volunteers to coordinate that sort of thing, you can sign up to organizations that will run it for you. Obviously they take a small fee, but it means it can just go ahead in the background and you don’t have to worry about it. So clubs should look at that as well as an option.

Natalie Doyle:

Great. I love that idea. Okay, we’re going to start to wrap things up and in a minute I’m going to ask you for your top tips on accessing funding. So just be prepared on that one. But before we get to that, are there any other sources of funding that you can think of that you’ve supported clubs with in the past that maybe we haven’t mentioned that we’re just going to fire out to people? Is there anything else you can think of?

Caroline McRoyall:

I would say the easy fundraising. I think a lot of County FA’s have been promoting this and again, it’s money that you don’t really have to do much for. So the club signs up for it, they get their supporters to support it, and basically, every time somebody from the club does some online shopping, a small percentage of that will go back to that cause or that club. We are not talking vast amounts of money, but it is a small amount that will drip feed. And if you’ve got a big club and you can get a lot of people to sign up, then you’ll start to get a consistent stream of income. So it’s definitely worth looking into, and again, it’s relatively easy to manage. They provide you with all the social media tools to promote, and once people are signed up, it hopefully just runs in the background and don’t need to worry about it.

Natalie Doyle:

Yeah. That highlights the point doesn’t it, about the importance of making those partnerships? So if you are a football club talking to your County FA, if you are in any sport, then talking to your local active partnership, because they will be one of the first to hear probably about these different funding opportunities. If they know that you are looking for funding, then they can make sure that you’re sent that information. They could also provide support in terms of, Caroline, you mentioned earlier around getting someone to read your application, that’s exactly what they’re there for, to support you with those. So do make sure that you’re reaching out to those organizations that are available to support you. What about you, Keith? Is there anything else we’ve missed that you can think of?

Keith DiPalma:

I think I’ve mentioned our main fundraiser things. We did sign up for the crowd thing from the Essex FA, through what we do by going out and spending. I know you say it’s only a little, but if you’re going to have to buy a sofa, a TV or something like that, not just your general shopping, it does amount up quite quickly to get some money in. We haven’t accumulated hundreds or thousands at the moment, but you only need to get your whole club involved on that. And I think it’s the mindset of logging onto this site before you go onto the main site, and that’s when you get your percentage or whatever you’re getting. So, yeah, I agree with that, but we only started that just before Christmas, so with everyone doing their Christmas shopping, it did tally up quite quickly.

Natalie Doyle:

Yeah. That’s the thing like you say, Caroline, you can have it just running in the background once you’ve got up and running, but Keith, like you mentioned around Christmas shopping, a little reminder just before people are likely to be starting Christmas shopping is a good one, isn’t it, to make sure, like you say, they’re going to that site rather than the site that they would normally go to. Okay. Right. So my last question for you both is, what would be your top tip for a club or organization that’s wanting to access funding or increase the income that’s coming into their club?

Caroline McRoyall:

Are we only allowed one top tip? <laugh>

Natalie Doyle:

Oh, how many have you got?

Caroline McRoyall:

I don’t know <laugh>

Natalie Doyle:

I haven’t got time for 12, but if you’ve got two or three, then we can go with that. That’s fine.

Caroline McRoyall:

No, I think, think it’s probably just to echo a couple of things I’ve said and maybe add one new one. I think the first thing is to be really clear about what you want money for and what you need it for and to think about how much time you’ve got because that will depict in terms of what you actually do. Start small and grow gradually, and then if you are going down the grant funding route, I would just say, there are lots of organizations out there that can support you so tap into those and also make use of local insight and data, which is something I haven’t mentioned up to now.

Natalie Doyle:

Yeah. That’s a really good point, isn’t it? Because if you are in a deprived area, for example, there might be certain funding pots that you can access that you couldn’t maybe access in other areas. Again, that’s where your County FA or your active partnership can help analyze that sort of local insight, or they might have more data available that might give you a bit more of an idea of what your local area looks like. Yeah, that’s a really good one. What’s yours, Keith?

Keith DiPalma:

My big main tip is because the majority of people are volunteers in grassroots football, time is of the essence. We all have full-time or part-time jobs etc. At our club where we’re volunteers and time is limited, we, at our club managed to grab a person, a parent and asked them to be our corporate officer. So they were the ones that felt important going around to get businesses involved or to get in raffle prizes, etc. And it took the pressure off the managers and the main committee of the club. And it gave him an incentive to go out and show that it can be done. He’s been doing that role for 6/7 years now. and absolutely loves approaching companies, asking for prizes, funding, etc. And he’s one of these guys that will not take no for an answer.

Caroline McRoyall:

I think that touching on what Keith said there is, it’s a specific skill-set, isn’t it, that can do these roles. And I think we all try to do it, but, you want to try and find someone that is good at it. They’re a salesperson effectively, and that’s who you need to do. And if you can find someone like that in your club, then all the better.

Natalie Doyle:

Yeah. And if you’ve got people who are volunteering for a role within your club, and they’re not a coach, maybe, it’s about being able to identify what those skills are and find the right role for them. And that role would be perfect. Like you say, for somebody who works in sales or has that sort of background or just that sort of personality. So how you then match the skills to the particular role, I think that’s really important. That’s a really good note to finish on, I think. We’ve touched on what your processes might look like, but we’ve also touched on what the people might look like. I think we’ve got some good creative ideas, so thank you very much for sharing those with us today. I’ll share all of the links as well from the podcast that we’ve discussed throughout the episode in the show notes. And thank you very much, Caroline and Keith, for giving up your time today.

Caroline McRoyall:

Thank you.

Keith DiPalma:

Thanks very much. Thank you.

Natalie Doyle:

That was great, to be able to pick Caroline and Keith’s brains around funding. There’s some really good creative ideas and hopefully ones that you can implement within your own clubs and organizations. As I said, I’ll share all of the links to the things that we’ve discussed here in this episode, in the show notes. So please feel free to check those out. 

I hope you’re enjoying the podcast so far and we’ll be back in the next episode with some extra-special guests.

See you then.

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