THE WAY AHEAD
A Plan to Develop the Membership of the British Fencing Association
1. The Board Must Reorganise its Operations and Measure its Own Performance
The aims British Fencing must be clearly defined in the articles as a separate section.
The Board must work to the articles and measure its performance on a monthly basis. Individual board members should be made aware that they are responsible for the activities of the whole of the BFA and not just their own special interests. All Board members must have a specific role to perform outside Board meetings and the Board should be reduced in size to make it less cumbersome.
The Board should contain one BAF representative not voted on by the BFA membership and likewise the BAF executive should include a BFA representative as was the case when the BAF was founded.
The President's role must be clearly defined in the articles as that of chairman of the Board. The President should be excluded from other committees throughout the organisation.
All communication to and from the Board, the President and the Ombudsman should be open to member's scrutiny.
The Annual Accounts need to be much more detailed, we the membership need to know:
Total transparency of the Board's organisation is essential to build the trust of the membership.
A detailed breakdown of Development and International money received from the Government via the Sports Councils
What Officials got paid to do what?
What fencers receive funding for?
Which groups got what extra moneys?
What competitions cost and which made a profit or a loss and what happened to that profit?
Weapons Committees individual accounts need to be shown in detail.
A National Development Plan of 4 years is useless, as it can only affect current fencers. With our existing fencers we can only hope to create the odd elite fencer to seriously challenge internationally (a Bill Hoskyns or a Linda McMahone) once a decade; and this relies on the chance of the right talent with the right aspirations having the right coach and parental support.
A 10 year plan focusing on grass roots development are more likely to achieve results in the long term.
There has still been no official capital lottery application. The Board's effectiveness must be measured by it's ability to acquire funding.
2. Use Assets to Create Greater Benefit
I remember the justification for selling the de Beaumont Centre and the purchase of the HQ was to guarantee our security for the future.
We have capital and reserves of £789,000
We receive only £34,000 (1993/4) net return on our investments.
We should, like other small businesses with huge capital reserves, be getting the direct benefit of commercial projects where return on capital is a prime objective.
The de Beaumont Centre was never run to its full potential; to acquire another similar centre without the commercial goals would be a big mistake.
Any small business would give their right arm for the capital level of the BFA.
Our constitution allows us to purchase property, borrow money and make investments. So we have the opportunity to make money in many different commercial ways. These should be regularly considered.
Both the FTSE and House Price Indexes have way out performed our meager return on investment.
3. Reduce Costs
If we didn't have the money from the sale of the de Beaumont Centre the HQ would probably be sited in a business village with serviced offices like many other small businesses. Baron's Gate commits us to costs we cannot afford.
Should we let or sell Baron's Gate (if we can) and use the income more constructively?
Should we seek to share our administration with another sports body?
Should the administration be put out to tender?
One thing is totally clear the HQ should not cost more than the subscription revenue.
Whether by increasing the membership or reducing the overheads, the balance must be improved.
It is no excuse to say that the AFA is run as inefficiently as many other sports bodies.
Introduce monthly dating of membership and batch processing to reduce administration and postage costs.
A Board member or sub committee of Board members should be responsible for the day to day management and of the secretariat.
4. Use Marketing
The AFA needs to define its product, focus on customers, provide better services and have a marketing strategy.
An annual marketing budget should be setup with clearly defined targets.
All avenues for promoting fencing should be researched.
A really professional promotional video should be made, to be used to attract sponsorship, stimulate the take-up by schools and generally state what fencing is about, is essential to help those of us who are trying to promote our sport.
Each copy of The Sword is a selling opportunity, whether for membership, merchandising or courses.
5. Adopt the Principle of Retailing in Developing Membership
The BFA has a duty to seek consensus with all its members and all fencers. I find it strange that there are more full members (1370) than associate members (925). This obviously points to a neglect of county/club fencing and the fact that counties must, as a general rule, turn a blind eye to the required BFA membership for their competitions. A pyramid structure to membership would be far healthier, eg, a large number of county or club fencers with smaller number of elite or national fencers.
I believe we should discontinue Associate membership as it has already proved, through its lack of support, to be poor value.
A £12 Club Fencer's BFA membership, which includes insurance and The Sword, should be introduced (the combined total annual cost to the BFA of £3.40).
This membership would be sold only be club secretaries or organising professionals who then get £3 back for a retailing service they perform for the BFA. The BFA gets £4.60 profit per member.
Only affiliated clubs would be able to sell this service; this will encourage clubs to be affiliated.
I believe this would double our membership in a very short time. It would give the AFA more information about the grass-roots, and it would be taken up by fencers because it would represent good value.
At present non-BFA club members are not insured unless they are one of the club officers. Given the choice, do club officials want to risk being sued by a member, with all the legal inconvenience it would entail, even if they are insured for their liability?
6. Sell The Sword
After producing the copies for the membership, extra copies of The Sword cost only 25p each to produce after an initial print run.
We could sell them to non-AFA members for £1.50 through club secretaries and coaches, giving them 50p on each sale. For selling an extra 1000 copies per quarter an annual income of £2800 would be achieved.
If the circulation could be raised to 10,000 and increased to six issues a year, much more advertising revenue would be achievable; the magazine would then make a profit - whilst spreading the AFA word.
Or Give The Sword Away Free
We could give The Sword away free at clubs, schools and at holiday centres where we run courses. We would then have a readership of over 20,000. With a readership of 20,000 we could attract outside advertising and our own merchandising activities could be made very profitable.
The Sword's contents should focused on a 18 to 25 year olds.
It should include county results, coaching tips, star profiles, and overall, have a much wider reader appeal to make it the one voice of fencing.
By developing advertising and merchandising, The Sword could make a profit.
7. Widen Membership Participation
There is a constitutional bias towards the competitive fencer, because only they (full members) can participate in the AFA AGM.
Associate or new Club Members should be able to contribute to policy.
The amateur coach or part-time professional must be able to contribute policy,
although their contribution is the first vital link in the chain to increased AFA membership. This means that the very people whose interest it is to increase the fencing population are unable to vote and are treated as outsiders by the BFA.
After membership, selling merchandise is an important function of the administration and items such as T-shirts, caps, tracksuits, books, exercise posters, training videos, car stickers and mugs could be included.
An annual profit target of £20,000 (that's only £4 per member) should be set.
An AFA stall, making money by selling nick-nacks and memberships, should be a common sight at county and schools events.
9. Improve information
If we don't know where we are, how can we plan where we are going?
How many people fence?
What ages are they?
How many schools teach fencing?
How many people tried it for the first time last year?
How safe is our sport compared with others?
How does fencing's growth pattern compare with other sports?
What is the total retail value of all fencing equipment sold in the UK?
What is the social and economic breakdown of fencers?
Are there any trends of membership make-up over the last ten years?
None of this information is known!
If you or your club do not renew your BFA membership you come off the computer and are lost forever - in business terms this is irresponsible.
A strategy for information gathering should be planned and implemented. This would enable us to think creatively and to analyse our activities.
I have found that most complaints regarding the administration all refer to information. Up-to-date information on rankings, calendar, rules and results are all disseminated around the country. The HQ tends, and this is not its fault, to refer rather than inform; this is clearly defeating the reason for its existence.
At present the Board does not manage the administration, no Board member is directly responsible for the office and it has therefore become a law unto itself.
A central administration would be an asset. It should be proactive and creative - it does not function in that way at the moment.
10. Increase Coaching Development
Statistics are something we don't have at our disposal, so what I am about to say is a hypothetical. There is a ratio between the number of people that take part in beginner's courses and the number who become elite fencers. By elite, I am referring to someone in the top ten in the country at the level that this country is at present. This rotio is probably about 10,000 to 1. "It takes 10,000 beginner to make 1 elite fencer" To produce an Olympic medalist like Bill Hoskyns, the ratio is probably more like 100.000 to 1.
Unfortunately nobody seems to be addressing this problem of how to reduce these ratios. We need to look carefully at the way we coach people and teach coaches, to understand where we are going wrong. The way we educate people into fencing needs assessment. We need to radically change the way we teach.
Development must be encouraged where pockets of energy, enthusiasm and expertise are.
As such, counties, or for that matter, groups of clubs must be encouraged to produce their own development plan which is submitted to the BFA for its support and inclusion into the national development plan. I stress that the BFA's role would be one of support, encouragement and, eventually, assessment and not to take over the proposal.
By their own energies, groups will see the benefit of their own work; ideas and the act of creating ideas would be spread throughout the country, the BFA would then disseminate these ideas and encourage others to take up the good ones.
I have just re-read Charles de Beaumont's Fencing - An Ancient Art and Modern Sport. He boasted three full-time national coaches and 700 affiliated clubs in 1976, and that from a re-start in 1945 when there were only 15 active clubs. We at present have just over 300 affiliated clubs and one full-time coach educator. If the last 20 years had been as successful as the previous 30 we would now have over.
These are the sort of targets we should set ourselves.
- 1100 affiliated clubs and
- five full-time national coaches.
Coaching and development are the engine-room of our sport; through them we increase membership, and its activities always produce a profit.
The benefits of the above plan would be:
- A blooming membership
- A greater participation of the membership
- Better communications
- No costly commitments (if all the proposals are taken up together)
- Everyone could stop moaning about the BFA
- A guaranteed future for our sport.
All the time I've been fencing, the perceived wisdom has been, "when someone wins the Olympic Gold, we will get so much TV time that we won't know what to do with all the new members." It is time to stop dreaming and start using words like efficiency, targets and value for money.
I'm not calling for a revolution here. I just want to see British fencing develop and grow as fencing has done in other countries. We have the capital to allow us the flexibility to put in place these changes. NOW is the time to think ahead and take steps to achieve that growth.
Terence Kingston First published Dec.1995 revised Feb 2000
I would like to hear any comments on the above ideas. Please e-mail me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
or phone me on: 020 8946 0265
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