The Rise of the Australian Sports Foundation: Q&A with ASF CEO Patrick Walker

Posted by in Australia and New Zealand, Commercial, Jonathan Harris

Since its launch in 2010, SRi’s Australian and New Zealand arm has played a part in supporting some of the most prestigious, high profile and successful sport, media and entertainment organisations in the region.

The Australian Sports Foundation is dedicated to raising tax deductible money for sports from the grassroots upwards, giving clubs and teams the platform to attract donations through crowdfunding, community projects, peer-to-peer giving and regular investment.

As raising finance becomes tougher and tougher in the modern sporting environment, SRi’s Managing Partner for Australia and New Zealand, Jonathan Harris, spoke to the Foundation’s CEO Patrick Walker to find out more about the organisation:

Patrick Walker CEOJonathan Harris: Hi Patrick, I have followed The Australian Sports Foundation with interest for a number of years, and in that time the Foundation has seen significant growth. How has that been achieved?

Patrick Walker: It’s certainly been a successful period for us, particularly over the last couple of years. Tax deductible donations have doubled and, more importantly, the number of fundraising projects we have worked with has increased almost threefold.

I’d put it down to three main areas. First, we have brought all of our operations online – including launching online donation capability for all projects – and simplifying everything from the registration process to the acquittal procedures reporting on how donated money has been spent.

Secondly, we have been way more proactive in terms of reaching out to let sport know of the opportunity to raise funds through something a bit more sophisticated than just a traditional Chook Raffle. We regularly present at conferences and workshops, alongside effective PR campaigns, to get the message out there.

Finally, and this is where SRi come in, we have brought new skills into the team, including people with experience of fundraising in the mainstream charity sector and the arts, and also marketing expertise. This means we are now able to provide help and support to the sports community, so that when groups do seek to fundraise they have a better chance of success.

JH: How has the Foundation changed since you joined in 2014?

PW: The Foundation had been around a long time – it was formed in 1986 – but it was largely unknown among the sports community. It lacked investment, and was still largely an offline and paper-based business. While we had a team of passionate staff, who worked hard to provide a good service to the sports world, the organisation was perceived as bureaucratic and inflexible, and offered little “value add” beyond the ability to provide a tax deduction for donations to sport.

What I set out to do is supplement the existing capabilities with real support, advice and insights to help sport fundraise more effectively. This meant organising teams slightly differently, bringing in new talent and also enabling the teams to be more proactive and easier to deal with for our clients.

JH: The Foundation has executed some wonderful fundraising campaigns over the years. What’s been your recent favourite, and why was it a success?

PW: I absolutely love the Confident Girls campaign run by the Netball Foundation (part of Netball Australia). Everyone looks up to the Australian Diamonds as wonderful role models and ambassadors for their sport, but the real impact of netball is at the grassroots level, and the way it empowers young girls and builds their confidence. The Confident Girls campaign aims to raise $250k a year to provide the means for disadvantaged girls to have access to this wonderful sport. What is clever about the campaign is the way netball has reached out to hundreds of school teams and clubs nationwide, asking them to register on our crowdfunding platform and run peer-to-peer fundraising campaigns locally, to contribute to the cause. It is early days yet, but I believe this is a model that many other national sports could use to raise funds for grassroots causes.

JH: We’ve seen commercial revenues become more competitive and tougher to come by, yet the Foundation continues to grow. What are the main challenges you see across the Australian sports industry?

Well, I would say lack of funds is a major challenge! Over the past few years I have spoken with hundreds of teams, from our national and Olympic squads to small community clubs, and this is a recurring theme. We are unrealistic if we believe that state or federal governments are going to be handing out more money to sport in the current economic climate.

In addition, when sport traditionally looks to diversify revenue streams, it tends to fall back on the same old suspects of sponsorship, which is a pretty tough market in itself, particularly outside the major televised sports; membership; and commercial. You can’t keep going back to the well, time after time, so we are trying to encourage sports to open up tax deductible fundraising as a sustainable additional revenue stream.

Jonathan Harris is Managing Partner for SRi’s Australia and New Zealand operations since its launch in 2010. He works extensively with major sports, media and entertainment clients across the region. To find out more about SRi’s insights on achieving success in Australia and New Zealand, get in touch with Jonathan here jharris@sriexecutive.com.

SRi are currently recruiting a National Sales & Partnership Director for the Australian Sports Foundation, for details please visit; http://www.sportsrecruitment.com/jobs/details/2270/national-sales-partnerships-director. To find out more about the Australian Sports Foundation please go to; https://asf.org.au/about/who-we-are/.