"Remember, charities operate on the same economic laws as businesses. And no business ever survived without its leaders constantly breathing life into it and getting creative on how to gain better sources of funding to keep it alive." Anne-Marie Waugh, Founder & CEO, RollaDome All Skate.
Anne-Marie Waugh is the CEO and founder of RollaDome All Skate, a registered charity dedicated to using roller sports to engage children and young people, improving their health and wellbeing.
Anne-Marie tells us, in a guest blog for the Social Founder Network, what inspired her to set up RollaDome and the challenges she faces in running a small charity.
Anne-Marie Waugh, Founder & CEO, RollaDome All Skate
Turning a passion into a project
I have always loved roller-skating. As a child in London I used to skate up and down Acton High Road and, in the summer holidays, my sister and I would spend all day skating around Hyde Park, Elephant & Castle and Shepherd’s Bush with Starlight in Hammersmith being our indoor spot weekly.
In 2008, I wanted to learn how to inline-skate so I went along to sessions being held in Hyde Park, and found I had forgotten very little, but also learnt a lot. My passion reignited, I was off! The enjoyment and that feeling of ‘nothing else mattered’ whilst on skates was, and remains, innate. So here I am again, skating almost daily, and I soon realised that skating was something I had not seen many children doing anymore. Times have changed, and children seem to spend so much more time indoors, and recreational activities involve more electronic devices than physical activities.
Having worked as a freelance consultant for some eleven years, at this point, discussions with other skaters, and some research, highlighted the lack of facilities, clubs, and spaces here in London for skaters. Coupled with my observations on children’s lack of involvement in the sport, RollaDome All Skate was born.
RollaDome has supported and engaged with over 110,000 young people to date and that is something we are extremely proud of. Charities like ours play a vital role in keeping kids active and engaged through recreation. It is not just about teaching children how to skate, children who learn with us, also benefit from learning and experiencing many of the benefits associated with recreational sport, as we work to ensure a holistic approach to our services.
In 2000, at the inaugural Laureus World Sports Awards, their Founding Patron, Nelson Mandela, declared that: "Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand."
I have seen first-hand how attending a weekly class can provide a much-needed focus and structure or boost self-esteem for a young person’s life.
A lot of children are not interested in traditional sports because they place far too much emphasis on being in a team and being competitive. Roller skating on the other hand is fun. It is relatively cheap and gets kids active. We teach children from as young as four years to 18 years of age to skate safely in a fun and enjoyable way. It does not matter if they are experienced skaters or have never tried on a pair of skates, we cater for all needs. In fact, many of our students have gone on to become skate coaches and continually support the ongoing work of RollaDome.
RollaDome has delivered services all around the UK in the last 12 years, and we are never surprised to discover that children and young people throughout the UK are dealing with the same barriers and disadvantages.
• Poor health among low-income households inhibits exercise, with parental ill health impacting directly on children’s levels of physical activity.
• Few free sporting opportunities exist outside school, and charges are often unaffordable.
• Only a limited range of sports is available, and some sports are expensive.
• Lack of safe spaces in which to play deters parents and children, so street play becomes less safe and attractive.
• Poorer local environments have fewer open spaces and lower controls over conditions.”
 Quote from 'Sport and poverty', written by Anne Power, Professor of Social Policy at the London School of Economics, and included in a study undertaken by LSE Housing and Communities for the StreetGames charity, 'Moving the Goalposts: poverty and access to sports for young people' in November 2015, available at www.streetgames.org/moving-goal-posts-poverty-and-access-sport-young-people.
But societal impact doesn’t always mean you are going to get funding, and that was a tough lesson to learn in my early years as a social founder.
Charities operate on the same principles as any other business
Charities and nonprofits operate on the same principles as businesses. Although their intent is to do good, their existence doesn’t suddenly change the inner workings of basic economics.
It’s important to get this distinction right. Charities require core funding, wages, equipment, IT support, and a place to operate from. Charity businesses need cash flow, they need assets higher than their liabilities to stay afloat. The means of obtaining revenue might be different in some cases (e.g., events, fundraisers, donations), but it doesn’t change the fact that a charity delivers a service or product and someone must pay for it.
In our case, the final 'product' of our activity is 'Children whose physical and mental health has been improved as a result of engaging in a team activity, exercise, and being surrounded by caring friends and mentors.'
I’m sure we can all agree that children whose physical and mental health is doing well, results in a better society for all.
But, as I said, that belief doesn’t always equate to hard cash.
When the funding disillusionment began
Back in 2009, the local authority in our London borough could offer grant funding four times a year. By 2011, it was two grants, and by 2015 there were zero grants available to apply for.
So, the local authority who wanted the children and young people in its borough helped and guided, started giving nothing in financial resources to make that happen.
National grants vary in their criteria, however, again we have found that core funding, which is needed the most to keep the organisation running, is limited and extremely hard to access.
Smaller charities also have it more difficult because we do not always have the resources to run the charity the way we want to, and work many, many, many unpaid hours to ensure that services can be delivered to our members.
When applying for grants, again we work tirelessly, in our own time, to complete applications – many to no avail.
Getting creative and being proactive
So at RollaDome, by around 2013, we had to start getting creative about ensuring that we had sufficient financial support to keep the charity going. This included working with corporate companies, organising fundraising events, delivering more sessions, and working, voluntarily, longer hours to increase our own income.
I quickly realised that obtaining funding was going to have to be a proactive activity. Nobody was going to give us a handout. And, although we haven't met all the goals we envisaged, we are still here and still operating—so I consider it a success.
Here are some of the ways we keep ourselves going financially:
Building relationships with companies and sports organisations
We have been fortunate in building relationships with companies such as Savills, Primark, Studio 1, McKinsey & Company, Adidas Eyewear, MOBO Awards, ASDA, Appy Foods, who have all supported us in our fundraising efforts, as well as giving us support and guidance. Coupled with third sector supporting organisations such as Sported, we have received a great deal of support, funding and experienced non-executivevolunteers sharing their expertise. It is this type of support that has helped us with our learning and to fill the gaps of lack of resources.
Don’t be afraid to ask people, and organisations, for help. You will be surprised how many will support your work, if they understand what you are trying to do, and why.
Memberships and class fees
Around 40% of our funding comes from class fees with the rest made up from grant funding, sponsorship and donations. Most of our current funding is linked to specific projects. It is not core funding. Yet core funding is absolutely essential to keep our organisation going and to pay staff. In the absence of core funding, we depend on the involvement of our own families and friends to keep going.
Our motivation is the knowledge that so many people in our locality are heavily dependent on our services. We are also acutely aware that our efforts have made a huge difference to our local communities in the past and will continue to do so in the future.
Funding choices often fall into the area of “what is the greater good”, and that can be a tough pill to swallow sometimes.
We work with volunteers a lot and are endlessly grateful for their help. As the founder, I fed several tens of thousands of pounds of my personal funds into RollaDome in the early years to keep it going. I only started earning a salary in my own charity in 2018!
Unfortunately, one tends to lose the consistency of work with volunteers, as can be said of employees as well, because they might be with us for a month, six months, a year, or longer. And any training done with them is lost when they leave us, but hopefully is of benefit to their new employers, as we ensure that all our volunteers have as much training, in differing areas, to ensure their time with us has been beneficial to their personal and career development.
The saddest part of losing our volunteers is the inability to turn those roles into jobs, and impact further the lives of young people by being able to offer more opportunities.
We do direct fundraising activities and our Roller Discos are very popular. By charging a fee for the disco, we can take a portion of that income and put it into core costs to keep the organization afloat.
Expanding our offering
We started expanding our offering beyond just skating. For example, we partnered up with London radio station Capital Xtra to get young people qualified in social media to be able to sustain employment. That project was funded by Capital Xtra. We are also very proud of our involvement with Capital Xtra, as partners in the running of their Music Potential project: during 2018 we helped provide professional training for young people in the use of social media.
What made this program so special, to us, was the fact that our young people pitched for this bid, successfully won it, and ran the program in its entirety.
Having seen the impact of poverty, unemployment,and a general lack of opportunity in their neighbourhoods, we have also gone on to offer media training to young people which has helped them achieve success through the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award programme.
In addition, we have been able to provide them with leadership training which has had a major impact on their personal development.
So, by doing more than just Roller-Skating, we are able to tap into other sources of funding, although that usually applies only at a project level and doesn’t touch the core funds needed.
My funding advice to future social founders
If I could give anyone interested in running a small charity some advice, I would urge them to:
Think carefully before deciding to set up a non-profit organisation, and
- Do as much research as possible beforehand.
- In some ways setting up a non-profit organisation is not always practical. It's important to look at the differing types of non-profit legal entities which exist. The climate of support that was once there for us is either dwindling or is almost non-existent. Go for 'Limited Company' status and run your organisation for profit, or set it up as a hybrid Community Interest Company (CIC).
- Speak to as many p
eople and funders in the industry as possible. And then keep on speaking to them.
- Above all, be prepared to be flexible, creative and open to new ideas about changing the services you provide and about how you intend to do that.
Remember, charities operate on the same economic laws as businesses. And no business ever survived without its leaders constantly breathing life into it and getting creative on how to gain better sources of funding to keep it alive.
As founder, my role can involve me in every aspect of the running of the charity, and this can become an issue, in that I am at times unable to focus on one stem of the business. The dedication, and time, required to do this role, is immense, and a great responsibility.
There are times when I think it’s not just bigger than me - its huge. But the outcomes and benefits to the members outweigh any doubts I have about continuing to grow and develop the charity.
Loving what you do, as I do, is a great way to work. However, it is also important to remember yourself in the equation and ensure that you are also doing what is right for you! As founder it is you that leads with your vision, and as CEO you are directing the organisation. Two differing roles both, mainly, held by the same person. So remember to look after YOU too.
Thanks for reading my guest blog, and please share it widely if you can!
I'd love to read any comments you have. Please add your thoughts below, and share your experience and advice too.