New Sports Commission Launches a Fresh Approach to Sports Marketing with Billy Russo
Billy Russo serves as Executive Director of the Central Virginia Sports Commission (CVSC). Russo is responsible for managing the day-to-day operations & financial performance of the organization while developing & recruiting new business opportunities. Russo manages the marketing plan, goals, & the mission and vision of the CVSC. He is the main liaison for the CVSC Board of Directors. Russo utilizes years of event management experience to develop and create world class sporting events. Russo utilizes his network of contacts and relationships in recruiting sporting events to the region.
The Mission of Central Virginia Sports: To promote the sports industry image in central Virginia; to engage public and private resources to foster economic development through sports; to build an understanding in the community of the importance of sports and the impact on quality of life; to recruit and create sports events through creative partnerships that have a positive impact on the community; and to do so with world class service while meeting all industry professional standards.
More at https://www.centralvasports.com
Read the Interview
Hugh Ballou: Welcome to this edition of The Nonprofit Exchange. We’re into our fifth year of these interviews with people making a difference in the lives of others, people who’ve got a vision that might be doing their own vision or someone else’s, but it’s a vision that they’re qualified to lead. They surround themselves with good people, and they let their passion spread to others.
Today, I have a friend of mine from the place I live, Lynchburg, Virginia. It’s Billy Russo. Billy is going to tell us about a new sports commission that has launched with a fresh approach to sports marketing. It’s quite an energy field. We’re in central western Virginia, where the Appalachians are. Billy, welcome to The Nonprofit Exchange. Tell people a little about yourself and why you’re doing this.
Billy Russo: I’m glad to be here. I appreciate you having me. And I’m really thrilled to share my experience here with our group and why we’re passionate about and excited about the Lynchburg area of Virginia.
My background is in sports management. I’ve loved sports since I was a little kid. I got to the point like a lot of people, where they can’t play professionally, so I decided to figure out a way to get into it professionally and do that through Bachelors and Masters degrees in sports management and sports administration, followed by the last 12/13 years working in sports administration. I managed parts of two facilities, a complex down in Martinsville where I served as executive director and director of operations. I was the director of operations facilities for DE Turf Sports Complex, which is a nonprofit up in Delaware. I have some nonprofit experience from working in the past as an employee. I was on the board for the Tom Wells Games, the state games organized in Virginia by Virginia Amateur Sports, a nonprofit out of Roanoke, a well-known state.
When I was on that board several years ago, I got introduced to Lynchburg through the sports team because the games moved from Roanoke to Lynchburg back in 2016. I was on the committee to help move those games. When we did that, I got to learn more about Lynchburg, got to see the area. I was shocked to see there wasn’t a really huge collaborative effort to market and capitalize on sports management and the opportunities that presented themselves in the area.
At the same time, I met Ernest Carter, who was working for Liberty University in athletics. We started talking about the needs in the community and different opportunities to enhance the sports marketing process. At the time, we weren’t sure. He had some capital to do this, so we were talking when I was in Delaware. We met a couple years ago in northern Virginia, and he was serious about starting something to impact the community through sports development, tourism, youth sports, recycling the money here to impact the area. At the time, it was just preliminary. We didn’t know what that looked like. He wanted to learn more, and he wanted me to help lead that charge. I was curious to get back into Virginia, as I was in Delaware for a year and a half. My family is in North Carolina. I jumped at the opportunity.
It was scary, as everyone knows who creates something from scratch and leaves something that is solid to go to something new. I wasn’t sure what it would look like. But I thought to myself at the time that in 50 years, if I look back on it and look at the opportunity, I would not know how it would turn out. Might as well take the opportunity while it’s young and look at it as a way to expand my skillset and impact the community where I was intrigued to learn about and live in. We were pretty fortunate to come here a year and a half ago.
The first year, we started an LLC that was a sports management group. There are 130 sports commissions across the country. They usually are a part of a city or government or county, a CVB. Starting one from scratch that didn’t have that support on the onset, we saw it as a unique approach, but also we needed to do some research and development in the community. We did that over 8-10 months, talking to different groups, stakeholders, hoteliers, businesses. We got involved with the business community. That’s how we met Hugh. We talked to chambers and rotary clubs and groups like that. For the community, what was needed, what was here, the State Games of America were hosted here. We knew about the event, but there were other events we could learn about. There were several things we studied.
The big thing for us is organization was needed to get the community not only through sports development and events and recruitment, but the City of Lynchburg does a great job of doing that through their tourism department. Liberty does that at a level with their great facilities. What we decided to do is look at creating events, new opportunities that could impact not only economic development, but quality of life for the residents and youth sports in the area. Figure out a way to recycle that to make us sustainable as a nonprofit and give back, partner with other nonprofits. 90% of the sports groups out there are volunteer-driven nonprofits. They struggle with people who have other jobs, who don’t have a lot of time and resources. We see ourselves as helping those folks as well. We got our bylaws in place and got it all worked out over those first several months as well as our board of directors in line. That is still ongoing. The board members are still ongoing. Committee structures and those things. We started hosting our first event. That is where we are.
Where I came from. Originally from Raleigh, North Carolina. Like I said, my family loves the Lynchburg area. The big thing for me in impacting sports, when I used to work at sports facilities and sports events, and I still do, but when I started out, the big thing for me is seeing the impact. My family can’t go to a restaurant in the community because it’s full of teams of people from out of town who are spending their money locally. That makes all the long hours and weekends and weeknight work more valuable to me and more of an impact on my life.
The other thing is seeing the young kids play and having an opportunity to play. Any way I can do to give back professionally is something that’s worthwhile for me. All of those things, and the opportunity to be able to work in sports. It’s one of those jobs that you say you never work a day in your life kind of industries. I don’t always think like that because I work a lot of long hours. But it’s rewarding. It’s worth it, and it’s a thing to go to school for something like this and then be able to impact the community that you live in. We have a lot of cool plans, a lot of exciting ideas.
Hugh: Let’s dig into some of those. Lynchburg is a collaborative place. As you know, I am president of the Lynchburg Symphony this year. We’re forging collaboration with the other arts groups. Similarly, you’re doing what we’re doing. It’s bringing people together in a non-political, non-toxic community of collaboration. We’re working together. We’re singing side by side. We’re playing music side by side. We’re building teams. I teach about building ensembles. There is an ensemble in theatre. There is an ensemble in music. There is a sports team. The principle is the same. We’re much better as we work together. It’s the synergy of the whole.
You may not know it, but my co-host here is Russell Dennis. Russell and I are athletes. I run 5Ks to half-marathons. I don’t look like it, but I make it, and nobody dies. I ran a four-miler and 10-miler. My other sport is a spectator sport. It’s where they go round and round on the track. It’s the redneck in me. I’m surmising Russell is a runner because he runs so fast he blew all his hair off. Russell, do you get outside and do stuff?
Russell Dennis: I do a lot of walking. I’m a slow, steady burn kind of guy.
Hugh: Russell has another sport of harassing Hugh. He’s quite good at it. It’s just his way of showing affection for how we work together.
Russell: There are other people who would testify to my skills of being a nuisance. Many others.
Hugh: Billy, there is an economic component to it. We live in some of the highest poverty in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Lynchburg is 24.5%. It fluctuates. The 01 zip code where I live, it’s 41%. Part of your work is helping people have access to a whole different standard of community. I would think there is a self-esteem piece to it, like people who participate in music. There is also the social piece of how do we come together in community regardless of class, regardless of pay, regardless of those other dynamics that tend to separate us sometimes? Speak about those other dynamics.
Billy: Sports is, like music, a common language. Like the Olympics for example, there are not many ways we can connect with Iran or Iraq, but on the highest level of athletics, where you put your political differences aside, and you put your socioeconomic differences aside, and you compete and have fun. From a grassroots level, any kind of community, whether it be impoverished or not, there is so many studies out there and prime examples of kids that are impacted tremendously through athletic opportunities and sports, where they have an outlet from everyday issues in their life to where they can participate, be it getting out of drugs or gangs or whatever that is at the higher level, to the lower level of having an opportunity to participate. There is also the obesity epidemic and other things that plague our society. Sports has a big impact on those.
The other thing, when it comes to travel sports, it’s recession-resistant. When it comes to economic development. Sports tourism has grown consistently. Even in 2008, when we had an economic downturn, it still grew as an industry because the last thing that parents take out of their budget is things for their kids. It’s an industry that continues to grow globally, nationally, regionally. From our standpoint in the state, Roanoke announced VBR Sports a few years ago, an initiative that they do a great job of. Virginia Beach is announcing a brand new sports facility. Different places around the state. We sit here in the middle of the state. It’s a great opportunity for us to capitalize on those issues and capitalize on not just the economic development part of it, but the quality of life, and recycling that money brought in from sporting events back into community efforts to help provide opportunities and platforms for these kids. That goes down to facility development, program development, scholarship, helping youth be able to participate, overcoming the challenges they may have. Our vision is to capitalize on that as a resource. That’s where we’re at on those issues.
Hugh: Russell, I don’t know what you heard. When he was talking about how they set this up, they did things a lot of organizations we see don’t do. They saw what was available. Before we launch this, let’s see what’s already offered. You spent eight or nine months prepping, doing your documents, talking to people, building your board, doing your planning for your structure. The amount of effort you did pre-launch really set you up for greater success. Russell, did that alert you to any other questions about how they launched this organization and what they have done well?
Russell: They have done a lot of things well. The whole notion of collaboration is something I think a few people are still struggling with. Sports is a great rallying point because it seems to bring communities together at all sorts of levels. Everything from very young up through college to professional athletics. It has grown. In the midst of budget cuts for a lot of schools, there are just some things that stay. Sports is one of those constants that is that steady thing. It is the thing that brings people together.
I am curious. Were there any real surprises as you were getting plugged into the Lynchburg community? Any pleasant surprises? Any unexpected bonuses that you came across as you were putting everything together?
Billy: Obviously, bidding on the State Games of America, there were 11,000 athletes in Lynchburg. We knew from an infrastructure standpoint. I was part of that bid process back then. The selection of that, you don’t just select any city. You have to have the right hotels, restaurants, and facilities. From that aspect, the sports stakeholders got it and understood what the opportunities were. In any industry and any city you go to, everybody is doing their own thing, and that’s fine. It’s their job. Everybody stays in their lane, operates on their events and timetable. We saw it as more of a collective resource of different sports stakeholders that could brainstorm and network together, and we create that platform to allow that space. We were pleasantly surprised by the support as far as knowing what kind of impact they could have. Everybody in Lynchburg, especially the Business Alliance and the Chamber, the business community is good at networking in this area. There are a lot of opportunities, and they take advantage of those opportunities. They are very well-attended. So those things are always a plus. It makes it a lot easier to get people involved and to volunteer.
From challenges, I mean one thing we needed to, and we still do every day, like I said, sports commissions are usually run by governments. The reason why we did so much R&D also is because we didn’t want to duplicate or overstep or step on someone’s toes that was already doing something. Sports organizations are separate that do that. From a government standpoint, there is always political challenges when you start something as a partnership, usually being politically funded or controlled. We have been delicate and careful to move around that, from Lynchburg tourism and other destinations that do sports tourism specifically, or focus on heads in beds.
Our focus is on a greater resource of sports development and youth sports development and creating those opportunities, not just sports tourism. As long as we stay in that lane, because that’s already being done, we don’t want to duplicate services. That will create the wrong message and confuse people. I think having all that R&D up to what we did helps us not step on that.
You’re always going to get some comments and rumors when you start something, especially when you have an individual who has the capital to start an organization. Usually, or you have a grant from an organization, or it stems off of something else. We were not like that. We were grateful for Mr. Carter and his vision and what he wants to see done. We are still ongoing with that. We’re not susceptible to challenges down the road. We will have some that pop up. Like every nonprofit, there are other internal issues that come up.
For us, it’s education and branding. Education on what we’re doing, our mission, putting something that someone can feel out there with an event or an impact or some stats or some numbers or pictures of impacting kids. Those things that people can touch, those tangible things, can build credibility for us and ground out any issues we may face.
Hugh: I worked on an event in 2007 which has a similar footprint. It was like an Olympic event, but it was a German company that had been producing Olympic events for choirs. We can’t use that word. It was guarded. They called it the World Choir Games. Through careful work, we brokered a deal. We went through the Convention and Visitors Bureau in several cities because for years, they had written 100 mayors and gotten no responses. We don’t know what goes on outside of the country. We brought the whole world to Cincinnati, Ohio in 2012. We had 100 countries, 20,000 participants, 600,000 spectators, and a city-wide event with 110,000 hotel room nights. That was a major economic impact.
Here, what wasn’t planned is the whole world came together, and world peace descended on the event. We weren’t competing against each other, but there was this comradery. People were cheering each other on even though you were competing. World peace is descending. You’re not shooting people if you’re singing with them.
You let something slip in here. I want to highlight it. 11,000 participants in the Commonwealth Games in Lynchburg, Virginia. A population of about 80,000. Highlight that a little bit. What kind of impact did that have here?
Billy: Yeah, the State Games of America, it happens every two years. The Commonwealth Games happens every year. The State Games of America, this is all the states that have state games coming together here in Lynchburg. That event was made possible because of the great facilities of Liberty University as well as the collective partnership between the City of Lynchburg, Liberty University, and several other partners. I was part of that as a board member in a different organization when we first bid on it. When our organization was starting about a year before those games, that was R&D. What we did was if that event could happen with 11,000 athletes, you could host several other events. The facility spaces, we acknowledge it’s hard to find a facility sometimes. Making people aware of how big this really was, here are some other opportunities. All these restaurants, hotels, and the airport, everyone had impact from this. Why would you not want to see more of that?
The other thing is being prepared for that. I was at Chili’s near the airport last year. There was a track and field event at Liberty with 360 teams, huge event. I think there were three people working at Chili’s, and you had lines out the door late at night. A normal night, they probably wouldn’t have been busy. They had no idea. I was with my business partner, and we were both looking at this thing. This is an opportunity for us as well to impact these restaurants and the community by bringing more awareness. It’s not Liberty’s job to do that. It’s not their fault. It’s not their job. The city tourism is more focused on heads in beds tourism. They’re not trying to get the restaurants. We could fill that need for that issue. There are a lot of restaurants and hoteliers who don’t know when things are happening, so they understaff and do certain things that make it harder on them as well as maybe the experience on the guest. We’re working on an initiative to help those businesses in the area to impact them as well as get them involved with the event and go the extra mile on that.
Yes, 11,000 athletes is a lot of athletes, and it is probably the max. Hotels were maxed out. Graduation, you get in Roanoke different spaces. Sporting events are different because they don’t like to travel outside of an hour radius. You could probably get them to stay in Roanoke sometimes, depending on the event. There are opportunities. More than 50-60% of the amateur events are under that range. If you can host that, there are several opportunities you can bid on. Just getting that partnership and engaging those people involved, having a platform, a resource like our organization to do that, with those contacts of working with them in the past, that’s what was missing.
Hugh: There is a whole mindset to creating collaborative opportunities. Long-term, what do you all see as the impact that the CVSC (Central Virginia Sports Commission) is going to have?
Billy: We see it as engage, partner, serve. We keep going back to that outside of our mission as engaging community partnerships. Like I said before, the three pillars that we are focused on. We had a strategic planning session with our board coming up. We haven’t had one with our board before. Our events and the things we’re going to focus on not only in 2020 but the future. The three things are creating an impact on the community that folks can get behind. It’s not just economic impact. It’s hard for folks, especially as a nonprofit. If you take that money that is going back into taxes, not pulling a political, but taxes aren’t spent on things that people intend them to be spent on. It’s hard to say that it’s going back into the government tax space. What is our impact? We want to recycle our event money that we create our events off of as well as outside of our sustainability and events we recruit to bring in. We want to impact the community through scholarships in high school athletics, creating a scholarship for that. Scholarshipping, helping kids with youth sports, having issues participating, be it funding for registration fees across a wide range of athletic fields.
The other issue we mentioned is a sports ambassador program to community businesses. We bring awareness to the community about athletic events happening here that people may not know about.
There are three or four prongs that we are working on with our community impact assessment to where it pulls at the heartstrings of what our work is and why we are doing it.
The second part is creating events that impact the economy, but also recycle back into quality of life.
The third part is recruiting events, bidding on events. For example, the city of Lynchburg, when Ernest was at Liberty, he was bidding on sporting events for Liberty. Liberty, because of NCAA compliance, can’t provide bid fees to bid on outside events. They have to get another partner to do that. The City of Lynchburg doesn’t have the funding to do that on a wide scale, so our organization will look at creating a pool of money to do that, to realize that investment will have a recycling benefit into our efforts locally. Creating events and having an impact through initiatives to help the sports in the area.
Hugh: There is a formula for how that money cycles in the community before it leaves again. Every dollar spent gets respent in the community seven or eight times before it goes out.
Russell and I both do planning with nonprofit boards. You keep slipping these things in, so I want to go back and pull them out. You’re doing strategic planning with your board. We won’t do it unless the board is engaged. The planning and the engagement have to go together. The planners are the doers. That’s a really good strategy. Russell, why don’t you take a turn and ask Billy some questions?
Russell: It’s tough to make a plan without leadership involvement. That gets stalled. I love how you guys have taken the time to understand where you are, who you are, the value you bring, and how you fit into the community. Without having that knowledge of what you’re doing and who you are and those foundational pieces, it’s awful hard to engage with other folks in the community. I definitely commend you for that.
One of the thoughts that crossed my mind as you were speaking to this, is the reinvestment piece and the recycling of funds that are in there, but more importantly, as you’re talking about where your position is, is understanding those needs that other people have and where that value benefits them. It’s a community look. Can you talk to that, how you guys put that together, where you were able to come up with a process where you look at the value that everybody in the community gets so that when you walk in and start talking with people, you’re ready to show them how collaborating with you is a win/win/win for them?
Billy: We’re looking at creating a community sports ambassador group. It’s a working group of individuals, not just sports stakeholders, but also representing the hotel community. We build our board similarly to that. Our board is fundraising, corporate, but some of it is also sports development and nonprofit experience. I think our board is not specifically a fundraising board or a policy board.
The one thing we decided to do, our next step, is to get them engaged initially on committees. Find the right committees to impact the community. Those committees, there is only three of them that just have board members. The rest of them, we are going to get community members involved on those committees as well. Not make them very large, but make them high-level discussions on certain issues we want to work on and impact. Through that is a trickle-down effect of how we get other businesses and organizations involved in what we’re doing. We feel like it’s an approach that if we trickle down that way and have higher-level discussions, we talked about think tank meetings and having people bring ideas to the table.
When we first got here, we asked someone a blank question like, “What is missing from the sports area?” A lot of people don’t think about those things. They look at us to do that. That’s not their experience. They probably wouldn’t know what was missing unless we told them. They see things going well, or they don’t pay attention. It doesn’t mean they’re uneducated; it just means they’re not paying attention to it. On an education level of getting different sports stakeholders to the table and bringing some high-level discussions of some events we could bid on, and having them all in the same room. I’ve seen this with our board already. People who didn’t even know each other are now on our board and doing business with each other. That’s already a success for us. If we can do that at every committee we do, and we can help each other out, those people wouldn’t have had those conversations if it wasn’t for us creating that platform and being that resource. That’s where we see it going.
It has to be high-level because people are busy. They don’t want to sit in a room and listen to us talk about all the ideas we have to support their organizations when they have their own jobs to keep afloat. What is in it for me? We understand that. I think bringing those high-level topics outside of those committees to those community groups will be beneficial to us. That is our approach. We are actually at stage two on that. Our committees are formed. We are moving faster than we’d like to because we want to launch stuff in 2020. Everybody has been understanding. There is still an education level. But different vessels and ideas that we have that we see that many other people may not see as important, it’s been good to see people’s light bulbs turn on. We have been fortunate to see that success.
Russell: Part of an engagement strategy is bringing the right people on board, the people who can help fill those gaps and put things together. Talk a little bit about your process of how you came to the conclusion of who you needed to have on the bus, how to go about the people that you need on the bus to make the thing move.
Billy: I think a delicate balance of different parts of our strategy and our business in running an nonprofit like a business, more like a for-profit business because I hear all the time, folks who don’t do it that way really struggle. No one’s making money off of this. Our investor is not investing in this. It’s a gift more than anything. He sees the investment as a return on the impact of our community. That’s what he wants to do.
From day one, we have a chairman of the board, Pete Landman, who used to be the director of the Commonwealth Games and the State Games of America for 26 years. He retired, but he is very involved in different aspects. He was our first call when we were starting and got his feedback. He is now chairman of our board.
We have a couple local sports players. Brad Bankston, who used to be the commissioner. He has been in sports teams and in the sports world for 30 years. He also understands organization and board development. But also a couple of businesspeople who own local businesses and have nonprofit experience through boards and side jobs. But also they have to understand when we met with them and people introduce us to them, they have to grasp what we’re doing, and not be passionate off the base on what we’re doing, but intrigued, understand, read, be interested in it, and show interest from their level, not just us asking them. For the most part, that’s what we’ve gotten.
Our board is set up for 25 people. We don’t know if we’ll be at that level right out the gate. We have 13 members now. We’re always looking for new members. It just depends on what they fit. They just fit a community committee or something. Finding that delicate balance. There are a couple of people on our board who are more fundraising-driven and want to help fund development. There is a delicate balance. It’s not a fundraising board. It’s not a policy-driven board. It’s a board we want to get more involved. We have quarterly meetings and an executive committee we set up with six individuals that meets monthly. Our committee meetings, we want to be at least bi-monthly. Those who meet quarterly, we want them to be more involved. They meet more than every three or four months and don’t know what’s going on. We want them to know what’s going on.
The phase we’re in right now, the strategic planning session, in the future, we’ll bring someone who knows nonprofits like yourselves and have an outside approach. I have been in that role before as far as having others come in. It’s a fresh approach to what we’re doing. Since we just started, it may be important, too. Maybe we do that after this.
But I think we are at a level of challenges and funding is always one thing. When you create something from scratch, not knowing how it will go in the investment, we have a pretty patient investor, Mr. Carter, who is funding it to start. We also have a patient and realistic board who understands how long things take and have a realistic approach to it. That’s a good thing.
Russell: That’s the key to good engagement: having the people work where they are best at to make maximum use of their superpowers. Where they want to be, that’s critical. With what you’re doing, there is a lot of growth that will come about. As you go into your strategic planning process, what is the one overarching thing that you would say is probably most important that you accomplish with that process right now? I know that’s organic. It may shift a little. What do you see that as being at this point in time?
Billy: I think it’s one or two words: building credibility. You can sit there all day. Some people on our board think we need to make money and sustain ourselves. No doubt we do. Financials are always part of that. But what are the little baby steps and the bigger steps that get you there? That is what the plan is circling around. How will this sustain itself? What the bigger picture is. Going back to community impact and the credibility as a nonprofit. We always have to return to our mission. Folks are intrigued by us, by the words we put on our paper or the things we develop based on our bylaws, needs, opportunities, and uniqueness of what we’re doing. How do you put those actions out there? Tangible events, things that-
We are working with the Hillcats, a local minor league team, on the 2020 All-Star game. That opportunity came quicker than we thought it was going to for us as far as being involved with something. When it went to Myrtle Beach, we didn’t step up. We stepped up to the plate to help them with that. It’s a revenue opportunity as well as an investment opportunity for the commission. We are excited to be a part of that this year. That is one event we can hang our hat on as building credibility. There are other events we will create and be a part of. Those are opportunities that we want to look at and not lose fact of the baby steps it takes to get to our ultimate goals. I think credibility and being recognized as a resource connector, that education level, those are some things we look at. We need our board to give us input and feedback. That’s what they’re there for. These committees as well. We get it back from the community. We go out in the community and do it.
Hugh: Billy, from your seat, what are some leadership challenges you faced? Which ones did you do well? Which ones would you rather have done differently? What is the leadership challenge you have going forward?
Billy: I’m used to working with a staff of seven people or more. Now it’s just me. Going from jobs before where I had to prioritize a lot differently. Now there is a lot more. We have some interns who will be involved. Getting our board more actively involved. The challenges are probably staffing. The goals, all the things we want to do, to come up with realistic expectations of if we can do them or not. Planning any event takes a lot of work and manpower and time. In order to do all those things and not get lost, that will be a part of our session as well. Will there be investment into that? Will we hire someone else? Will it just be interns? We are looking at the best way to maneuver that. It’s staffing, and I think it’s my leadership style. It’s continuing. I never have a problem about being passionate about what I’m doing, but making sure I stay on point. Our board is looking at doing a couple things really well instead of spreading ourselves too thin. I don’t want to get in that box there. That’s where we are now. Making sure we have enough manpower and help to do what we do.
Russell: That big bold promise, that big hairy audacious goal. Those are a few things. Do a few things well. I think you’re well poised to do that. With an organization like yours, what you’re looking at is what I call social profit. Social profit encompasses all sorts of things. Money, engagement, and a number of approaches. There is pro bono assistance from the corporate community. It sounds like you have a lot of exciting opportunities coming up. But plan them, and plan them well. Do the first things first that are the most important things. That will be key to getting where you want to get. I commend you for that. Bringing the right people on is definitely something that you want to continue to work on.
Billy: Thank you. That’s correct. Absolutely.
Hugh: What is happening next?
Billy: We’re working on a few. We have all of our event ideas and things we want to do in a nutshell as far as long-term and short-term, placing them into the year based on the challenges I talked about, based on our staffing, what we’re capable of doing, which ones will benefit us the most on credibility, on revenue. We’re in that process now. We’re developing the agenda and our plan for our strategic session, which will take place in a couple weeks. We’ll have that. Our committees will be established by then. They will have the direction on where they are going on some highlighted items. We plan on trying to get something out to the community, be it through press and promotional marketing on what our agenda is for 2020 and not losing sight of the long-term focus. That is where we are. Our next event is, there are some smaller ones like equipment drives and things we want to do for youth sports that could happen as early as February. For planning purposes, a lot of our events will happen more in spring and summer. They will be lined up back to back. That’s because they take a long time to plan. Those have to go well because they do take so long.
As far as fundraising, that fundraising will be based on that marketing on what our impact is and tangible assets for people to touch, events to touch, and things that we’re doing. Getting governments involved in the future is a possibility. For now, we’re on our own on that. It’s focusing on doing a few things really well that we can start moving the needle on what we need to do.
Hugh: There is probably some collaborations we could forge where we could learn from each other, even though the arts community is a distinctly different demographic and profile.
Billy: You showed me the other day. I have that on our list of stuff we want to talk about and how we get involved with that. Any ideas we can share, absolutely.
Hugh: *Sponsor message from EZCard*
There’s been a lot of good nuggets in what you’ve said. What I’ve heard you say is you adhere to best practices for launching and growing an independent 501(c)3 organization. This is The Nonprofit Exchange, but we also realize the word “nonprofit” inherently is a lie. It forces us into scarcity thinking when there is abundance, when you put some energy into what you’re doing and invite others to support that. It’s a for-purpose organization. We have learned that about Central Virginia Sports Commission today.
Billy, as we’re ending this thoughtful, informative interview—thank you for being here—what kind of advice or thought or tip would you like to leave people, either people who are thinking about setting up a new entity—yours is a pretty big deal, but sometimes people start with a smaller entity, maybe feeding people, clothing people, housing people, or helping with literacy. There are lots of cause-based charities. Thinking through how to start one or how to, maybe I started out of the chute and didn’t do some of those. I want to go back and think about restarting and do it right. You’ve highlighted a lot of things. Due diligence, the surveys, the impact survey, putting people on the board who are purposeful and having a very clear idea of what they are supposed to do. There is a lot of good best practices.
As a parting thought for people, what tip or advice would you have for those leaders out there who aren’t quite sure about how to proceed?
Billy: Being efficient, patient, and networking. Asking people for help or asking them for their opinion or talking to other folks who have done it before or do it currently. Know that you’re not alone. The word “partner,” the reason it’s in our slogan, engagement and serving, partnering folks can impact not only yourself, but them as well as others that see you. It’s a contagious effect. Finding ways to have leverage with other organizations and build those partnerships is huge. Not being afraid to ask other folks and being involved with organizations that do a good job of networking. You never know what you’re going to learn. I always tell myself I’ll learn something new every day. It’s very important.
Russell: Brilliant. You’ve done that. You’ve done a lot of learning and collaboration, bringing people to the table, knowing that making a positive impact in the community is not just a job for nonprofits or government or businesses, but for everybody. It’s an all-person job, all hands on deck. Thank you very much, Billy, for this insightful interview. Keep doing what you’re doing. You’re doing all of the right things.
Billy: Thank you, Russell. It’s very nice to meet you.
Russell: It’s nice to meet you. Look forward to meeting you face to face and learning more about what you’re doing and supporting that. As an old friend of mine likes to say, none of us is as smart as all of us. That’s why we bring everybody to the table.