In the past decade, Louisville has emerged as a perhaps unexpected rockstar of professional soccer. Louisville City Football Club, known as LouCity locally, hit the field in 2014. Within five years, we also welcomed Racing Louisville, the first women’s professional team in the region.
Both now play at the beautiful, new Lynn Family Stadium, which has become an anchor for the Butchertown Neighborhood resurgence. A few months ago, Soccer Stadium Digest proclaimed Louisville a “U.S. soccer hotbed.”
Soccer Holdings, the ownership group made up of community-minded, forward-thinking investors, had made an important difference in Louisville in just a few years – revitalizing a neighborhood, providing the kind of sports venue and team excitement that makes people want to live in Louisville, and providing joy for countless Louisville families.
But from the beginning, they always intended to do more. Soccer Holdings envisioned a charitable arm, a foundation that leveraged the brand, energy and fanbase of Louisville City and Racing Louisville to do good in the community.
Where to start? Because Soccer Holdings knew they did not have the internal expertise to launch a foundation, they engaged The Boone Group to help get the new organization off the ground.
The First Step to Creating a New Charitable Foundation: Scope the National Landscape
As someone who has worked with foundations and other nonprofits for more than 20 years, I knew that lots of people desire to make a difference through charitable work – but few know how to set up an organization that can sustain itself over the long haul and make a difference across the decades.
When starting a new business, a new nonprofit, or a new foundation, you need to start by studying the landscape you’ll be working in.
I helped Soccer Holdings conduct a national peer review, looking specifically at other professional sports teams – especially professional soccer teams – that had started foundations. We asked them about the lessons they’d learned, and the obstacles we should avoid.
We also identified a range of charitable models, from grantmaking organizations to programmatic organizations. This raised important questions for us. Did we want to fund the good work already being done in Louisville – perhaps supporting existing sports or youth programs? Or did we want to launch our own programs? Both? Neither?
We learned about a range of revenue streams from events and auctions to sponsorships. We used this national peer review to help us understand our options and to inform our thinking about how we might craft our own business plan.
The Second Step: Narrowing the Focus to Local Needs
While it was valuable to see what national organizations were doing, we knew that the success of our new nonprofit foundation would depend on meeting local needs and fitting into the regional charitable landscape.
We conducted a local needs assessment unique to our community. We talked to philanthropic and community leaders in the region to identify the biggest challenges for our community. We talked to local experts in education, youth development, health, and economic development. We dug into the benefits of sports for children, adults and community. We dug into the local data on community needs published from our friends at www.greatlouisvilleproject.org and many others.
As someone who had worked in Louisville nonprofits for a long time, I had a good sense of many kinds of programming offered to Louisville youth. But you should never assume you have the whole picture. By talking to leaders at parks, community centers, schools and social service organizations, we got a clearer sense of what parts of our community were underserved and what needs were going unmet.
Developing a Board that Would Develop the Mission
Once we better understood the local and national landscape, it was time to put the team in place. A strong foundation needs a strong board. And the first board, the founding board, is especially critical.
We recruited a diverse board comprised of experts in a range of areas from accounting, finance, nonprofit law, entrepreneurship and community development. We identified people who had a passion for the role soccer and sports could play in the growth and improvement of the community. We needed people who immediately saw the potential value of this foundation, and were willing to put in the work needed to build it from the ground up.
At the first meeting of the LouCity & Racing Foundation (originally the Louisville Soccer Foundation), we spent time digging through the completed national peer review and local needs assessment, and then set to work crafting a vision and mission for the new organization.
Sometimes, people think the mission and vision should come first. But the work we did reviewing the national and local landscape was critical to ensuring that we could craft a mission and vision that was realistic and rooted in the needs of the community. Too often well-intentioned people try to start foundations or nonprofits without first examining the real need of the community – or what organizations already exist to meet those needs.
Only after reviewing the national and local landscape, could the board begin to ask itself key questions: Why does this organization exist and what does it exist to do? What impact do we want to make? Were we interested in funding all types of sports activities – pickleball programs for seniors, skateparks and mountain bike trails? Would we be looking at community health projects? Youth development programs? School-based sports?
Within a couple of hours, the founding board began to align around a shared vision and mission for the new organization. Within the first two board meetings, the board approved a vision and mission statement that was centered on youth and soccer. They approved the following:
Our Vision: “Through the love, power and community of soccer, we will improve the lives of youth throughout the Commonwealth and our bistate region.”
Our Mission: “Through community partnerships with schools and youth service providers, we use soccer to provide our youth a safe place and the opportunity to dream, thrive and succeed.”
Making the Mission Possible: Strategic Priority Development
Everything comes out of the mission statement, but a mission alone won’t get the job done. With the vision and mission in place, the board began the next important step. The board worked together to identify four strategic priorities and split up into workgroups to build out the strategies and goals for the first year. The workgroups developed founding governance documents and policies to guide their work, drafted Programmatic Objectives to support the vision, drafted the Financial Budget and Cash Flow needs for the startup organization, and designed a Revenue Plan to support the implementation of this plan through earned and contributed income.
This work creates the backbone of a foundation that will stand the test of time. This kind of planning work may not sound like as much fun as funding exciting projects and making big announcements, but without this kind of strong footing, the mission won’t succeed.
Recruiting and Onboarding the Founding Executive Director
The founding board provided a wealth of talent and expertise, but a strong foundation has to have someone running it day-to-day. I worked with the board to develop the “candidate profile” for the organization’s first full-time staff member, the founding Executive Director.
The board outlined the need for a driven, entrepreneurial, revenue-focused executive, someone that can elevate the profile of the foundation, build the needed community partnerships, and raise the funds needed to activate the vision and mission of the organization. The board also worked on developing a plan for the new leader’s first 12 months. (Learn more about how to onboard an executive director here.
When Jeremy Jarvi started as the founding Executive Director of the LouCity & Racing Foundation, he was walking into an organization that had been born in just six months – but it was fully formed, built out of extensive research, detailed planning and strong framework building.
With all of that and Jeremy’s creativity, energy, expertise and leadership, the LouCity & Racing Foundation will grow exponentially in its first 12-36 months. It’s impact on the lives of the children in the community and across the Commonwealth will be tremendous.
I’m extremely proud that The Boone Group was able to help get the foundation prepared for long term success. Learn more and get involved at www.loucity.com/foundation
A Strong Start Sets Up New Foundations for Success
If you are considering your own charitable organization or foundation, don’t overlook the important planning needed, from the national peer review to the local needs assessment, the proper board development and the governance work.
There is no shortcut, and each step provides more information for the organizational development. If the goal is to do good work, you need to be open to what the research finds. Perhaps you will learn that a new organization isn’t really needed – you just need to partner with and support existing groups that are already doing the work you imagined. In other cases, the opportunity is just right for the launch of a new organization.
If you want to explore your idea for a charitable foundation, philanthropic project or organization and want to discuss where to start and the work that is needed, reach out to us at The Boone Group at email@example.com.
“I had the opportunity and pleasure to work with Christen Boone, The Boone Group, during the hiring process and appointment as the new Executive Director for the LouCity & Racing Foundation. Christen was hired to develop the framework for the new Foundation, and under her thoughtful leadership, a solid infrastructure has been built for an exciting and impactful future. I was impressed with Christen’s professionalism, strategic approach, communication, and mindfulness. I would recommend Christen to other organizations looking for similar services.”