Around the House: Strategy on and off the ice at the Nanaimo Curling Centre

Every curler knows that a well-considered strategy can be the difference between winning and losing. But what about strategy off the ice? The term “strategic plan” sounds like something that belongs in a corporate board room, not a curling club. But many organizations – including curling facilities – know how important strategizing can be. Just ask Denise Wood, Manager of the Nanaimo Curling Centre, who has seen the results first-hand. In April 2007, Denise reports, the Canadian Curling Association and Curl BC presented a symposium in Richmond to give local clubs a chance to network with each other and share information about their operations. Nanaimo CC’s Board of Directors used this opportunity to take a good look at their club – and decide not only where it currently stood, but also where it could improve. Five months later, 19 members from all areas of the club sat down to create a vision for their future.

Nanaimo Curling Centre (Photo Denise Wood)

“The strategic plan clearly defined the issues of the day,” says Wood. And like at any club, there were issues that needed attention. For instance, registration was done separately for each league or “club”. Activities as simple as consolidating registration for everyone by using credit cards or developing a database of membership information weren’t on the club’s radar. These distinctly independent clubs competed for volunteers and resources. The building was aging and there was no plan in place to address repairs. And underlying all these issues was the NCC’s vulnerable financial position. Tracey Newlands was club President during the strategic review process. “We had lots of volunteers, but several of them were becoming burnt out,” she says about the situation before the strategic plan process began. “Because we had multiple clubs with the club, there was a heavy draw on volunteers to operate the multiple levels of boards and executive (Ladies, Senior Ladies, Senior Men etc.). The main challenge, however, was competing priorities amongst the different clubs. We had an aging building and little in reserve to address repairs. We didn’t have a cohesive plan to manage those upcoming expenses.” With the help of the CCA, representatives of all areas of the club sat down together and started talking. The result: an ongoing strategic plan, with input from all sections of the membership, expressing the NCC’s challenges and how it would meet them.

Nanaimo wheelchair curler Paul Gorcak celebrates a great shot (Photo Lance Sullivan of Concept Photography)

The plan includes six key strategies that focus on the same issues any club faces: keeping the building running efficiently, attracting and retaining members, communicating within the curling club’s community and with the larger community beyond the walls of the club, managing and improving programs, generating revenue and managing one of the most important resources a curling facility has – its volunteers. The process to identify and reach consensus started in 2007, and everyone knew then that it was going to be not only a long-term, ongoing process, but also a challenging one. Newland cites the difficulties of engaging the entire membership: some groups simply wanted to continue operating on their own, not as part of a larger curling “centre.” One project took a bumpy course when funds that were raised for improvements to the building – to make the facility accessible by installing a stair lift – were held back until the club could afford an elevator. “Staying the course to educate the membership, and focusing on the greater good of the club” was a challenge, says Wood. “It’s more work that you might think it is.” But Nanaimo’s curlers persevered under the leadership of the core Strategic Plan committee – and results began to show. Roles of staff and volunteers were more clearly defined within the operation.  The finance committee made significant strides and, according to Newland, became a key to the club’s success. And within the community, the reputation of the NCC for its volunteers – and for hosting exceptional local, provincial and national curling events – grew.  Today, the club is thriving, and club manager Wood couldn’t be happier. “I can definitely say the reason I love my job is because of the awesome members/volunteers that we have,” she says. “We have well-trained and dedicated staff that return to us year after year, so there is a solid foundation to continue to build our programs and service.” Newland has stepped back from Board responsibilities and is now a once-a-week curler happy to watch the ongoing development of the NCC from a distance. “For me,” she says, looking back on the strategic plan process, “the biggest benefit was to bring differing opinions together and discover that really, at the end of the day, we all want the same thing – a thriving club where we can all enjoy the camaraderie of this great game and feel confident that it will continue to be a part of our community for our children and grandchildren to enjoy.” Interested in this process? Take a look at the Nanaimo Curling Centre’s updated Strategic Plan.