Strategic Planning for Membership Growth in Nonprofit Community Sport
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Community sport organizations (CSOs) are membership-based nonprofit associations that offer accessible and affordable pathways for sport participation. As such, CSOs are fundamental to the sport delivery system, particularly in terms of introducing participants to sport skill acquisitions and providing continued opportunities to participate in recreational and competitive sport programming. In order to fulfill their mandates, CSOs must secure and deploy the appropriate resources, including financial, human, and equipment. This task may not be easily accomplished as CSOs, like other grassroots organizations, operate in increasingly complex and dynamic environments, and must address challenges such as the rising cost of infrastructure, difficulty recruiting and retaining skilled volunteers, changing stakeholder needs, and increased competition for funding. Another major challenge which CSOs are wrestling is how to best serve their communities in light of a general trend towards sport participation stagnancy or decline in Canada and other countries (Canadian Heritage, 2013; Eime et al., 2015; The Aspen Institute, 2018. Leaders of community sport organizations (CSOs) may use strategic planning, as a component of a broader management approach, to navigate these challenging environmental conditions, allocate resources, and establish a plan of action to fulfill their mandates. Strategic planning often results in a formal strategic plan, which can be used by organizational leaders to achieve change within the organization in order to enhance its alignment with its environment. This dissertation draws on Pettigrew’s (1987, 2012) framework for examining strategic change which offers insight into how strategic planning can be used to help organizations achieve their mandates. Pettigrew (1987, 2012) suggests that three central elements influence a strategy and its performance: content (the subject of the strategy itself), context (pre-existing conditions and forces within an organization’s operating environment), and process (the management of activities, actions, and methods that influence how a strategy is formulated and implemented). If all three of these elements are addressed, then an organization can achieve strategic change (i.e., changes undertaken within an organization to enhance alignment with its environment). Guided by an interpretivist approach, the purpose of this dissertation research is to examine the use of organizational strategy by CSO leaders to grow their club’s membership. In particular, the dissertation is presented in an integrated article format, comprised of three separate, but related, studies that examine strategy content, context, and process. The first study (Chapter 2) draws on Pettigrew et al.’s (1992) framework of receptive contexts for strategic change to examine the conditions (contextual factors and managerial actions), that influence strategic planning in CSOs. A multiple-case study of six CSOs provided rich detail about how CSOs’ environments shape their decision-making processes and influence strategy. Findings reveal that environmental pressures, including a club’s community profile, inter-club competition, and the expectations of governing bodies, influenced strategic planning in CSOs. Other critical conditions include a supportive organizational culture and organizational capacity. Findings also highlight the isomorphic pressures, which influence organizations to become more homogenous, that CSO leaders respond to and resist through strategic planning. While the findings of the current study are consistent with Pettigrew et al.’s (1992) broad features of receptive contexts related to environmental pressure, supportive organization culture, and key people leading change, the subthemes in the current study provide new insight into, and justification for, contextualized approaches to strategic planning. The research provides important insight for CSO leaders to consider when using strategic planning to increase membership, address contemporary challenges, and achieve long-term goals. Building on these findings, the second study (Chapter 3) focuses on the relationship between strategy content and context by developing a framework for understanding how the membership growth strategies of CSOs are shaped based on their environment. Semi-structured interviews with presidents of CSOs, alongside analysis of strategic plan documents, were used to identify strategic imperatives that CSO leaders considered when formulating their organizational strategies. These imperatives were grouped into two dimensions: organizational readiness for growth and environmental dynamism. These dimensions were then juxtaposed to create a matrix of four strategic approaches: Trailblazers, Enhancers, Maintainers, and Carers. Each approach is described in detail and implications for strategic management in community sport are discussed. Finally, the third study (Chapter 4) examines how CSO leaders engaged in a strategic planning process through the use of a strategy-as-practice (SAP) approach. A SAP approach focuses on the micro-level social activities, processes, and practices that inform how organizational leaders engage in strategic planning. A multiple-case study of four CSOs with contrasting approaches to the practice of strategy provides insight into the role of strategy practitioners and their choice of strategy activities that contributed to the procedural legitimacy of strategic planning. Notably, the study highlights four roles that strategic planning champions hold within their clubs (i.e., consultant, board member, staff member, facilitator) and three general types of activities that indicate varying levels of stakeholder involvement in planning, including board, staff, and club members. Regardless of the role of the strategic planning champion, findings suggest that engaging organizational stakeholders in strategic planning is critical to enhancing procedural legitimacy. Together, these three studies provide new insight into how nonprofit CSO leaders view and utilize strategic planning to respond to environmental pressures and changes. In particular, these studies emphasize strategic planning as a highly contextualized and dynamic process rather than a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach, and the importance of considering the internal and external environments as CSO leaders move towards a more strategic approach.
Cite this version of the work
Kristen A. Morrison (2021). Strategic Planning for Membership Growth in Nonprofit Community Sport. UWSpace. http://hdl.handle.net/10012/17253