Auckland Orienteering Club’s structure innovation
By Christo Peters - Fri 1 Mar 2024 9:42pm
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There is evidence of significant changes in some clubs in the past year, and Auckland is an example of a club that has been accomplishing big gains as they work on encouraging wider involvement of club members in their club operations.  To find out what has been happening we asked club president Neill McGowan to tell us more:

1. What has motivated the changes in the club and why do you feel the club has developed so fast? 

In 2022 as we came out of Covid, there was a core committee group of people who were doing all most of the work and a resulting huge volunteer burn-out. It was difficult to commit to advancing the club as the main club members were involved in last minute delivery of events. We needed to think differently and a working group model was designed and tabled.

2.    What were some of the challenges you faced setting-up working groups?
There were great responses from people who wanted to get involved in part of the club but were scared away from joining the committee. It has been hard work setting up the structure and the working rhythms and this is now starting to show fruition. The big stretch was the initial set-up and to keep it moving quickly. It is so important to have owners of each of these working groups and to disseminate the work.. We now have 33 club members involved in the working groups which relieves the pressure on the core committee. 

3. Looking at the big picture, what maintenance are you doing to keep all the new projects balanced and to provide the resources when needed? Does the club have an aspirational vision and strategic plan linked to financial targets? 

Good and frequent communications between the lead roles and myself as president, is key, we’ve still got a bit of work to do on this. All suggestions that require committee-level approval are presented in papers, and there are often discussions between working groups before submission. We’ve looked at a 3 year financial plan that envisioned the future events and  expected income. This allows the club to see where it can invest its money in advancing the wider infrastructure and opportunities for its members. The wider aim in the plan, is to grow the club to a potential of up to 750 members over 3 years.  Overall the big picture is evolution not revolution with incremental changes – which is more sustainable for the club. 

4. There has been an astounding growth in club membership. This rose 61% from 2020 and reached 500 in December – a milestone for the club. What age groups are you attracting specifically, and what do you think is attracting new members?

It’s an amazing milestone and achieved much earlier than expected. We’ve put in place a huge focus on marketing with quality and timely content. The Auckland Club ‘super-power’ is high-quality execution across a wide range of events, good marketing of a poor product doesn’t give you growth. The social and marketing working group spent time on what would bring the 20-40
age group (back) into the sport. We increased the marketing, with targeting to these age groups. We brought music and speakers into the forest and created competitive event series like the Auckland Winter Sprints and the Auckland Forest Cup.

5. To stimulate and motivate members there is quite a bit of training and mentoring for club members. Are you encouraging and finding members who might be the next generation of: club leaders, event mappers, planners & controllers? What is happening here in your club? 

We coordinated a club night every Wednesday where we offer a huge range of variation. We have course-planning, mapping-workshops, and technology-learning. This includes basics like how to attach a flag correctly to a control (only 50% knew how to do it properly). We’ve introduced a high number of new controllers and setters this year – so many more names have come forward,  willing to give it a go after coming to club night. A coaching infrastructure is our big target for 2024. This was the number one feedback item from our members.

6. Your events have grown into big numbers with 440 kids at AKSS Rogaine Championships, 300+ entrants at forest events, 750 entrants at Winter Sprint Series and 11 Club Members represented in the Southern Cross challenge in 2023. There has been a noticeable increase in marketing too. How has the marketing helped here?

Gene Beveridge and I got together at the start of 2022 and devised a new seasonal calendar. The direction was for:
• School events in season 1
• Developmental training and a lead into Nationals with training events in season 2,
• Competition events in season 3
• Fun events in season 4 
This created the Forest Cup and Winter Sprints Series – the key aspect of this was a points system across the four events – with CMOC hosting one of the events to widen the appeal. It brought huge numbers through the door
– the excitement of the points worked well – we even got attendees from OBOP and Waikato.

Callum Wishart and Nadia Clark have been pivotal in creating an advanced social media channel with a media strategy for each event.  We are advertising new events in multi-media formats using videos from training at club nights.  We email all club members at 5pm on a Friday just ahead of the entry deadline at midnight. Consistency is key. 

7. We have seen some gains and thought put into the technology side of the sport. What have you been doing? .

Time has been spent solving valuable problems, and perhaps finding a technology that enables improvements to overall orienteering experiences. As we grow larger and increase the number of volunteers, we are focussing on simplifying and automating manual processes. We’ve invested in the Sport I-dent app and a printer which is used at midweek events. This has advanced training capabilities and opportunities.

Steve Oram has created an extraction from Winsplits through its API and built a front end search tool ORUNZ to let all Auckland orienteers search for all of their previous results in one place. Also a head-to-head feature where you can see all of your races against your nemesis. This helps massively for Relay team selections.  We are looking at automating the SummerNav results service and trying to remove as much manual effort as possible

8.   The club has also formed partnerships which merge combined values and extends the club to think about new ways of operating. Do you have ideas to share with us? Can you also see more cross-functional collaboration between clubs?

We reached out to the wider northern region clubs ahead of our calendar creation, to ensure their main events were free on our calendar with the intention of taking the club’s members down to their events. We’ve added OBOP and Waikato events on to our annual calendar and regularly advertise Whangarei events when they show up. 

We partnered with Owairaka Athletics Club with a membership deal and agreement to run in local events as an Auckland Orienteering Club members.

We have a SummerNav event this year hosted at an Athletic club to motivate some athletic runners to try orienteering.  We got a headline article in the major Athletics newsletter which was shared in Australia too
We have a discount with Shoe Science in Auckland where all Orienteers get 15% off and a further 5% goes in to the Auckland Junior Training Fund.

9. What do you think the future could look like for orienteering?

We are happy with the direction we are heading in – the next step is to create a media profile that befits the sport. It’s still called treasure-hunting and considered an outdoor diversion rather than having the strong competitive sport reputation which that our athletes deserve. 

Ideally, in the longer term, we get alongside the corporate world to think of ways for it to be mainstream and media-rich. This seems to be the next potential direction. Our volunteer sport will get squeezed more and more and the necessity to bring money in to the sport to offset this volunteer reduction is key to the continuity and growth.
We have a range of exciting projects bubbling away that will keep the excitement up and have a really good range of direction-setters at the club including the likes of:  Kieran Woods, Duncan Morrison, Simon Jager and Callum Wishart. They are all involved in creating an atmosphere, and thinking of events in a different way.

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