Jason van Ravenswaay, President of the Argonaut Rowing Club

In March 2019, following a six month pre-campaign planning process, the Argonaut Rowing club launched Argonaut Rowing Club NEXT (ARC Next), a rebrand of their five-year revitalization project, designed to support current and future rowers for the next 50 years. Over the next 5 years, the club aims to attract over 80 new members, reach 15 local schools and support 80 young athletes.

In support of the campaign, the club is raising $1.2 million dollars through a community bond raise, to fund the essential upgrades that would offer a fully accessible facility, increased member capacity and youth programs. To date, there has been just over $1 million pledged to the campaign in under four months, with a deadline of September 15, to raise the final amount. We spoke with Jason van Ravenswaay, President of the Argonaut Rowing Club to get his perspective on the campaign so far.

What is the vision of ARC Next and what makes this project iconic?

Argonaut Rowing Club boat racks

In part, what makes the project iconic is that the rowing club has been around for a long time. We’ve had our, ups and downs over that time. At one point the rowing club even burned down. We’ve always come back stronger. The opportunity that we have is really bringing the club to the next level, reaching more youth, and becoming completely accessible for our para-athletes.

That’s the primary vision. Right now, we’re investing a lot in our youth. About 3 years ago, our junior program was 3 – 5 people. And, we’ve actively been growing that program, investing in coaching, in safety, in new rowing shelves so that these athletes can compete and have the opportunity to be successful.

With this ARC next campaign, we’re able to open up more space so that we can grow this program even further. Right now, we’re at 60 junior athletes, which is a lot. This program doesn’t really make money for the club. It actually costs us money, but we’re very passionate helping people get introduced into the sport of rowing and creating that passion.

Why is this so important?

For me it’s important because rowing has been an outlet. It’s been a way to be healthy, to enjoy the city, and the beautiful lake that we have the privilege of living on. And, I think what’s great is that rowing is addictive.

I want people to have the opportunity to feel what that’s like and to fall in love with the sport.

For yourself, what has been the biggest challenge in this bond raise so far?

Probably the biggest challenge is—we have a phenomenal leadership team behind this bond raise and on the board of directors, but the reality is that these leaders for the club are all volunteers. Everyone has jobs and careers outside of the rowing club. So, the challenge is really getting people energized.

We’re working late nights to get a lot of this stuff done, and you know, a lot of planning goes into this campaign. With the financial modelling, and the business plan and really thinking through what the next five to seven years look like. We’ve been thinking about and planning for this investment. We knew that we needed to do something, in particular looking at the flooding that’s been happening in our changing room.

Argonaut Rowing Club practice with woman's team

We’ve been making small investments in our program, that have moved us forward, but planning such a big one-time investment that gets us everything that we need to push all of our programs forward and to reach more in the community is a heavy lift. We’re really lucky that we have the leadership team that we do because they’re putting in tonnes of hours getting this done.

That’s been the hardest part of this campaign.

What has been the biggest surprise throughout this whole campaign?

The biggest surprise has been that a lot of people have the same passion for our club and for the impact that we have. They have come through and invested in ARC next.

I think probably the investors that kind of give me goosebumps are really the parents. People that aren’t rowing, but their kids have been through our programs and just how they reflect on their children’s experience and how it has changed their lives. How it’s gotten into their schools and how it’s created a network of friends that are strong, motivated individuals.

The parents want the club to be able to scale and have this impact on their children. Some of the parents that are sitting on our committee, their kids are actually off to university now, and they’re participating in the bond raise—whether that’s investing or actually being on the team—because of the impact that we’ve had on their kids in previous years.

It sounds like you’ve been able to cultivate a really amazing community around the club!

We’ve been really lucky and we have a lot of really great volunteers that are really driving the community and culture. We’re super grateful that everyone has been so engaged.

Argonaut Rowing Club woman rowing

You have surpassed the $1 million pledges milestone, what do you feel has been the biggest factor in your success to date?

We have a pretty strong vision and we have been working on a number of micro initiatives that have all kind of lined up right in front of this ARC Next campaign. As an example, a year and a half ago we assembled a grant committee, and they began figuring out what do we need to support our programs and what kind of grants are out there. Writing grant proposals is very time consuming and we had all that work done upfront and we successfully were awarded a grant at the beginning of this fiscal year which helped pushed this campaign forward.

So, for you it was all the prep-work that was done beforehand?

The prep work and the vision of all the different micro-components, like the banquet facility, which is critical to supporting this investment. With the banquet facility, really understanding the feedback from our client to know what types of investments are really going to elevate the space and allow us to demand higher fees and get more revenue out of that space. And, even before that making sure that we had the right management in place for the banquet space and we had some issues with water coming into the building so investing and building a wall at the front of the building to divert water away and into the lake. There’s just so many different components that have all come together this summer, but the club, it’s different. It’s a different space, it’s a different feel, it’s a different energy, and people are really excited and they want to be down there.

Argonaut Rowing Club woman and coachWoman being coached on rowing

How has Tapestry helped to bring this campaign to life?

Tapestry has been a tremendous support; we really didn’t know where to start only that we didn’t want traditional financing. Finding community bonds and Tapestry made our vision possible; especially for a volunteer organization like ours it would have taken years of work to get where we are today without Tapestry.

And, if you were going to give advice to someone who was considering embarking on a community bond campaign, what would you tell them?

Focus on impact. What is the impact that you’re going to have on your community. On the people or the environment, and really paint a picture of what that feels like. It’s important that people get the feels for what you’re doing. Sometimes it’s hard to communicate the motivation behind something but emotion is powerful.

The Argonaut Rowing Club staff, board members and committees are coming together to celebrate the momentous achievement of reaching the $1 million milestone on July 17th at the clubhouse to encourage the last round of investments from members, parents and stakeholders.

To stay engaged and up-to-date on all things ARC Next and to learn more about the project, visit www.arcnext.ca. See you on the water!

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