Unlocking non-profit potential: lessons from British Fencing


5 mins read

James Craig

Our latest episode of Telescopic Tech Talks features none other than James Craig from British Fencing.

British Fencing (BF) is the National Governing Body for Olympic and Paralympic Fencing. Their mission: inspire people to start, stay and succeed in fencing. Because let’s face it, who wouldn’t want to pretend they’re a swashbuckling hero?

James is BF’s Commercial Director. He’s making fencing cool, modern and accessible by bringing tech into the mix. So, we’re pretty excited to hear what he’s got to share. Here are the highlights of our conversation.

Getting people more excited about fencing

James launched BF’s License Partner Programme. Partners can use BF’s own system to deliver fencing training and coaching. They get access to specialised resources and help from BF to boost their own programmes.

PGL and Center Parcs are two big partners. Both are seeing huge benefits, but let’s spotlight PGL. For one thing, they pay less per course compared to one-off purchases. This lets them invest more in growing their coaching team. The extra training is also drawing wannabe coaches to PGL and motivating current coaches to step up their game.

“After forming a partnership with PGL, they went from having around 300 coaches to over 500,” James highlights. Having more coaches means more people can get involved in fencing. In just three years, PGL’s programmes engaged around 97,500 unique participants (an increase of c.21k).

"”Our partner programme is shaking up the idea that fencing is a niche sport.”"

“We’re showing people that fencing is popular and can be a big hit in community sports by making it more accessible” James says. “This shift in thinking is driving curiosity about fencing. It’s not just a fancy sport for a select few, but something exciting and open to everyone.”

Can fencing transform lives?

Fencing isn’t just about getting fit while swinging a sword. BF uses fencing for social change. It’s about reaching out to people who wouldn’t usually give fencing a second glance and allowing the sport to help them see themselves in a new light.

As James puts it, “Fencing is this catalyst for conversations and changing people’s self-perception. Just look at our Muslim Girls Fence project. It’s created spaces for Muslim girls and women to challenge assumptions about their gender, race, religion, and other identities. It’s both physical and creative, and it’s also busting myths about fencing being an exclusive sport just for the privileged.

“There’s something primal about wanting to wield a sword, and we’re tapping into that latent demand with our game-based programmes.”

“We’re not just about teaching fencing,” James continues. “We’re helping people develop on a personal level, building resilience. Because once they’ve got that sword in their hands, both sporty and non-sporty alike feel included.”

Powering up Explore Fencing

Explore Fencing is BF’s game-based app that welcomes beginners into the world of fencing. The app is also a handy tool for BF’s Licensed Partner Programme and their coaches. With a paid subscription, they access premium content like teaching materials and tweak it to fit their needs. It wasn’t always this way, though.

“We had an app built previously but it was buggy and inefficient,” James explains. “We found a new partner (hi, that’s us) who were committed to understanding our vision. Together, we worked out a budget-friendly plan that would revive the app and help us achieve our goals.”

Explore Fencing is no one-trick pony. It’s the foundation for future improvements and a tool for bringing all of BF’s data together.

"”It’s all too common in smaller sports to have fragmented systems. With off-the-shelf software, you end up processing data, not owning it. That means you don’t have full control or insight to make the best decisions. Explore Fencing flips the script.”"

La pièce de résistance? Explore Fencing adaptability. It’s been designed to change and grow alongside BF’s evolving needs. That means as the sports and technology landscape inevitably shifts, so can their strategies.

Reaching goals through strategic partnerships

Explore Fencing serves as a fun introduction to fencing and captures the users’ imagination. Digital partners are vital in making these experiences happen, so what traits does BF seek in them? “We need self-awareness, technical expertise, and a vision,” James shares.

"“A good digital partner respects our insights, supports our journey, and values partnership over transactions. They help us identify and fill our knowledge gaps, aiding us in creating an effective, future-oriented digital asset.”"

The secret ingredient is communication—the kind that could win a gold medal in the ‘Collaboration Olympics.’ It’s not just about talking, but engaging in a fencing match of ideas where every parry and every thrust is about creating a shared vision. “It’s a dance,” says James, “like a well-executed fencing bout, where understanding, confirming, and clarifying are our key moves.”



Taking the fear out of tech partnerships

For many non-profits, seeking partnerships with external providers can feel like venturing into a maze—fraught with internal barriers like costs, board approvals, and fear of the unknown.

How to navigate this?

“Through talking,” says James. “Don’t settle for surface-level chatter. Dig deeper. Cross-check the info you receive, whether it’s from someone pitching their services or someone you think aligns with your mission. Make sure you’ve got all the right information before diving in.”

In choosing the perfect partner, James shares his three non-negotiable criteria:

  • Open for a chat: “If an agency says, ‘we’ll talk once you’ve paid,’ I wave them goodbye. It’s like buying a car without getting a chance to peek under the hood. No, thank you.”
  • Transparent costs: “An agency that doesn’t break down costs, sends a red flag soaring. You need to know what you’re paying for – no hidden surprises.”
  • Clear roadmap: “A great partner truly gets the big picture. They understand how different elements can link up or work independently. And they stick around for the whole journey, not just for a quick win.”

Following these smart tips from James (or whipping up some of your own) can help take the scare-factor out of starting a tech journey. With the right partner, navigating the tech world becomes much easier.

That’s a wrap

Disclaimer: we may have tweaked some of James’ words (think of it as a gentle edit rather than a full-blown fencing duel with his original quotes). Don’t worry though, his insights are even sharper in the podcast.

Why not listen to the full episode? It’s full of enlightening moments. James provides a unique perspective on partnerships and innovation. He shares insights into how technology can propel a non-profit forward. It just might be the catalyst you need to spark fresh ideas for your organisation.

Enjoy, and remember to follow if you want more brain-boosting tech talks.