Engaging the fanbase

Cormac van der Hoeven, who joined the Dons Trust Board at the end of last year, believes that the Trust must look to extend its appeal to more – and younger – fans.

“With completion must come renewal.”

The Dons Trust (DT), led until recently by Matt Breach and now by Mark Davis – has been instrumental in supporting our historic return to Plough Lane. With that move will come a form of completion: within nine years of re-forming we had re-entered the League, and within 17 we will have returned home. But with completion must come renewal. Without renewal, the DT risks losing its place at the forefront of our club.

“The DT can and should be the beating heart of our football club.”

It doesn’t have to be like that. At its best, the DT can and should be the beating heart of our football club and the community in Wimbledon. At a time when football has never been more corporate or more distanced from fans of all clubs, AFC Wimbledon, through the work of the DT, can be the exception. People crave belonging and authenticity, and the DT can give them that, and more.

Of course, the DT must support our return home, but it must also dedicate time and energy to rediscovering its purpose in a world in which Plough Lane will be hosting League football again. That means engaging our fanbase in new, creative ways. It also means welcoming a new generation of fans into the Dons Trust, many of whom will never have seen Wimbledon play at Plough Lane before.

“We can give our supporters a voice and a sense of belonging.”

Only by speaking to and for a new generation of fans will the DT gain the legitimacy it needs to survive. With that, we can give our supporters what they want most: a voice and a sense of belonging, in a world in which most other football fans increasingly have neither.

As a new Dons Trust Board (DTB) member, my initial responsibility was to attend the monthly DTB meetings. With officials attending from the Football Club Board (FCB), this is an important opportunity to scrutinise the discussions that have happened at the regular FCB meetings. Neal Ardley often attends FCB meetings – showing that, as well as operational matters, the team’s performance is also discussed.

At the end of this month, I will be attending a Supporters Direct board member development training day, giving me an opportunity to learn more about what it takes to be a good board member and the different skills required to get ahead.

“The next SGM will provide a forum for members to express their opinions.” 

December’s annual general meeting of the DT featured a new format, in which for the second part of the meeting members had the chance to speak with DTB members in three break-out groups on a wide range of subjects. The next special general meeting of the DT is being held on Thursday 26 April in the back bar here at the Cherry Red Records Stadium, again providing a forum for members to express their opinions – whether it’s about our current set-up or the latest developments at Plough Lane.

For all DT members, making your point at a DT meeting is the way to constructively engage with the club.

“We have achieved great success, but we must ensure we sustain our DT membership base.”

In the coming year, as a member of the DTB’s Engagement & Communications Committee, a particular focus of mine will be to consider how to help Junior Dons Trust members to progress to being fully fledged adult members. Jane Lonsdale has led a review of the current Junior Dons activities with a view to appointing new personnel to continue these tasks. We have achieved great success, but we must
ensure that we sustain our DT membership base to cement our fans’ ownership model back home at Plough Lane.

Led by Charles Williams, work is currently underway to update the DT website, and to take a fresh look at the DT’s social media platforms. Having a social media presence without an appropriate strategy and plan can be just as harmful as having no presence at all. Creating a clear strategy will help us build our brand as a trust and increase our visibility, through building relationships and communicating with
potential younger members.

Since joining the DT I have been struck by the volume of off-field activities going on here at the club, but now is the time to redouble our efforts to sustain our unique success.