GRC Project Spotlight: Lift4Life

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Project Background:

Lift4Life is a non-profit organization in Canada and a registered charity in the US that is focused on empowering marginalized communities through strength training and powerlifting. It was founded by powerlifter John Downing after he had come across a small community gym and bonded with other lifters during his time in Zimbabwe in the summer of 2015. Lift4Life primarily works in Zimbabwe and has established multiple gyms and conducted outreach country wide -  it has also expanded to the country of Lesotho and North American communities. Lift4Life organizes various events, fundraising, and teaching to ensure all members of a community have access to strength training. Currently, Lift4Life receives its funding support from friend and family donations, the Calgary Barbell, and The Strength Guys, but, to further expand and ensure stability of Lift4Life in the future, the organization is looking for new sustainable revenue models. The final recommendation was a joint project beteen the MIT and Western branches.

Goals and milestones for the semester:

For the semester, GRC had 3 main goals in its work with Lift4Life to ensure stability. Our first goal was to develop a revenue growth model that would successfully withstand the COVID-19 Pandemic in the long-term and utilize a diversity of resources in Canada and the United States. To further empower Lift4Life beyond the pandemic, GRC also recommended practices Lift4Life could employ to empower and bolster its primarily volunteer team to increase efficiency and stability in output. Thirdly, GRC explored various forms of expanding impact via content marketing and partnerships, and recommended the most promising practices and nonprofits to work with moving forward.

Sustainable Revenue Model:

The first aspect of GRC’s recommendation was establishing a sustainable revenue model. This was broken up into recurring and/or large scale funding options and community-based crowdsource funding. Within large scale funding, two options were presented: Corporate sponsorships and Grant funding. For Corporate Sponsorships, GRC recommended targeting large gyms and powerlifting clubs to create partnerships through Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives and/or donations from club members. Our group provided Lift4Life with three different types of fitness organizations to target: Large fitness chains, boutique gyms, and powerlifting clubs. For each type, GRC provided the name of potential targets and suggested funding implementations, whether through single lump sum payments through CSR initiatives or by adding a small monthly donation fee onto existing club fees.

The second aspect of large scale funding was Grant Funding, both in Canada and the US. In Canada, GRC recommended three different grants: Canada New Horizons Grant, Ontario Trillium Foundation Grant, and the MLSE Grant. In particular, the MLSE grant is a potential source of funding for Lift4Life to potentially build a community center in the Nelson House Indigineous community in Winnipeg Manitoba. This would be possible through a partnership with True North Aid, a Canadian charity who supports northern Indigienous communities. In the US, GRC recommended that Life4Life focus on applying to Private Foundation health and fitness grants, particularly the Dick’s Sporting Goods Foundation, Cigna Foundation, and the CrossFit Community Health fund.

With regard to Crowdsourced funding, GRC recommended a pay-to-enter community fitness challenge that would allow them to diversify their revenue stream, grow Lift4Life’s donation base, and also increase name recognition of the nonprofit. These events would be enabled by various Mobile or Web platforms, such as Charity Miles, Coin Up, Give Lively, and GiveWP.

Empowering the Workforce:

Another part of GRC’s recommendation to Lift4Life involved empowerment of the workforce. Lift4Life currently runs a student ambassador program in Canada, recruiting students from different universities to promote the organization and its programs on-campus. GRC has recommended an opt-in structure for each term to help maintain an intrinsically motivated group of student ambassadors on the Lift4Life team. Additionally, building partnerships with Enactus and Rotaract International, two clubs in universities that connect students to companies or organizations off-campus, would increase the pool of Lift4Life student ambassador applicants. GRC has also recommended expanding its ambassador program to the States and connecting with US Weightlifting Collegiate Programs to find students that would represent Lift4Life in the US.

To boost intrinsic motivation and productivity within the current Lift4Life team, GRC has recommended several bonding and team building activities. These include weekly movie nights, virtual game shows, board games and escape rooms. Implementing a proper feedback system would also help to foster good relations and trust between Lift4Life directors and other executive board members. Directors can hold individual monthly meetings and conduct two performance reviews, midterm and end-of-term, with other team members, including the student ambassadors, to get feedback on how Lift4Life is operating and what changes they’d like to see.

The final part of the workforce empowerment recommendation is leveraging contractors. Lift4Life can hire a short-term contractor to get particular jobs done instead of hiring for long-term, as all people part of the team now work as volunteers. GRC recommended two resources, UpWork and Freelancer, both of which would help to recruit and shortlist candidates for a specific role or job that Lift4Life wants done (e.g. grant writing). Hiring a contractor would lead to access to different skills, lower overheads, and reduced legal liability.

Expanding Impact:

To begin, GRC recommended a set of best engagement practices for Lift4Life to incorporate into their online presence. Specifically, we discussed the importance of producing content that is interactive, shareable, and easy to find online, and how to produce such content. We also provided a set of topics in which Lift4Life could produce content on to find new passionate members of the lifting community to join the Lift4Life community. GRC then recommended ways for Lift4Life to modify its website for Search Engine Optimization (SEO), such as using a variety of tools to track website use and then funneling that to improve the user experience. We also discussed ways for L4L to target relevant keywords with high search volumes and low competitors to also improve SEO.

To finish, GRC recommended a set of areas in which Lift4Life could expand its participant group by partnering with various nonprofits specializing in these spaces. In particular, we identified low-income focused, empowerment focused, youth focused, and senior focused nonprofits, highlighted potential alignments with each nonprofit, and established a pipeline through which Lift4Life could naturally build partnerships with these organizations.


Overall, the MIT team really enjoyed working with both Lift4Life and the Western branch. Both teams were pleased with the final deliverable that was presented to Lift4Life and received helpful feedback. Life4Life has also indicated that they will be implementing several aspects of the final recommendation into both their revenue and team structure. If you would like to get involved or donate to Lift4Life, please visit their website:

MIT Team Members: Portia Gaitskell, Ajay Arora, Naksha Roy
Western Team Members: Dollar Luo, Amit Parmar, Steven Zhang, Madhu N

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GRC Project Spotlight: Lift4Life
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