August 30. A day which should be a staple of the Heart of Midlothian calendar. The anniversary of the Heart and Soul Day, when the Foundation of Hearts officially became majority shareholders of the football club. Two years ago, when the group's former chairman Stuart Wallace and club chairwoman Ann Budge signed the certificate in the home dressing room at Tynecastle Park, was another significant milestone in the organisation’s journey and one of the most important.

Since the club’s exit from administration in June 2014 following Vladimir Romanov’s initially successful, forever eventful but near catastrophic reign, landmark after landmark has been achieved. From providing funds for the building of the new Main Stand to ownership to surpassing the £15million mark of money raised earlier this year.

So, what's next?

“The focus of the Foundation has been first of all saving the club, second of all getting it into fan ownership," chairman Gerry Mallon told Hearts Standard. "We’re conscious that happened two years ago now so the risk is some people think ‘what’s the raison d'etre, surely it is mission accomplished?’.”

READ MORE: Eduard Malofeev: The story of the infamous interim Hearts spell

Forward strategy

It would be easy for Mallon, who replaced Wallace in the role in June 2022, and the organisation’s small but dedicated team to keep the status quo, to keep everything ticking along, to be content and satisfied with the current position with six figures flowing into the club every month. That is perhaps the view of the FOH held by some in the club’s support. However, behind the scenes the group has been strategising ahead of what is set to be a significant year to move forward, ensuring continued growth and progress, as outlined in a recent email sent out to all club owners. An email which started with an apology, noting it had been "a while since we provided an update to you".

“We’ve been taking our time to review, over the course of the last 12 months in particular, a forward strategy,” Mallon said.

The next iteration of the Foundation is to be revealed later this month.

Ambitious plans

Mallon wants to see becoming a Foundation of Hearts pledger as a part of the “core DNA” of supporting the club, alongside the likes of the Hearts Song and the maroon and white scarf. There are ambitious plans geared towards reaching 15,000 pledgers by the end of 2024, the year of the club’s 150th anniversary, which in turn will see the yearly pledge to the club rise to and even exceed £2million.

As part of that process there will be an improvement in infrastructure, aided by Foundation board member Andrew Brown, an MD of technology of IBM, and a new family pledge project led by Louise Strutt. The organisation wants to bring more people on board to complement the team already in place, with Claire Hammond and Olympic medalist Eilidh Doyle recently taking up positions in a marketing group.

“It’s more or less the same people who have been involved with the Foundation since day one so it is a tremendous tribute to their loyalty and determination,” Mallon said. “On the other hand I think we’re missing an opportunity to bring more and more people in as owners. Our long-term ambition will be for every Hearts fan to see ownership of their club as something they do want to participate in. 

“One of the things that has held the foundation back is it is a very small bunch of people who are working in addition to all the busy things they are doing in their day jobs. If you can get more people on board and spread the workload a lot better then we will achieve an awful lot more. We have started to make progress on that.

"They [Claire and Eilidh] will bring a wealth of practical experience in terms of their work lives and a huge amount of passion as fans. It is great to have two women involved amongst a bunch of older guys, it is really refreshing. We need to keep demonstrating we are representative of the fan base overall. The marketing group is all about that interface between the Foundation and the fans more broadly. It's about the website, promotions, events we run. It's about the dialogue we have.

“We are conscious that our customer service for want of a better term has been pretty poor. The website hasn’t been great, the pledging experience hasn’t been great. People have queries and it has been hard to get answers for them. Cancelling and setting up direct debits has always been problematic, making a one-off donation has always been hard to do. I’m glad to say we are about to revamp all of the technology off the back of the fact the club has re-done its website and shop website. We will be able to piggyback on that to make the foundation much easier to interact with and deal with.

“We want to make it easier for families to pledge. There is a new family pledge in the offing which is to acknowledge the fact it is not just 8,500 people, it is about every family who come now and that people are connected in a multi-generational way to the club. Actually we should think about families becoming the pledgers because it is very much a family club."

Mallon added: “Our ambition is, by the end of next year because it is our 150th anniversary, to go from just shy of 9,000 pledgers to take it to 15,000 pledgers. We want to take the pledges from £1.5million a year to certainly north of £2million. If we can make £2.5million by the end of next year that’s where we want to get to. We think there is a huge amount more potential, particularly off the back of the success the club is having, to allow more people to feel like they are an owner. I think we will talk less and less about pledgers and talk more and more about owners.”

READ MORE: Behind the scenes of the Hearts 150th anniversary kit launch

Engagement and consultation

One of the criticisms levelled at the FoH revolves around that. While understanding the fan owned, not fan run stance, there are those who perhaps don't feel like they are engaged enough as an owner. It is on the organisation to "bridge the gap", as Mallon put it, between fan expectation and the board needing to take a longer term and professional view on things. More engagement and consultation with those who pledge is a key part of the new strategy.

"I think the first objective of the club is to make the decisions which they think are in the best interests of Heart of Midlothian," he said. "Some of that will involve taking on lots of fan opinion, pledger opinion. There are maybe things fans don't necessarily agree on but the club actually think is in the interest of the club. Consultation and understanding what fans' views are is incredibly important on every significant issue. The club has to take that on board and make a decision rather than just look for a poll or a show of hands on any individual issue.

"Our desire is for a few more public forum events. We ran one of those last year which will allow pledgers to do more face-to-face engagement with senior people at the club. Secondly, we want to put together a number of consultation groups which are a bit more of a fan forum which are more detailed and in-depth discussions with people on a confidential basis so we can test ideas or thoughts that the club might not want to put into the public domain but would like to test people's views on. We want to demonstrate a little bit more that we are listening to, reacting and feeding through fans' views on everything that is going on."

FoH board changes

The Foundation's AGM will take place later this year, on Thursday, December 14 with Donald Cumming set to step aside after nine years as a director. 

"He's been fundamental to the establishment of the Foundation and the working together agreement we have, the share transfer," Mallon said. "He has done an enormous amount of work. He's been a phenomenal servant in a low key but determined way. He's delivered more than almost anyone else involved with the foundation."

The organisation are keen for a lawyer to take his spot with Andrew Brown nominated by the Foundation of Hearts to replace Cumming as the group's second representative on the club board alongside Mallon. Meanwhile, Paul Cheshire, who manages the finances and accounts, will be standing for re-election.

READ MORE: Hearts legend Craig Gordon on his quest to master goalkeeping

Community asset

While supporters understandably focus much of their attention on the here and now. How is the team performing? How is the manager performing? How is recruitment performing? The Foundation must also play a key role in long-term planning. To ensure the club are as robust in five, ten, 25 and 50 years as they are now. Part of the organisation’s rethink is to ensure it becomes a “community asset amongst fans”.

“How do we make sure everybody does feel that level of commitment and connection to it,” Mallon explained. “It’s not going to be the model of ownership which gives the highest level of income. On the other hand if we do it right it is the most responsible form of ownership. I do believe fans organisations will be very thoughtful about the people they appoint to be the stewards on their behalf and you have to be focused on running the organisation best for the long-term. Fans know it is a lifetime, it’s multi-generational and actually you need to think about the long-term more than the short-term. I think it is the most stable form and enduring form of fan ownership.

“Being the biggest fan owned club in the UK should be the source of enormous pride for all of us. I think we should be proud to be owners of the club. I want us to create the opportunity for every single Hearts fan to be owner of the club and feel like that’s what they want to be and they want their families to be involved in. That’s now part of our heritage that we should be passing onto the next generation as well. We should be encouraging everyone who is a committed fan to also be an owner.

“What the Foundation wants to do is make it as easy for people to take the opportunity to be an owner over the course of the next number of years. That’s the future of this club and the thing which will guarantee our long-term stability and success.”