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As a former club manager myself, I understand that while working in the private club industry has its challenges, one of its greatest rewards is knowing that the people you work for—the members—are emotionally invested in the fruits of our labor. Unlike other industries where you need to incentivize your customers to share their thoughts, private club members are emotionally attached to their clubs and are therefore eager to participate. The key is knowing how to use this to your advantage as a manager or club leader.
The more you engage members in creative and substantial decisions, the better your club is going to be. During my 32 years in club management, I gathered that membership involvement also helps club leadership make better long-term decisions that can ultimately add more value to club membership. In this month’s column, I discuss a few best practices that give members more opportunities to get involved.
The most obvious way to keep members engaged is by organizing a committee that can advise club boards and management on how to proceed with a specific problem. Whether you’re discussing new menu options or a full-scale renovation, committees can provide useful insights from the membership’s perspective. However, committees can be ineffectual if they’re not properly formed and directed. In order to be effective, it is important to form committees that can strike a delicate balance between offering insight without attempting to take over the process.
First and foremost, you want to search for committee members with expertise or at least a knowledge base in whatever area you’re trying to address, while avoiding individuals with personal agendas. Committee members need to be open to working with skilled professionals in different disciplines to help bring the ideas to life in a comprehensive and organized manner.
Aside from selecting the right kind of personalities to be part of a committee, club boards and leadership can also optimize committee effectiveness by ensuring that committee members understand their exact role and what they are there to accomplish. The role of the committee is to advise and inform. Committees make recommendations, while boards make policies and procedures. When everyone understands their role, things run much more smoothly! Setting well-defined boundaries allows all parties involved in the decision-making process to serve their purpose without confusion or distress.
Involving the membership in club governance and management can be as simple as asking the members what they want. When survey questions are properly constructed and distributed, this method of information gathering and participation can offer fantastic insights into member opinions. While these kinds of surveys are typically used to shape large-scale projects like strategic plans and facilities renovations, they can also be applied to lower-level decisions. After all, member surveys don’t always have to be distributed to the entire membership.
Targeted surveys can provide great insights into the opinions of different constituents in the club. For example, you can create a survey just for tennis players, golfers, the women’s bridge league, younger members with children or whatever group is relevant to the issue you’re addressing. However, you still have to ask important demographic questions – their age, how long they’ve been a member, the type of membership they have, if they have kids enrolled at the club, etc. to ensure that you’re representing everyone while getting the information you need.
Pulse surveys can also be effective. These fast and frequent surveys are intended to be provide a quick glimpse into the health of a particular topic (hence the term “pulse”). For example, you could distribute a pulse survey specifically to the attendees of an annual event to solicit their feedback on how it could be improved in the future, or to parents of children who attended a new junior program at the club to gauge interest and satisfaction levels. Really, you can release a pulse survey about anything! And while you don’t want to over-survey the members, these quick reviews are an easy way to gather succinct feedback from very specific portions of the membership with the ultimate goal of improving their experience.
When it comes to building a great relationship between governance, management, and club members — consistent and transparent communication is key. Ongoing communication through the club’s webpage or newsletter is important for building trust with your members. Of course, this isn’t always as easy as it sounds. When it comes to communication, it is important to communicate with members in ways they relate to—which often means embracing newer communication channels such as email or social media.
One asset in discovering the best communication channels for your club is to ask members where they want to hear from you, and how often. And with today’s technology, you don’t always have to take your members’ word for it. Certain methods of digital communication, like email and social media, allow you to easily track member engagement levels through open rates and click rates, which allows you to better and understand which channels your members are responding to.
Another way to be transparent with members is by hosting focus groups, sponsoring a roundtable with the president or conducting informational town-hall style meetings. These outlets provide unique opportunities for members to offer their opinions on a variety of topics that affect their personal experience and enjoyment at the club. This is not only great for gathering opinions, but also lets your members know that the club management and governance is always interested in hearing their input, not only when there is a large capital program or specific initiative happening at the club.
Particularly for club managers and leadership, I feel it is essential that members feel comfortable knocking on your door and sharing their thoughts with you at any time — whether they are there to share the positive or the negative. As club leaders, it is important to recognize the need for face time and engage with members during the time they are at the club.
Of course, I recognize that busy schedules and competing demands can make it difficult to find time to socialize. One way to get around this obstacle? Pencil the time in on your calendar. Some managers will host afternoon coffees, offer ‘lunch with the manager’ or hold their own kind of informal sessions with members. Ultimately, these one-on-one interactions with the members are fundamental components to engaging them and increasing their participation in the club’s decision-making processes. After all — it is important to remember that it is the members’ club. Our job as club leaders is to understand their needs and wants and create the experiences they are searching for.
In reality, there is no such thing as over-communication. Anytime you can provide members with an opportunity to share their thoughts is a good thing! You are able to better understand their needs, and they know they are being heard and that their opinion is valued. It’s a win-win for everyone!
Have thoughts or ideas on others ways to increase member involvement at your club? Email me or share in the comments below!