1. Identify the Club’s Objectives
Before you get too far along in planning your club, take some time to gather together your “founding members” and have a discussion about your shared objectives for your club. Try to reach an agreement on answers to questions such as:
- Why are you forming a club?
Can you define a clear objective (or Mission) for the group? For example, will this strictly be a social club for regular gatherings or are there other reasons for gathering together?
- Consider drafting a Mission Statement:
Try to articulate the reason for your club in a short statement. Brainstorm among your members. Think about what you’d tell a friend – how would you describe your club’s objective?
- What are your long-term goals?
Even though you’re just getting started, it’s important to consider your collective long-term goal(s) for the organization – since these can impact the type of club structure you need to put in place.
- Will you hold events?
- Will you raise funds?
- Will you be lobbying?
- Will you offer services or resources to members?
- Will you be charging membership fees?
2. Determine the Club’s Structure
a) Define the type of organization you’re creating:
If your organization is strictly a social club, with the objective to gather members together for social activities, you probably don’t need to worry too much about a formal structure. However, for clubs that will be charging for membership; running events; raising funds; lobbying the government; and so on, you’ll need to define the type of organization you’re creating.
For example, clubs that intend to raise funds may need to determine if they meet the criteria to qualify as a non-profit for tax exemption purposes. The criteria can be different, depending on the country, state or province in which you start the club. And there are different types of non-profit or not-for-profit categories that will determine whether your club is eligible for tax-exempt status. For example, in the U.S., the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has rules governing social clubs that are entitled to tax exemption (under Section 501(c)(7).
If you want to look into non-profit status:
b) Outline the Leadership Structure:
Your club will also need a leadership or governing structure. Again, the type of organization will determine whether the structure should be formal or informal. In other words, will you operate through an elected Board of Directors or create a less formal club management arrangement?
Here are some of the key leadership roles you might want to consider:
- Leader: key representative who can lead the club and act as a spokesperson. The role title might be: President, Board Chair, Revolving meeting leader, etc.
- Deputy Leader: a supportive role that offers a back-up for the Leader (title - e.g., Vice-President, Vice-Chair, etc.)
- Treasurer: responsible for keeping track of club moneys, fees, expenses, paying bills, etc.
- Communications Manager / Secretary: this role would be responsible for writing meeting minutes; drafting objectives; keeping track of goals for activities, dates for gatherings; sending out meeting reminders and invitations, etc.
- Membership Manager/Officer: responsible for both maintaining member records as well as developing member recruitment strategies
Regardless of the type of leadership positions or the names you choose, be sure that you develop clearly defined job descriptions that are agreed to by all of the organizing members. After all, the individuals who hold these positions need to fully understand the expectations and responsibilities involved. Once these roles are defined, open up nominations and hold elections to be sure that roles are filled in a well-documented, democratic manner.
As your club grows, you might need to consider having additional roles and/or a full board or executive committee to help manage its operations.
c) Develop a Charter or Bylaws:
Once you’ve established your leadership structure, this group can help create or finalize the club’s mission statement and establish a charter and/or bylaws that govern the club and its members. It can be helpful to have a formal document – whether it is a constitution, charter, terms of reference or a set of bylaws – to create a sense of order. (For support in drafting a club charter – check out this WikiHow post.)
3. Define your Membership
When you start your club, your founding members may have a shared understanding of the club’s mission and objectives. However, once you start recruiting and new members begin to join, you’ll need to clearly define what that membership entails. Here are some of the things you may want to define - for example...
- Who are you targeting as members?
- Are there membership criteria they must meet?
- Are there restrictions? (e.g., members need to be 21, etc.)
- Will you charge membership fees?
- What are the benefits of membership?
- Will there be different types of members or membership levels?
As you plan for organizational growth, you’ll need to firm up the specific criteria for and benefits of membership.
Member Marketing and Recruitment:
Once you’ve identified your ideal member profile, and defined your membership benefits, you can begin to develop a strategy for recruiting additional members. Of course, your strategy and specific tactics will depend on the type of club you are creating, but we’ve offered some ideas for both member engagement and member recruitment tools in section 5 below.
Here are some general ideas for promoting your club to potential members:
- Create a Membership Committee - to brainstorm recruitment strategy and take responsibility for recruiting and orienting new members
- Include a Membership Application on your website - along with ensuring the benefits of membership are clearly outlined on your website (*see #5 below), be sure to include a membership application and option for potential members to contact (via email) a leadership or membership club member with questions.
- Invite non-members to events - create a non-member entrance fee or offer a “trial member” visit to a members-only event
- Start a Member Referral Program - ask each member to recruit another new member. Consider offering incentives for recruitment if there are membership fees involved.
- Hold an Open-House - so that potential members can get to know member benefits first-hand
- Use existing professional networks to recruit new members - ask members to promote the club within their existing networks
4. Outline the Financial Structure
For any organization, developing and maintaining effective records is key to success. This includes financial record-keeping. Once your leadership team is in place, consider the following:
- Identify any and all sources of income (e.g., membership fees, fundsraised, etc.)
- Itemize all potential club expenses related to existing meetings or events as well as plans for the next year (e.g., meeting room costs, food, equipment, bank fees, promotional costs, member service costs, etc.)
- Develop a draft budget*
- Draft financial policies for the club (e.g., member fees, meeting fees, sponsorship levels, etc.)
- Have your leadership team review and finalize the budget and financial processes together.
* Remember, most activities have some associated costs, so be sure to carefully map out your club’s yearly budget with eyes wide open to potential costs and also potential sources of income.
5. Develop Tools for Outreach and Engagement
Now that you’ve created a club structure, you can start to think about ways to communicate with your existing members and also promote your club to potential new members. Here are some initial promotional methods to consider:
- Create a Membership Database:
As we note in our Membership Database Selection Guide, your membership data is truly the heart of your club and the care and maintenance of your member list is critical to your continued success. After all, you’ll need an up-to-date list in order to send out meeting invitations (by email or mail), request and acknowledge member fees, and much more. There are many methods you can use to maintain this database, but if you want to ensure it is easily updated and available to all those board members and/or volunteers that need it, you might want to consider managing this database in the cloud – with online membership management software.
- Develop a Club Website:
A website is key to presenting the “public face” of your club to members, prospective members, the media, and the general public. And the key to an effective website is updating content frequently for both accuracy and search engine optimization (SEO). *Your website should outline the benefits of membership and include a membership application and contact information for potential members to connect and ask questions.
To ensure you have fresh website content, you need to create a site that is easily updated and maintained by your club executive or volunteers. Using cloud-based solutions (such as Wild Apricot) allow easy updating from any computer or web-browser.
For information on the types of software to consider, check our Software Selection Guide.
- Establish an E-newsletter:
An e-newsletter is a cost-effective way to:
● keep members informed
● promote your organization to external audiences
● drive traffic to your website
An e-newsletter offers a means of promoting upcoming events and activities as well offering status updates on issues or other club news. Email can offer a convenient way to provide up-to-date information right into your members’ in-box through real-time delivery.
For more on e-newsletters, check out our Refreshing Your Email Newsletter article in our Membership Knowledge Hub.
- Launch a Member’s Forum:
Once you have created your club website, you might want to consider having “members-only” pages or sections – and a Forum is a great way to get started. A forum is an online discussion site or place on your website where your members or supporters can post messages and others can view and reply to these messages.
A discussion forum allows club members to connect with one another and also offers your club leadership an opportunity to communicate with members. It can help you build your online community by providing a place for your members to congregate online, collaborate, discuss and share their ideas.
For more on member forums, check out our How to Start an Online Forum Guide in our Membership Knowledge Hub.
- Social Media for your Club:
Have you considered how you’ll use social media to engage existing members and recruit new members?
As we’ve noted in our Beginner’s Guide to Social Media, “getting started with social media isn’t like learning to swim - you shouldn’t just jump or dive in! You need to start by dipping your toe in the social media waters to get acclimatized before you slowly wade in.While there is no one-size-fits-all strategy for launching into social media, most experts suggest that organizations new to social media take it slow and…
- Start by listening (following and monitoring)
- Then create connections and partnerships by participating in online conversations
- Establish your social media goals & develop a realistic plan
- Begin to build a presence on, for example:
Good luck with your club!
We hope these First 5 Steps are useful in helping you understand what’s involved in starting a club. While it might seem like there is a lot to think about in getting started, if you keep your initial shared passion alive as you build your club, all of the effort will be worthwhile.
Along with the Wild Apricot guides, articles and blog posts mentioned above, here are some resources that we used to develop this How To guide: