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Organizational Management

How to Start a Club: 7 Steps to Starting A Membership Club or Organization

Author: Tatiana Morand
February 25, 2020
🕑 13 min read

Is a condo developer looking to build on your block and not considering the additional traffic?

Are you hooked on pickleball but can’t find anyone to practice your cross-court dink shot?

Are you looking to network and share tricks of the trade with colleagues in your industry?

Starting a membership club in your neighborhood, school or social group, or profession is a great way to connect with like-minded people who share your values, hobbies, or interests.

Clubs range from social clubs and service clubs to sports and recreation clubs. They’re a powerful way for local groups, students, hobbyists, athletes, and working professionals to organize and combine resources.

If you’re looking for how to start a club, here are seven steps to consider, as well as some extra tips and information to get your club started right.

(And if you want to turn your club into a full-fledged nonprofit, check out our comprehensive guide on how to start a nonprofit the right way.)

Step 1: Know Why Your Club Exists

The first step to take when making your own club is to gather the founding members, clarify the purpose of your club and identify any long-term goals you want to achieve.

Questions for founders to ask to identify a club’s purpose:

  • Why are we forming a club?
    What’s the primary objective or mission you want your group to achieve? Are you looking to start a social club that meets regularly, or are there other reasons for gathering together? Maybe you want to organize to play your favourite sport or hobby or advocate for a cause you’re passionate about. For example, if you’re a huge baking aficionado, maybe you want to start a club centered around trying and sharing new dessert recipes.
  • What is our social club’s mission statement?
    Crafting a mission statement is a great way to clarify and articulate the reason for starting your social club, association or sports organization. Brainstorm with your co-founders and try to phrase your mission statement the way you’d tell a friend — meaning it’s engaging and simple enough to remember. To go back to our baking example, a potential mission statement might be “To improve our baking skills by trying new recipes and sharing cooking tips and tricks.”
  • What are our club’s long-term goals?
    Even though you’re just getting started, it’s important to consider the long-term goal(s) for the organization right from the very beginning. These goals will impact the next step of starting a club or organization: your club’s structure.

Here are a couple of questions for founders to ask to identify your club’s long-term goals:

  • Do we want to hold events?
  • Will we need to fundraise?
  • Do we want to organize to lobby?
  • Will we offer services or resources to members?
  • Do we need to charge membership fees?
  • How often do we want to meet?
  • Where will we meet?
  • What will take place during meetings?

Setting down answers to all of these questions before beginning to recruit other members will help ensure you and your other founders are all on the same page. It will also make your initial meetings a lot more cohesive — if one member of your baking club thinks you’ll be baking during the meetings, and another thinks you’re supposed to bake beforehand and bring desserts to share, you might run into some frustrated (or hungry) members.

club membership-management-guide

Step 2: Structure Your Club & Governance

Once you’ve answered the questions above, you’ll have a better idea of your club’s structure.

Do you Need A Loose or Formal Club Structure?

The goal of a social club is to gather members for regular or semi-regular social activities. This entails very little overhead and members can largely self-organize with a loose and minimal structure. Our baking club would most likely be an example of this kind of club.

Clubs that require a steady cash flow to operate need a formal organizational structure to help organize and manage various moving parts. These clubs may host larger events, rent venues or equipment, pay volunteers or staff, create and distribute materials, do PR and marketing, or lobby the government. A club that revolves around sports may fall into this category, since you’ll need to rent field space, as will professional associations, since a higher degree of organization will be involved to bring in speakers.

As soon as expenses and overhead costs are involved in achieving your club’s mission, you will need a way to offer paid memberships, raise funds, collect recurring dues or donations, and offer tax receipts. In fact, for many clubs in this position, it makes sense to register as a non-profit or not-for-profit organization.

Clubs that intend to raise funds will also need to determine if they meet the administrative criteria in their region to qualify for tax exemption purposes. These criteria differ according to the regulations of the country, state, and/or the province the club is in.

There are different types of non-profit or not-for-profit categories that will determine whether your club is eligible for tax-exempt status. 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).

Figure Out Your Leadership Structure

Any club will need some sort of leadership or governing structure. The type of organization will determine whether the structure should be formal or relaxed. 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 to consider:

  • Leader: This role is a key representative who can lead the club and act as a spokesperson. Example titles: President, Board Chair, Revolving meeting leader, etc.
  • Deputy Leader: This role is a supportive role that offers a back-up for the Leader. Example titles: Vice-President, Vice-Chair, etc.
  • Treasurer: This role is responsible for keeping track of club money, fees, expenses, paying bills, taxes, etc.
  • Communications Manager or Secretary: This role is responsible for internal communications: meeting minutes, drafting objectives, keeping track of goals for activities, dates for gatherings, sending out meeting reminders and invitations, etc.
  • Membership Manager or Officer: This role is responsible for maintaining member records and developing member recruitment strategies.

Make sure to develop and document clearly defined job descriptions for each role, and that everyone involved understands and agrees to the expectations and responsibilities involved in taking on their role.

Once your club’s 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 adding new roles, or even an executive committee to help manage your operations.

Develop a Charter or Bylaws

Once you’ve established your organizational and leadership structure, as founders, you can help finalize the club’s mission statement by establishing a charter and/or set of bylaws that govern the club and its members.

A formalized document–whether a constitution, charter, terms of reference, or set of bylaws – helps create a standard set of practices that are shared by club members, and creates a sense of order for you organization.

(For more support in drafting a club charter, check out this WikiHow post.)


How to Start a Club Software

Step 3: How to Get New Members

Now that you and your fellow founding members have a shared understanding of the club’s mission and objectives, it’s time to start growing your membership. But before you can grow your membership, you need to understand what people to target for recruitment.

Questions to help founders identify potential club members:

  • What criteria do new members need to have?
  • Are there any restrictions to new membership?
  • Are there ideal demographics or psychographics for new members?

For example, our baking club might only require an interest in baking. If you want to start a professional association for dental hygienists, though, new members will obviously have to work in that field or study it.

As well as understanding the profile of your ideal membership, you need to clarify what you will offer new members, and what benefits they receive from joining your club.

Questions to ask to determine your membership levels and benefits:

  • What are your operating costs and how can membership fees offset them?
  • What are the benefits can your club offer to new members?
  • Will there be different types of members or membership levels?
  • If you charge dues, will your membership be monthly or yearly?

PS: Managing these levels can also be done much more easily with the help of club management software.

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 new members. Your strategy and the specific tactics you use will depend on the type of club you are creating. The following ideas will help you get started engaging existing members and growing your membership.

Here are a few ways to promote your club to new potential members:

  • Create a membership committee: Brainstorm a recruitment strategy with your founding members and assign responsibility for recruiting and orienting new members.
  • Use an online membership application form: Ensure your membership benefits are clearly outlined on your website, and include a membership application form for potential members to apply.
  • Invite the general public to events: Create a general admission entrance fee or offer a ‘trial membership’ for the public to help recruit new members at members-only events.
  • Start a membership referral program: Ask your existing membership to recruit other new members. Consider offering incentives for recruitment if there are membership fees involved.
  • Host a club open house: Showcase what your club has to offer at an open house for existing members to get to know their benefits first-hand and to attract new members.
  • Use professional networks to recruit new members: Ask your membership to promote the club within their existing networks.
  • Put together a new member welcome packet: Having something that outlines the benefits of joining your organization as well as its general structure prepared makes it easy to entice new members at events.

Read More: 101 Ways To Get New Members For Your Organization

Step 4: Outline the Financial Structure

Developing and maintaining effective financial records is the key to success for any club or organization. As your membership grows, financial record-keeping will become increasingly important. Get your financial records off on the right foot with these quick tips:

  • Identify any and all sources of income (membership fees, fundraisers, donations)
  • Itemize all potential club expenses related to existing meetings or events as well as plans for the next year (meeting room costs, food, equipment, bank fees, promotional costs, member service costs)
  • Develop a draft budget*
  • Draft financial policies for the club (member fees, meeting fees, sponsorship levels)
  • 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. For example, our baking club might host a monthly bake sale to raise money for specialized baking supplies.

Step 5: Create a Club Website

A website is key to presenting your club to the public — including many prospective members and the media. The key to an effective website is creating and publishing high quality content on  a regular cadence, and making sure your content uses the latest search engine optimization (SEO) best practices.

A great club website outlines the benefits of membership and includes a membership application form for potential members to apply, connect, and ask questions. If you would like to see some great examples of club websites, check out this list of 7 club website examples.

Read More: How to Create a Club Membership Form in WildApricot + 3 Examples

There are many individual tools available to build, maintain a club website, but if you want an all-in-one tool that makes it easy to create a club membership website–and do much more, a purpose-built Membership Management Software (MMS) tool might be for you.

Membership Management Software comes ready-made with all the elements your new club website will need, including:

  • A new member and event registration pages
  • A calendar of events
  • An online member directory
  • A private members-only area
  • Unique usernames and passwords to log in

Purpose-built Membership Management Software also automates most of the time consuming administrative tasks associated with running a club or organization.

Some of the pre-packaged features Membership Management Software offers are:

  • Automated contact database updates
  • Online event registration and payments pages
  • A way to accept online donations
  • An emailing system to communicate with your members
  • Professionally designed newsletter templates
  • Instant financial reports

WildApricot is the number one rated membership management software used by over 20,000 organizations across the world. The best part is that WildApricot has a free 60 day trial for anyone looking to use it. You can get your free trial here.

how to start a club

how to start a club

how to start a club“As our club grew from the 60’s to in excess of 150 members and the need to collect dues and establish membership categories arose, it became very hard to manage everything with the paper system we had been using. WildApricot solved all that perfectly.”

– Fred Finney, Vistoso Cyclists

Step 6: Hold Your First Club Meeting

Once your club website is ready to go and you’ve started recruitment, it’s time to host your first meeting!

Although this may seem intimidating, don’t worry: all your new members are just as nervous as you.

We’d also recommend not trying to do too much in the first meeting. It’s best to keep it simple, and follow a structure such as:

  1. Introducing the club and its mission
  2. Introducing founding members
  3. Describing general meeting structure
  4. Asking members why they joined and what they’re hoping to get from the club
  5. Opening nominations for open positions such as secretary and treasurer

And don’t forget to provide some time to mingle — the faster new members get to know each other, the easier it’ll be to keep them coming back to your next meetings.

At the end, you should also let members know what they can expect from the club going forward. For example, will you hold weekly meetings, or limit it to once a month? Will the meeting location change? Setting out clear expectations will ensure members can feel comfortable coming back.

Step 7: Attract & Engage Your Members

Congratulations — your club is all set up!

However, it’s not time to rest on your laurels just yet. There are a number of other things you’ll need to set up going forward in order to effectively engage with your club members.

Here are a few ideas we’ve seen successful clubs use in order to keep their members happy and their numbers growing.

1. The Easiest Way to Keep in Touch

Want to make sure all your members know when they can come to meetings? An online 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’ inbox through real-time delivery.

However, it’s worth checking in with your members to see what kind of content they’d like to see from it. For example, if our baking club has been sending out weekly recipes but no one is opening their emails, it might be worth trying out a weekly “What our Members Baked This Week” instead.

2. Keep the Discussion Going

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.

Learn More: How to Start an Online Forum

3.  Stay Social

Have you considered how you’ll use social media to engage existing members and recruit new members?

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).
    • What accounts are your potential club members already following?
    • What kind of content are they creating?
    • Which social media channel are they most active on?
  • Then, create connections and partnerships by participating in online conversations.
  • Establish your social media goals and develop a realistic plan.
  • Begin to build a presence on social media channels — we’d recommend starting with one or two so that you don’t get overwhelmed.

4. Create a Membership Database

Your membership data is the heart of your club. With proper care and maintenance, your database can be used to engage your membership and grow a successful club or organization since it allows you to learn which members stick around the longest and what they’re most interested in.

An up-to-date membership list is an invaluable tool to mail or email out out meet up invitations, promote events, advertise fundraising initiatives, and request and receive member fees.

There are many ways to maintain a membership database, but if you want to ensure it is easily updated in real time, and available to the board members, staff and volunteers that need it, consider managing your database in the cloud – with online membership management software.

5. Check in With Your Members

As your club continues to grow and evolve, you’ll want to make sure you continue serving the needs of your members — and the easiest way to do this is by asking them what they want.

Some ways you can do this are:

  • Sending out a periodic membership survey (or a post-event survey)
  • Asking members to reply to your email newsletter with new ideas
  • Assigning your membership officer to check in with lapsed members and ask them why they left

We hope these seven 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.

Good luck with starting your club!

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