Starting a Club
There are tens of millions of active clubs in the United States alone. There are as many club types are as there are mutual interests among people. There are clubs for socializing, advocacy, raising awareness, school activities, volunteering, information sharing, sports, professional development, religion, cultural, financial, etc. While the variety of clubs is nearly infinite, there is some commonality among clubs as to how to best create them and run them. Many clubs ideas never get started or never truly get off the ground because some common mistakes are made – mistakes made literally millions of times. While no two clubs are the same, we encapsulate many of the best tips and tricks in starting a club in this posting – so you can learn from the backs of others in forming your own successful club.
Realize the time commitment is always more than you think The excitement and fun of the idea of starting a club is always closely followed by the reality of the effort it will take to make it succeed. Just as in business or in any other venture, a great idea works as long as it can be executed well. Who wants to create a failed club no matter how great the idea? In nearly every club, the leaders, organizers and key participants need to “donate” their own spare time and effort to make the club carry out its mission. Limited time, limited resources, the overwhelming drag of inertia of making people take action are just some of the big reasons why clubs end up failing. Of course, clubs are often started because of a strong interest, and so you need to leverage the strong interest level into successful action for the group.
Define the mission and goal for the club
Most eyes roll when they hear they need to create a mission statement. Many have been involved in a corporate exercise in creating a mission statement where you often end up with a bunch of vacuous words that have no real meaning and everyone forgets about. Often people “feel” they know what the mission is but when they try to articulate it, they can’t. That’s not to say a group can’t be successful without a mission statement – however, in coming up with the goals you can help clarify in your mind what the long term goal is and help communicate that to others. Your mission may be to advance a political agenda, or to raise environmental awareness, or it might simply be to socialize and find future dates – it may be all of those things — whatever it is, the more clearly articulated the vision, the more that you direct your efforts towards reaching that vision.
Create the structure you need
Some groups are so well organized that they institute officers, create a constitution, even create processes for amending the constitution and nominating, electing and removing officers. These types of processes are useful, even critical when a group scales – otherwise anarchy ensues. However, most groups starting out don’t necessarily need a mini-government in place. Many groups just start with a few lighter weight processes:
Officers: usually there’s a president (the leader), vice president (2nd in command and often leader of several important initiatives), treasurer (who handles the funds), secretary (who takes care of meeting minutes, next steps, etc.). Depending upon your group’s need, you may also institute a publicity officer, webmaster, historian, etc. It is very helpful to define the roles as well, especially who has the right to decide what. For instance, some groups will require the treasurer to co-sign any checks with the president. In this way there is a check and balance within the group on the money.
If you are fairly serious, you may consider incorporating oftentimes as a nonprofit. Incorporating has many benefits such as limiting liability of members from debts and responsibilities. Incorporation also provides increased levels of “permanency”, and it may help you with funding.
Meetings: usually a periodic meeting or event helps to keep things going in the group and to increase activity. It’s also a great way for group members to help participate in events and to get to know each other better and share information. If you are holding meetings, pay particular attention to how meetings are run which leads to the next section.
Run Effective Meetings
Poorly run meetings reflect poorly on the leaders and are a big waste of time for the participants. While there are whole books written on having successful meetings, here are a couple of tips to make sure you are getting the most out of any meeting you host. First, define and publish an agenda. The meeting needs to have a purpose and participants may need to prepare in advance. Very few meetings require a surprise to be effective. An agenda also helps prevent you from straying off course. Many groups have individuals who want to express their opinions – leading everyone down the proverbial “rathole”. An agenda helps you enforce whether that meeting is the appropriate place to address those issues or if you need to “table it” to another meeting. Always have a desired outcome for the meeting (e.g. get agreement on a particular initiative, or brainstorm and come up with 3 ideas for next year’s events). You’ll be often surprised at how better prepared you make a meeting by simply thinking through what type of decision or outcome you want from the meeting. Understand who needs to be there and what the roles are for the participants. Start the meeting on-time.
Many groups have a designated secretary who is tracking the “minutes” of the meeting – what was discussed and in particular, any conclusions that were made and any items to be tabled for a future discussion. This can be published so that there is a historical archive so that members can always go back and track what happened.
When you finish the meeting make sure you capture what the “action items” are. What is the next step – who does what, and by when and who is responsible for following up. Oftentimes, spending a few minutes to plan the next meeting is useful to do.
Many groups start off with a kick-off meeting to discuss the club and how it will operate. This should be your first meeting.
Funding and Budget
Most clubs need to spend money in order to perform activities, print flyers, host a lecture, etc. In order to spend money the club needs to get money and there are a variety of ways to fund the club’s activities. Funding can be accomplished from the members themselves through membership dues, activity fees, donations. Funding can be also obtained through a variety of fundraising activities such as a bake sale, garage sale, car wash.
Many corporations and government institutions also fund and sponsor groups. Grant applications can be filled out to see if you qualify for this type of funding. Not all funding needs to be cash. Some companies for instance might provide equipment, or a place to hold an event or practice. They may ask for some form of sponsorship, for instance, a banner displayed at an event.
In addition, you may wish to connect with national, state and regional chapters of similar interest groups. They can be good sources of funding themselves or provide you with valuable insights on how to improving the effectiveness of your club.
Get the nuts and bolts down
Every club has a basic set of operations that help it operate more efficiently. There’s nothing more frustrating for leaders and members to be in a poorly run group. Membership, and more importantly, participation will begin to sag as a result. Here are a couple of basics:
- Get an updated roster. It’s important for you to know who is in the group, how you reach them and what roles they play, what their membership status is, etc.. There are several electronic and web tools to help you, such as spreadsheets, word processing documents etc.
- Get an email list group created. Communicating with the group is important and doing so easily without having to type in 50 emails each time will save you a lot of time. Getting a self-managed email group list will save you countless hours.
- Create a website. A website is important for messaging not only to the group but also to the broader community. It’s a great way to let people know what’s going on (future events, how to get involved, etc.), what the accomplishments are of the group so that you can strengthen the binds within the group and also to recruit more members. Again, try to stay away from solutions that require a webmaster to make any change. You may not have a webmaster in the group and plus, you don’t want to bottleneck all of your activities through one person. Was it Worth It? Being a part of clubs is an important part of everyday life. Forming clubs does take effort but the payoff is clear. As an organizer, you might think it is a thankless job, but keep in mind, people wouldn’t join and participate if they didn’t see value in it.
I hope these tips help you to create the best clubs possible. In the next part, we’ll examine how to manage clubs – a different ‘beast’ altogether to manage.
There are a lot of other best practices out there. If you have ideas and suggestions about starting clubs, please post your comments – we’d love to hear them and help make them available to all the other club organizers who are taking the time to follow their passions.