Comprehensive Membership Survey

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In McMahon Group’s arsenal of survey and research tools for private clubs, the mainstay is the Comprehensive Membership Survey.  Clubs tend to initiate Comprehensive Surveys in cycles of three to five years.  In many cases, the initial impetus to conduct such a survey is a major issue the Club is facing, perhaps at the outset of developing or updating the club’s Strategic Plan or addressing significant capital improvements to the clubhouse, golf course or other recreational activities.  We recommend that while obtaining input on the strategic or facilities issues, the survey also test member satisfaction, by department, with the entire member experience.   If there are any weaknesses in the member experience, such a survey will help to identify them so that the Club’s leadership and management can address them.

Developing the Questionnaire

While not a requirement, the Comprehensive Survey process, at most clubs, starts with qualitative research in the form of focus groups.  The McMahon Group spends time at the club conducting focus groups with volunteering members (normally segmented into age groups), the club’s leadership (Board and/or Planning Committee) and the management team. The primary purpose of these focus groups is not to resolve issues, but to surface issues to be incorporated in the survey.  The focus groups also serve to further engage members in the process, which helps to build consensus and buy-in to the results or eventual plan that emerges based on the survey results.

The Survey Structure

A good survey contains a mix of mostly closed-ended questions (multiple choice, rating, etc.) and strategically placed open-ended or write-in questions.  The closed-ended questions allow for quantifying the results, including segmenting the results by various demographic segments such as age, member category, gender or tenure of membership.  They also allow the McMahon Group to compare each club’s results to our unique national database of private club benchmarks from hundreds of clubs across North America. The open-ended questions provide some “flavor” to the statistical results and allow members to expand upon their answers or comment on an aspect of club life that may not have been addressed in the survey.  While comprehensive surveys tend to be the most time-intensive for members to complete, there is a limit as to how long a survey can be before the response rate is significantly impacted.  Even though most surveys at clubs are done electronically (via e-mail), our general rule-of-thumb is that a survey should be no longer that about 14 to 15 pages in length, that in most cases can be completed in 15 to 20 minutes by the respondent.

Communicating the Results

At the conclusion of the survey process, having achieved at most clubs a 50%+ response rate, the McMahon Group provides the club with a comprehensive report of the results, with detailed data tables, charts comparing the results to our private club industry benchmarks and our in-depth analysis of the results.  The reporting process also includes an onsite briefing of the club’s leadership group, our recommendations based on the survey results, and most importantly a summary of the survey results for distributing to members.

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About Bill McMahon

Bill is a private club planner providing strategic planning, member research analysis and facility planning services for private clubs across North America. Bill joined McMahon Group in 1999 and has worked with over 200 clubs helping to solve their strategic and facility needs.

Bill is Co-Editor of Club Trends, a quarterly report published with the National Club Association (NCA). He has written for many private club publications like The BoardRoom Magazine, Club Director and more, and has been a featured speaker at national conferences, local chapters and other associations serving the private club industry. He is also on the NCA’s Communications Committee.

Bill has been instrumental in developing and enhancing the McMahon Group online presence. He created and runs Clubtopia® ( – an online business directory of firms and companies serving the club industry.

Bill’s club memberships have included Bellerive Country Club (St. Louis), Glen Echo Country Club (St. Louis) and the Missouri Athletic Club (St. Louis). He has served on the Boards of Cinema St. Louis ( and the Tennessee Society of St. Louis (former President).


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