Using Membership Input to Drive Club Success

Third Place

No matter what mountain a club has to climb when improving operations, governance, membership growth or facility improvements, it must always start by involving its members in the process.

They are the customers and the owners of the club. If we know what they want beforehand, it is infinitely easier to give it to them. In club after club we visit, both the board and general manager know what their club’s challenges are; but often, they don’t know the best ways to address them. We recently visited a club with a declining membership problem. Its leadership continually focused on facility improvements for golf and dining areas. Yet, the real issues were an underperforming dining program, a swimming area without a small child pool and no year-round recreation offerings. The golf course was actually in very good condition. In effect, the club was a turnoff for members under age 50. This is a problem as 75% of all new members joining clubs are under age 50. By continuing to ignore what existing and future members wanted in this club, the result is a continually declining membership.

In analyzing the example club cited above, the most valuable result of surveying members is building consensus at the board level on good courses of action.

Without the board knowing what the membership wants, how can they even try to resolve an issue? Often, this results in all board members pulling in different directions. Thus, nothing happens or worse, the board follows traditional paths of just doing what was done before with little visionary insight into solving problems. The results are the same mistakes being repeated over and over again.

With good input on club issues delivered to the board via focus groups and surveys, it can build true consensus on making much wiser decisions. The board can unify and pull together to lead effectively on controversial issues that can only be approved if the board works together. One of the most typical examples of survey benefits are those relating to what future members will want in a specific club. How can we find this out when we don’t know who those future members are? While we don’t know the names of those future members, we can survey a club’s own members in the younger age groups for very good data on them. These younger members are very representative of what their peer age groups outside the club would want in such a club. So while a membership tells us all about what existing members want in their club, they also educate us on what future members will want.

Climbing the Mountain of Club Success

From what started at McMahon Group as a very basic tool in understanding club members (a research method we used to plan military clubs across the world back some 30 years ago), has turned into the most valuable method for achieving club success in the private club world. Thank you Uncle Sam for helping us achieve better clubs!

While we have the best method for determining and building club success, we have to use surveys wisely. Sometimes we have club boards that don’t want change, at least not on their watch. Such boards will often resist surveying members. Other times, a particular board president or member has an agenda he or she wants to promote, and will try to limit a survey’s testing on certain issues. This can be particularly true when a strategic or facility planning process is to follow a survey. Yet, almost always, the members’ true feelings surface. A properly executed club survey used to identify critical club issues, is an ingenious and dependable way to involve the members in building club success. There is nothing to compare to it. This is why a membership survey is the first essential step every club should take when tackling any major issue.

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About Bill McMahon, Sr. AIA, OAA

Bill is a strategic, financial and architectural planning consultant to clubs throughout North America. He established McMahon Group in 1983 as an affiliate of the family architectural firm his grandfather founded in 1906. Over the ensuing years, the firm has expanded its club consulting services beyond clubhouse improvement planning to a full range of services for all aspects of private club challenges. To date, the firm has assisted more than 2,000 private clubs across the United States, Canada, Asia, Europe and the Caribbean. McMahon Group provides a unique approach to developing club facility projects first establishing design and financial feasibility so membership approval is achieved. Thereafter final design and construction firms are selected to build the member approved project.

Mr. McMahon is unique among club consultants in providing an integrated strategic, financial and architectural approach to solving club problems. His personal involvement with his own clubs in St. Louis (serving in the roles of president, board member and committee member) has allowed him to bring unparalleled experience to each client. Mr. McMahon’s club memberships have included Bellerive Country Club (St. Louis), Racquet Club Ladue (St. Louis), University Club of St. Louis, Spring Lake Yacht Club (Michigan) and the Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania.

Mr. McMahon is a graduate of Washington University School of Architecture in St. Louis and holds architecture licenses in 44 U.S. states and in Ontario, Canada. He is a featured author in industry publications and a featured speaker at the annual conferences of the Club Managers Association of America, the Canadian Society of Club Managers, the National Club Association and the Hospitality, Financial and Technology Professionals. He serves as a visiting lecturer at continuing education sessions offered by regional CMAA chapters and at Michigan State University. Bill is a co-author of McMahon Club Trends®, the comprehensive research reports on strategic issues facing private clubs published with the National Club Association. He is also founder of the Excellence in Club Management Award.

Mr. McMahon is a member of the American Institute of Architects, and the National Club Association. He is a former president of the Missouri Council of Architects, AIA and has served on various charitable boards in the St. Louis area.

More articles by Bill McMahon, Sr. AIA, OAA
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