Why a Membership Survey Is the Essential First Step in a Successful Capital Improvement Program


Successful capital improvement programs at private clubs begin and end with building consensus, both among the Club’s membership and its leadership, and a critical first step in consensus building is an effective membership survey.  The results of a well-constructed survey, in advance of a capital improvement program, will:

• Identify strategic issues facing the club, such as those impacting the club’s ability to attract new members and retain existing members.  A survey can also identify any controversial issues involving members that must be resolved before a major capital program can be presented and approved by members.

• Determine what specific facility improvements will have the greatest input on attracting new members and retaining existing, typically older, members so the club continues to enjoy a full membership.  Members who have joined the club most recently serve as an effective proxy for their friends and associates who are not members today but may be good candidates for future membership.  Potential improvements that are most important to these recent joiners (within the past five years) are most likely the improvements that are most important to their peer group of potential members.  Understanding and incorporating improvements that are most important to longer-tenured members will help to gain their support for a capital improvement project. The following table shows the importance of potential improvements and how the priorities vary by demographic segment:

• Identify the priority of importance of potential improvements to the majority of members.  This is critical, since members are much more likely to pay for improvements if they are the ones most members favor.

• Inform the club’s leadership as to the maximum funding amounts members would be willing to pay, assuming the club proceeded with improvements of highest importance to the membership.  It is critical to understand this funding limit, as many improvement programs are lost in voting when excessively cost-prohibitive projects are proposed, regardless of how good the projects are.

• Assist in turning a club improvement plan into a members’ plan, and not the Board’s or general manager’s plan, which is the real secret to winning approval on projects.  The survey results bring consensus at the Board and membership levels that, if followed, all but assure project approval

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About Tom Strutz

Hailing from the Los Angeles area, Tom left sunny Southern California at the ripe old age of 17 to attend the United States Military Academy at West Point.  After graduating with a degree in Civil Engineering, he spent 11 years on active duty in the Army and then another 11 years in the Army Reserves, eventually retiring at the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.  Along the way, Tom earned a Master’s Degree in Hotel & Restaurant Management from Florida International University in Miami.  During his 22-years in the Army, he had a chance to see the world, with assignments in South Korea, Germany, the Pentagon, Virginia, Indiana, Florida, Alabama, Maryland and Washington state.

Tom has been with the McMahon Group since 1990, serving as head of the survey and market research division.  During that time, he has worked with over 1,500 private clubs on a wide variety of survey and research projects, achieving the rank of “Survey Guru” at McMahon.

Over the years, Tom has been a jack of many sports – golf, tennis, racquetball, squash, water skiing, snow skiing, running – but a master of none.  His current pastime passions are gardening, cycling and nature photography – often combining the latter two on rides at a lake near his home in suburban St. Louis.

Tom and his wife Marlene have two children in their 20’s.  Katy is an artist working at an animation studio in Portland, Oregon, and Marcus is studying Mechanical Engineering at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.

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