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 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® (www.clubtopia.com) – 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 (www.cinemastlouis.org) and the Tennessee Society of St. Louis (former President).


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