The club industry is evolving and so must club boards! As clubs look to attract and cultivate the next generation of board members, there are many factors to take into consideration. The very best volunteer leadership candidates often don’t raise their hands or jump to be considered for the positions. Those who are eager to volunteer for the board or committees will sometimes have a personal agenda, a chip on their shoulder or an ulterior motive; clearly, these are not the ideal candidates for board service. Members who are engaged in club programming are effective communicators and prioritize stewardship of the organization are most often the best nominees for leadership positions and the people to be sought out for service.

Importantly, clubs need to recognize that everyone is busier now than ever before and if the perspective is that volunteer service will be especially time consuming, many highly qualified candidates will opt out. It is therefore critical that volunteer time commitments be clearly articulated in advance, that they’re reasonable and that such “give back” to one’s club will be purposeful and valuable!

Clubs must identify specific traits board members should have. In addition to those characteristics, there should be a committee member tenure requirement as a pre-requisite to members being nominated for board service. If a member isn’t successful on a committee, he or she won’t likely be successful as a board member.

The Nominating Committee is one of the most important committees in a private club because its primary responsibility is to identify quality candidates and encourage them to volunteer for service. Traditionally, this committee only operated for a period prior to board elections, but the short-term Nominating Committee isn’t an effective process anymore and many clubs’ committees now run year-round.

Forward-thinking clubs are transitioning from a nominating committee to a leadership development committee. The leadership development committee works all year to identify, cultivate and build relationships with potential board members. The committee offers encouragement to members who are active, busy and likely not pursuing the opportunity to volunteer, but who would add great value to the group. The committee also monitors existing committee members to determine whether they are positively contributing to continued committee and/or board service. Additionally, building confidence in new and younger members or recognizing those who may not realize their ability to serve in a meaningful way is a key component.

Leadership Development Committees are also focused on diversity. Having board members who represent the majority of the membership is essential. Not only do younger generations seek inclusivity and diversification, but those qualities also make for better boards, as different experiences and backgrounds provide unique perspectives. A club board made up of tenured male golfers who are making decisions for younger member families with a wider range of priorities is not the best way for a club to remain relevant and attractive to a variety of demographics.

During the past five years, boards have become younger, but the industry still has progress to make. In the last decade, more clubs have recognized that younger members use clubs differently than older members and, therefore, have different opinions and perspectives about facilities, usage, programming and the future of the club.

Having younger board members presents some challenges, especially for long-tenured general managers/COOs. Younger board members tend to be data driven, seek instant gratification and are motivated by feedback. Their expectations are often very different from board members of the past. Club executives can fight this reality and fail or embrace it and learn. The world has shifted and expectations have shifted as well. Managing these expectations can be challenging and require evolution, change and more frequent and targeted communication. As technology and society continue to progress, club leaders must also continue to adapt to stay relevant and effective.

When asked her opinion on bringing in the next generation of board members, Kristen LaCount, GM/COO of The Country Club in Brookline, Mass., and member of the CMAA Diversity and Equality in Leadership Task Force, provided the following perspective:

As a membership and board, it is important to look at ways to recruit members that represent the future of the club. For our club, the summer guest program has been an amazing way to welcome in members who may not have grown up in the Boston area and represent a more diverse population. In addition, our governance committee oversees practices such as maintaining charter pages for all committees and maintaining a database to identify potential future leaders based on experience or profession. The chair of the Governance Committee works closely with the Nominating Committee to ensure that the club’s leadership reflects a diverse group of members who think strategically.

As professionals and managers, it is critical that we lead teams who can provide support and execution for our volunteer members and their vision or ideas. The future of volunteer work does not have the retired gentleman in his 60s serving to fill his time, so it is our responsibility to make the duty of a committee member, committee chairperson and board member a light lift. It is up to us to lean on our board and committee members as advisory and strategic thinkers.

It was once a common practice for club boards to have one doctor, one lawyer, one accountant, one architect, etc. Worrying about actual professions is less important than seeking out people who are good leaders, effective communicators, fair and objective thinkers, engaged members who use the majority of club facilities frequently and who are good stewards of the club (those who are there for the right reasons)—that’s the most important. If you need to solicit the expertise of an architect or a doctor who is a member, you can do that ad hoc for a set period of time. It doesn’t mean that person must be a board member.

Members who are often overlooked or discredited for committee and board service are new members. Thought to be too inexperienced or not knowledgeable enough about the club, few clubs tend to seek out new members to serve on committees or boards. This is missing out on a key demographic with an important club perspective. New members may have great ideas, fresh outlooks and not be limited by the way things have been in the past. Having only tenured or second-generation members serve on the board isn’t always as good for the club as some might think, especially if those people aren’t evaluated against the criteria noted above.

Cultivating younger board members, diversifying demographics of board members and seeking out varying perspectives must be a best practice for your club. To provide a compelling member experience, it’s best to have members with varying perspectives, backgrounds and experiences serving on the board and participating in the decision-making processes.

Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) are pertinent topics to our current political climate. Clubs that stick their heads in the sand and take a reactionary approach to DEI will likely not fare well in the future. NCA is working on plans to help clubs become more focused on DEI in all aspects from boards and committees to memberships and staffs. A healthy practice is to look at the makeup of the region surrounding your club and/or target market. Is that reflective of your membership and employment base? Membership Committees and department heads need to be aware of this and actively seek to diversify recruiting efforts. Being more aware and moving away from traditional templates can help clubs strengthen environments of diversity and inclusion by paying attention to the demographics of their target audiences.

In addition to all the above, one easy way to attract the next generation of board members is to create a positive board member experience. Ninety-minute board meetings; purposeful, clear and consistent communication; and a detailed board orientation and ongoing board education are all key components to ensuring the board experience is effective and successful. A transparent and thorough process for member feedback is crucial for ensuring board members
aren’t ambushed during brunch with their families.

Members sometimes stop using the club after rolling off the board because they are exhausted and need a break. This is not the kind of experience that makes people want to volunteer for service. Actively working to make the board member experience rewarding, enlightening and fun is essential. COVID-19 forced clubs to adapt. More clubs have moved to virtual board meetings and online voting, and have become more data driven as a result. As the industry continues down the path of uncertainty with a lingering pandemic, the following governance trends emerge:

  • Increased communication between the GM/COO and the club president, between the GM/COO and the full board and between the president and board. During the pandemic, communication from club leadership to all stakeholders (members and employees) improved—frequent and transparent communication has never been more important. Clubs are also better at collecting feedback and many have increased surveying to better understand how to ensure members are comfortable using the club and employees are most comfortable serving members.
  • GM/COOs and their leadership teams are under tremendous pressure, and it has become evident which leaders rise to meet new challenges and inspire confidence, and which leaders do not. Therefore, succession planning has become increasingly important for both club leaders and volunteer positions. Directors are being tested in new ways and this is shining a light on the overall strength of the board’s roster. In general, clubs are recognizing what
    behaviors and leadership qualities are displayed or missing from both the board and management team.
  • Training and education for boards, committees and employees is an urgent need. More clubs are prioritizing education and accessing it in new ways (virtually).

Overall, clubs need to be intentional about identifying the great leaders within their memberships and offer an environment where they have the confidence and support to serve. The most important attribute of next-gen leaders is a stewardship mindset with a focus on the long-term well-being and sustainability of the club. As clubs seek out the next generation of board members, breaking out of past beliefs and outdated practices to employ new ways of thinking will be the best path forward. Relevant, enduring and successful clubs are those with informed leadership, strategic stewardship, empowered management and a compelling member experience.

Club Trends – Winter 2022