The election process of a club impacts a club’s culture.

While many clubs still hold contested elections – where the number of candidates exceeds the available positions—we urge clubs to consider transitioning to uncontested elections, where the number of candidates is equal to the number of available positions.

Why? Uncontested elections are more conducive to environments that aim to be inclusive and promote the feeling of belonging. A club is a place where people with a common bond (similar interests, experiences, backgrounds, professions, etc.) come together for social and recreational congeniality. Uncontested elections take the focus off winning and losing and instead emphasize the importance of club stewardship.

In contested elections, there are winners and losers, and when losers are determined by one’s peers, it tends to diminish the feeling of belonging and works against creating inclusivity. Contested elections can also be damaging to the synergy within a club. They infuse competition, animosity, and conflict into an environment where friends come together to relax and have fun. When members are made to feel as though they are competing in a popularity contest and lose, it’s damaging to their ego, their relationship with the club and their relationships with their peers in the club.

For example, we know of a situation where one general manager told a neighboring club manager, “We actually like that you have contested elections because every year we gain a couple members who quit your club after the election process and come to our club instead!”

Not only do contested elections create divides between members running against each other for open seats on the board of directors, but contested elections can also create hostility on the board itself. Board members tend to side with certain candidates (their friends) and when those candidates don’t win, board members are upset and even resentful toward the members who do win. Producing situations where this kind of negative energy occurs every year creates a toxic club culture. It generates an environment that goes against the camaraderie, unity and welcoming community clubs strive to build.

While some may argue that members may be discouraged from voting in uncontested elections, the same may be true of contested elections. It is common for members not to vote in contested elections because they feel guilty for choosing sides or feel uncomfortable picking one member peer for club leadership over another. Therefore, they avoid voting together. In many cases, members are more inclined to vote when there are an equal number of candidates as there are open leadership positions on the board of directors because there is no pressure to choose sides.

Another concern is that uncontested elections place all of the power in the hands of the nominating committee and members may object to the process because of it. Thus, the reason so many clubs continue to hold contested elections. However, we believe that a nominating committee with a clear charter can work successfully on behalf of the membership. Recommended best practices for formulating a nominating committee charter include defining some or all of the following:

  • Purpose
  • Membership qualifications
  • Authority
  • Operations
  • Responsibilities.

Nominating committees should identify traits and qualifications for board candidates, which helps significantly to ensure consistency and accuracy in succession planning for the board. They seek to find board candidates who have varied experiences, professions and backgrounds that enhance the board through perspective and differing opinions. Ensuring diverse candidates elevates the board’s ability to make decisions that represent the views and perspectives of as many members as possible.

The most forward-thinking clubs, which have already embraced uncontested elections, are taking the idea of a nominating committee even further and evolving it into a leadership development committee. Leadership development committees are informed, active, and independent groups of members working year-round to cultivate future leaders. With objective and well-organized leadership development committees in place, clubs establish trust within the membership that the process is fair and ethical.

Leadership development committees can also engage in the new member orientation process to ensure there is mutual transparency, understanding, and buy-in of their intentions from day one of membership. Best practices for transitioning to a leadership development committee might include incorporating
some or all of the following when revising the nominating committee charter:

  • Scope of work
  • Guiding principles
  • Expected outcomes
  • Committee protocols.

Overall, we feel strongly that uncontested elections carry more benefits than contested elections. When executed correctly, uncontested elections reduce the contentious political climate, attract higher quality board candidates, match talent from within the membership to strategic priorities, produce a more effective and collaborative board, and create a more cohesive and relaxed club community.

Contributed by Richard Kopplin, Kurt D. Kuebler, CCM & Thomas B. Wallace Ill, CCM, CCE, ECM

BoardRoom Magazine – September/October 2022