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The Membership Sub: It is more than a token fee

21 February 2019

The below article was first published on the Clubs New Zealand website in April 2017. With the questions the article raised still being pondered today it is a good time to revive it.

With the continual battle to get bums on seats, many clubs are looking to their membership fees to attract renewals and new members. The question that must now be asked "is it having the desired effect".

In the Club - The History of the Chartered Club Movement by Jack Rolfe OBE JP opens with establishment of the first clubs to appear in New Zealand. On October 12, 1840, the Wakefield Club was formed in Wellington, and was quite exclusive in nature with an admission fee of £25 , and an annual subscription of £5, these formidable fees undoubtedly were set to make the club exclusive. Shortly after the establishment of the Wakefield Club, a group of settlers met on December 16th 1841 and suggested that "great advantages to this colony would result from the establishment of a club which might promote a spirit of social intercourse among the colonists, and afford a means of showing hospitality to strangers..." It was with this meeting that the Wellington Club was formed, with a membership fee of £5. AW Beasley, author of The Club on The Terrace; states, "It seems unlikely, then, that the Wellington Club was a club set up in opposition to the Wakefield; rather, it was probably designed as a less ambitious and less costly complement to its older brother, achieving whatever exclusivity was required by the device of the blackball rather than by a financial barrier."

And this holds true throughout the history of clubs. Clubs have been formed because a group of people have a common interest, not because they wish to compete with an existing club. Those clubs that have Mutual School of Arts or Literary Institutes were focused on the "self-improvement" of workingmen. At Tauranga the returned men from war used to gather to reminisce and remember, these initial meetings were held in an old army hut behind the Town Hall and in 1918 they formed an Association of Returned Soldiers.

Skip to present and clubs are struggling to retain and attract new members. Clubs are competing for the consumer against pubs and restaurants, and as a result of this we are seeing a number of clubs resorting to very low cost memberships. The issue with this as we all know is that having more members' does not equal bums on seats. Your membership fee plays an important role in setting the scene for your club, if you are positioning yourself in the market as an exclusive club that is trying to attract business clientele a membership fee of $5.00 per annum is not going to reflect that.

In addition to reflecting the value your members will receive from belonging to your club your membership fees must be cost based. As a member of Clubs New Zealand you pay an annual capitation fee of $4.00 +GST per member, your membership fee should reflect this and any other association fees you pay on a capitation basis, for example;

Annual Membership Subscription $20.00
Clubs New Zealand Capitation $4.60
TOTAL ANNUAL MEMBERSHIP SUBSCRIPTION $24.60

As membership subscriptions are paid by members you can set aside the portion allocated to association fees aside. 

Your membership fee should not be viewed as a token fee; it serves a real purpose in establishing value and covering costs.  A number of clubs have advised us that they now outline the break down of the annual membership subscription on their application forms and at renewal which has had very positive feedback from members.

There is no quick fix solution to bringing people into the club, but rather club committees and managers need to understand and adapt to the needs of its members and the community. Clubs must identify their purpose in the community and the benefits and services that they can provide to ensure that belonging to the club continues to be of value to existing members while at the same time attracting new members.

And finally to quote The History of the Chartered Club Movement "The definition of a chartered club is one that "promotes social intercourse" and that is the fundamental concept of the chartered club movement. It is suggested that clubs will continue to survive and prosper because man is a social animal and despite what can be provided by way of technology at home, at the end of the day he or she will want to interact with other human beings and that is where the club will come into force."

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