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How can a club ensure good board transitions to a sound future year after year?

A challenge in many private clubs is that every year is a “new beginning” as new board members are seated, and outward-bound servant leaders are replaced. Four important considerations will make leadership transition more effective and impactful at your club. 

Plan and implement board orientation earnestly  

Most new board members consider themselves to be well-versed in matters of governance, strategy, finance and leadership. This is good as these are the cornerstones of effective club governance. 

The catch is that most board members bring certain baggage with them into the board room. One of the most important first steps when new board members are empaneled is to confirm shared and basic understandings, such as: 

  • Board room confidentiality – It is essential to trust within the board and beyond. Most private club boards follow established corporate board practices requiring all board members to execute confidentiality and nondisclosure commitments. A growing audience of club boards now impose dismissal from the board when confidential information is leaked from the board room. 
  • Conflicts of interest – As is common in corporate America conflicts of interest are carefully monitored and not permitted in top-performing boards. Annual renewals of nonconflict statements are common practice. 
  • Review and understanding of the club’s governing documents – These include bylaws, rules and board policies manual to ensure that all board members understand the club and the gravity of their duties. 

Confirm the club’s strategic priorities  

Most clubs have developed a strategic plan, which is an overarching plan of action for the club’s business, in addition to such important strategic components as the master facility plan, capital maintenance budget (replacing existing assets) and capital improvement budget (adding new amenities).  

One of the primary duties of a board is to attend to the financial well-bring of the club through focusing on the balance sheet. An advanced understanding of the club’s goals and objectives requires focused one-on-one discussions with the board chair and new board members—if not all board members. This should be a top priority before the first board meeting. 

Charter committees with great intention 

Committee charters are the job description that guides the work of club committees by providing structure and an understanding of what the committee is—and is not—to do. 

Among the most frequent mistakes made by most board committees is accomplishing very little of the strategic priorities, executing personal agenda items rather than to strategic goals and objectives, and inadequate reporting vertically to the club board and horizontally to other board committees. 

The current standard of best practice includes committees for finance, nominations and audit. Committees, such as golf, greens, tennis and house, are identified nowadays as operating committees and are guided by the club’s general manager/COO. NCA provides excellent examples of committee charters in its Board Toolkit at  

Communicate. Communicate. Communicate.  

The most frequent complaint among private club members is, “Communication around here stinks.” In these skeptical times, club members doubt the dedication, capabilities and successful performance of their boards in the absence of a steady flow of relevant board communications.  

Members are eager to know what the club is doing. And, in the absence of effective board communications, tend to fill in the blanks of unexplained and inadequate results.  

The most effective club communications are characterized by redundant messaging to ensure that most members receive primary messaging from the board, multiple media usage to address the broad generational spectrum present in most clubs today, and personalized communications that address topics that are most interesting to each member, reducing the flow-through of communications about club activities that are not of interest to particular members. 

The best performing club boards take governance of the club seriously, starting with a good beginning to create an effective transfer of leadership to ensure a sound future. 

Henry DeLozier is a principal at GGA Partners. He can be reached at [email protected]