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How has strategic planning changed since the start of the pandemic?

Strategic planning has become important in most leading clubs, riding the wave of membership growth across the U.S. Long a proven tool of the best-performing private clubs, strategic planning brings intention and clarity to the board’s efforts. Beyond the textbook matters of sound strategy, five strategic priorities have emerged as a part of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Regeneration of Members

Baby boomers, long the driving force in private clubs, are progressively aging out of many clubs.  The youngest of the boomers were born in 1964 and are now 57 years old while their older siblings—born as early as 1946—are well into their 70s. Boomers are now being replaced by Generation X, who range in age from 57 (born in 1965) to 41 (1980). Each group has different needs and wants, requiring an understanding of the priorities driving the decision to become, and remain, private club members.

Generation gaps are appearing in clubs where the most tenured members—oldest by profile—do not wish to pay for capital improvements that younger members consider to be overdue. Most clubs are working through the generation gaps and all boards are faced with regenerative choices.

New Priorities in Clubs

The new wave of members introduces regenerative change in clubs’ priorities and needs. Four new-wave points of emphasis in most clubs include:

  • Fresh-air Dining – The onset of the pandemic caused the need for open-air dining options. Members’ preference for fresh air and a sense of openness has persisted. New solutions for window treatments and patio spaces are taking the day.
  • Facilitated Lifestyle – Members require more assistance to enjoy their clubs. Such matters as downloading and learning how to use the club app, meeting new members who have joined the club during the pandemic, and organizing emerging interest groups now require support from management and staff.
  • Pickleball – Having swept onto the scene as an engaging and highly social activity, new demands for capital and square footage are popularizing pickleball.
  • Cybersecurity – Reflecting the world around the club, cyber threats are more prevalent in private clubs. It is time to audit your club’s cybersecurity.

Investment in Capital Assets

Most clubs have benefitted from increased capital funding as new members have restored capital reserves enabling many to address long-deferred capital needs.

New capital projects are usually considered to be funded from capital improvement accounts while replacing existing club assets are typically considered to be capital maintenance.

The prevailing trend is catching up on capital maintenance projects like new roofs, patio upgrades, parking lot resurfacing and HVAC needs. Capital improvement projects include pickleball courts, swing simulators and sports training technologies and golf course improvements.

Importance of Transparent Governance

In these troubled times, some clubs have begun to act out the behaviors from the evening news: name-calling, stubborn resistance to needed changes and internal segmentation of member groups. It’s time for open and transparent governance practices.

Topmost among the changes coming to club boards:

  • Board Policy Manuals (BPMs) – Use of a BPM has spread actively into private clubs where the backbone of transparent governance is a clearly stated method of governing. The BPM tells members how their board will function and holds boards accountable for their efforts.
  • Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) – Leading clubs have taken responsibility for making their leadership profile more diverse and inclusive. With a long way to go, clubs have begun to embrace the tenets of DEI.
  • Robust Board Communications – Many club boards have increased the frequency and quality of content within board communications. Members now expect to know what matters are of importance to their board.

New Focus on Brand Management

Clubs are brands and most sophisticated board members recognize the necessity to manage the club’s brand proactively and consistently. Many clubs enjoy solid brand ratings and have not understood the importance of projecting the club’s brand intentionally. The evolution of brand management in private clubs requires thorough understanding of the U.S. Tax Code and the club’s obligations therein.

Developing your club’s strategic plan will ensure intention and clarity to your efforts to achieve success.

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