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In Boards We Trust: Tips to Build Confidence in Your Club’s Board

Based on the broad exposure we have to clubs through North America, trust in the board and its leadership of the club are common concerns of private club members.

The leading causes for these concerns fall into one of five themes:

  1. Perceived errors and/or decisions by previous boards.
  2. Biased nominations whereby friends of existing board members are continually elected to open board and committee positions.
  3. Spending capital reserves without member input.
  4. Mismanagement of capital projects.
  5. Lack of board member presence among the general membership population.

Each of these situations is avoidable with effective communications because with few exceptions, members want to trust their club boards. But they will not trust what they do not know or understand.

Effective Communications Build Trust

Trust is built and maintained by the board’s actions related to the business of the club. And the only way members will know about these actions is when they are communicated clearly and consistently.

Many boards tell us they provide members with complete and transparent information related to club business. But digging deeper reveals it is once a year at an annual meeting. That level of communica- tion is ineffective to share all the board has done in 12 months, and to provide enough time for members to receive the answers they need to fully grasp the totality of the efforts in a 60- or 90-minute meeting.

Still other club boards share they take great pains to communicate with members through a monthly email from the president. While

well-intended, many of these emails we have reviewed are not written in a style conducive to how most people consume information today, which is with headlines and short paragraphs. Instead they often look like treatises, containing too much detail and too many words; the net effect is unread emails and members ticking the survey saying board communications need improvement.

Separate Business from Pleasure

Another tactic used by some clubs is to communicate business information within the monthly multi-page newsletter or magazine- style communication. We do not recommend this approach as it mixes business with pleasure. Members join private clubs for recreation and socialization. Combining club business with information about upcoming activities, tournaments, events and social functions often means the information will be skimmed or skipped.

A better tactic is to create a separate communication piece clearly identified as information related to the “business of the club” that is updated monthly or quarterly.

Shorter Is Better

Few people want to know how to build a watch; most simply want to know the time. So rather than go through the detail of watch building, give them the information they want in as few words as possible. It takes practice to pack a lot of information into as few words as needed, but it can be done. To start:

  • Develop the key messages you want members to take away.
  • Skip unnecessary history, accolades and adjectives.
  • Use subheads to highlight key points so a member skimming the communication will get the gist of the message.
  • Rather than one long paragraph with several pieces of information, introduce the thoughts in a sentence and then use bullet points to separate the points.

These tactics will make your content easier to consume and improve its chances of being read.

Eye-tracking studies show that we spend 26 seconds, on average, reading a piece of content

Using Multiple Delivery Methods Is Key

Although the world continues to move away from printed communica- tions, it is not ready to completely ditch paper yet. Club boards must be respectful that their members consume information through different media. It is not enough to limit the club’s communications to email. If you want your members to read what you have written, you must offer multiple methods including email, text, website and yes, print.

Allow for Face Time

It is always surprising to us when members state they do not even know their board members, but we hear it in many sessions. That’s why our final recommendation is for board members to consider hosting informal “Club Talks” for an hour every month. No matter how well constructed a written message, the most effective communication method to build trust is face-to-face. Inviting members to meet their volunteer leaders, ask questions and share concerns creates trust that the board intends to leave the club better than they found it.

In summary, to make your club’s board members more trustworthy, take three important steps:

  • Communicate tirelessly using multiple media options and with redundant messaging.
  • Demonstrate the board is business-like in its work.
  • Remember the importance of being accountable to those you serve.