Originally published in the Experts Corner Spring 2018 NCA Club Director Magazine

Member satisfactionMember satisfaction and member loyalty are related, but the terms are not interchangeable. Ask yourself this question… Are your club’s most loyal members always satisfied? Probably not. Loyal members are often the first to offer constructive criticism when an amenity or service misses the mark. They may not be satisfied, but their strong desire to help the club improve is a manifestation of their loyalty.

On the other hand, satisfied members are not necessarily loyal members. Members exhibit loyalty when they recruit others to join the club, maintain their own memberships year after year and speak positively about the club in the community. The two constructs are very different, with loyalty outweighing satisfaction in long-term benefit to the club. The bond that links them together is “attachment.” Our published research on Predicting Member Loyalty confirms that members with a low degree of attachment to the club are likely to resign, while highly attached members are likely to renew for another year. 

What is Attachment?
Attachment is defined in psychology as a strong bond between an infant and a caregiver. Marketing researchers began to study attachment because it had a direct impact on a consumer’s commitment to a brand. This research discovered and described a specific type of attachment called “place attachment,” which refers to the relationship between people and a particular place. In clubs, place attachment plays a major role in member loyalty.

Place attachment, in the context of a private club, functions as the bridge between member satisfaction and member loyalty. Satisfaction influences attachment which in turn influences loyalty. Clubs create loyal members when a personal attachment is developed through the club’s culture and offerings.

Place attachment has four components: 1) Place dependence measured through the member’s connection to the club’s amenities. 2) Place identity measured by how closely a member's personal values align with the club’s values. 3) Social bonding describes the connection with other members, with club staff, and with family members using the club as a host for these relationships. 4) Place affect describes the feeling of belonging to the club and the emotional affect it bestows upon the members.

* Dr. Jim Butler, CCM, conducted his academic study of member loyalty as a PhD student at Iowa State University

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Communications_jpgAs a society, the way we communicate with one another has changed significantly over the last decade. Personal computers, cell phones, tablets and social media dominate our daily lives and access to real-time news and information has become the norm. To help navigate this strange new territory, some clubs are adding Member Communication specialists to their management roster, but generally speaking the industry has been slow to adapt.

In some ways, the situation is reminiscent of the mid 90s when the concept of Membership Marketing was first introduced in the club industry. Many clubs hired “Marketing” staff before the goals, requirements and limitations were fully understood. Over time, those professionals formed their own networks and resources were developed, but early on it was rough going.

Earlier this year, a group of Member Communication professionals gathered at The Country Club in Brookline, MA, to share their experiences, exchange ideas and begin developing a template for best practices in club communications. One outcome of that first meeting is a new section in the Club Benchmarking platform (on the Policies & Procedures dashboard) called Member Communications. Club Benchmarking members who have a new or established member communication program are encouraged to complete the section and review the related CB reports. Here are three key take-aways from that meeting:

Make Member Communication a Priority

The chart below shows 79% of clubs with data in the Member Communication section of the Club Benchmarking platform place "Member Satisfaction" among their top five goals for communication, and 90% put "Increased Member Usage" on that list.

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Those numbers indicate that clubs do understand the importance of effective communication in keeping members engaged and satisfied, yet very few have made planning or resources a priority. About half of the clubs have a defined (written) mission or goal for member communications. Only about 30% have established a specific budget line item for member communications. Of those clubs, 70% allot less than $80,000 a year including salaries. Establishing a clear goal and providing a budget should be considered best practices for clubs that are serious about the need for effective member communication.

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Consider Member Preference & Club Culture When Developing a Communication Plan

Since so many clubs identify member satisfaction as a top goal for communication, asking members what they want is a logical place to start and about 70% of the clubs said they do poll members about their communication preferences. More than half (52%) ask what delivery medium members prefer and 30% make it a point to ask how frequently members want to hear from the club. Based on the data, about 80% of the clubs contact their members one or more times a week via email. Information overload is more likely to turn members off than to engage them, so asking them about their communication preferences should be considered a best practice.

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Clubs are using many different vehicles to deliver information to their members. In this multiple choice metric, traditional vehicles such as print brochures and table tents are as commonly used as social media. Many clubs (72%) are still providing print copies of their newsletters and 63% offer an electronic version. Not surprisingly, most clubs communicate via website and email and nearly 60% are using some form of social media at this point.


Use Analytics to Measure Your Progress

With traditional communication methods such as print newsletters and club signage it can be difficult to know whether your messages are getting through to members. A major benefit of electronic communications is the ability to track member engagement. Using tracking analytics to measure email opens and clicks or visits to specific pages on your website gives you a clear idea of what’s working and where efforts might be missing the mark. CB data shows that 65% of clubs are tracking email engagement and 58% use website analytics. Measuring member response and engagement to gauge the effectiveness of your electronic communications is a best practice.

Click Chart to EnlargeTracking_Member_Communications

Summary: The position of Club Communications Director is relatively new but its impact on efforts to attract and retain a vital membership makes it a very important addition to a club's management team. Professionals in this role will benefit from access to appropriate tools and resources including member communications benchmarks and the opportunity to network with their peers in the club industry. 


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Where Do Your Members Look for Information?

Member Communications Social MediaClubs have been communicating with their members for as long as there have been clubs. Based on Data in our Member Communications section, we know that the benchmarks for where, how and when that communication happens are definitely changing. The question is: Will that change come quickly enough to satisfy the current generation of information-seeking members?

Shanna Bright, a California-based communications consultant whose career includes a stint as Member Relations Director for the City Club Los Angeles, thinks the industry is overlooking an important opportunity. Recently, when fires triggered evacuations of several private clubs and resorts near her home in San Diego, Bright took note of a critical lag in how clubs connect with members. Read Bright's post.





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diagnosis_senioritisIs your "Senior" membership category out of balance? How are fees and policies related to that category impacting the club's financial health?

CB Member Resources:
In this article we'll be looking closely at two slides: Senior Members and Senior Membership Count as a Percentage of Full Membership Count. If you are a Club Benchmarking subscriber, you may want to LOGIN to your CB account now and run the Membership Report as the first step in deciding whether your club might have "Senioritis."

Benchmark Study: In the United States, the Baby Boomer generation’s sheer size is affecting the economy in a number of ways. Boomers were born from 1947 to 1964, the eldest (the tip of the iceberg) will be 67 this year. The US Census Bureau estimates that in 2011, 13.3 percent of the country’s population was at least 65 years of age or older and reports from various agencies have confirmed that Social Security, pension programs and the healthcare system are all feeling the pressure. It could be time to take a closer look at what that growing pool of “senior members” is doing to the financial health of your club.

Most clubs offer a senior membership category which includes reduced dues. The logic behind it is good – longtime members should be rewarded for their loyalty and a discount makes sense given retirees live on fixed incomes that don’t allow for continued payment of full dues. At some clubs, older members qualifying for the senior category have to relinquish their voting privileges in exchange for that discount. Again, the logic is solid. Many clubs have learned the hard way that older members can be disinclined to approve progressive capital improvement plans focused on younger members. 

So if senior memberships reward loyalty and allow the club to remain relevant for the next generation, what’s the problem? It’s a relatively silent condition we’ll call “Senioritis,” and aggregated club industry data suggests that if not properly understood and managed it may take a toll on your club’s financial performance. To understand whether a club fits the diagnosis, let's start by doing the math. The Club Benchmarking (CB) chart below offers a closer look at data on Senior Membership Count. In 2011, the median across the club industry was 32 members in the senior category while at the 75th percentile the count leaps to 78 or more senior members. 



The next chart (below) was recently added to the CB Membership Report to illustrate the ratio of Senior Members to Full Unrestricted Members. This ratio can be the key to understanding whether your club is suffering from “senioritis.” In 2011, the median for all clubs was a ratio of 12 percent. For clubs at or above the 75th percentile the ratio of seniors to members paying full dues was 20 percent or more. A lower ratio is better since full members contribute more dues revenue. The most obvious way to improve the ratio is to increase the number of full members, but as we’ve seen over the last five years that may be more easily said than done.



Once a club has used CB membership data to understand their position on the industry curve, it’s time to take action. Preventing or curing “senioritis” begins with a review of senior membership policies to evaluate the point at which the associated dues reduction kicks in. Qualification for senior membership is typically an equation based on a combination of the member’s age and how long they’ve been a member of the club. As an example, if a club uses a “Rule of 85” to determine senior status, a 65 year old member who joined the club in his or her early 40s would qualify. According to 2011 CB data, at the median the proportion of members in the 61-80 age group was 34 percent (half of clubs had a higher proportion in that age group and half had a lower proportion). For 25 percent of clubs, 46 percent or more of their members were in the 61-80 age group. 

Raising dues for seniors is unpopular, but some clubs have successfully implemented a gradual adjustment of the equation used to determine eligibility. For example, moving toward a more acceptable combined age and membership term of 95 or 100 over the course of several years. Current senior members would be “grandfathered” in.

Another factor that can make a club more susceptible to “senioritis” is a membership cap. If seniors are included in the total and that cap is set too low to account for the influx of baby boomers, the club probably already has symptoms including a demographic bulge, a predominance of gray hair in the dining room and subpar financial performance. Raising the cap and/or removing seniors from the calculation will allow for growth in membership categories where dues are higher.

When a club’s ratio of senior members to full unrestricted members is too high financial health may suffer, but simply arguing for a change in senior membership policy because it “seems like” the club population is shifting is not enough. Use your club’s Senior Member to Full Member benchmark relative to a peer set or the industry aggregate to identify a ratio that will support financial health while still showing appreciation for older members. Once you’ve established that goal, the board can make strategic decisions about what policy changes or other adjustments might be necessary.

*This article was originally published in the statistics section of CMAA's Back of the House Blog.

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