Sportsmen’s Clubs: On Governance and Structures

I’ve been a member of clubs, purely for the purposes of competing or training in precision pistol, in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan (Chassell and Baraga), lower Michigan (Saginaw, Saint Charles, Lansing, Williamston, and Dimondale).

And in the past year or so I actually read the bylaws of one of these clubs and considered the structure and operations of it, while planning (and implementing) a website and online membership management system.

Cross this experience with my decades of experience as a designer, entrepreneur, consultant, and executive, and of course I’m going to have some thoughts on the governance and structure of sportsmen’s clubs.

I have no agenda here. I’m just writing my reflections.

Non-profit status has real implications for slow pace of change

Such clubs are commonly not-for-profit organizations; I imagine most would be 501(c)(7) social and recreational clubs.

The exact type is less interesting than that they are typically run by volunteers, not paid staff, and governed by rules set in bylaws that define officer roles and election cycles by the members of the club, among other details.

The implication here is that whatever governance the club was created with will tend to last, since it will require a change to the bylaws, and for volunteers to have the will, motivation, or more simply, well-established argument, to change those bylaws will be rare.

So, whatever was set up at the beginning will tend to have staying power, which is unfortunate because a club at the beginning of its existence hasn’t had the time to learn how to be a great club.

Default officer roles for a sportsmen’s club

I haven’t done a survey, but this is what I typically see for clubs’ boards of directors.

  1. President, who runs meetings
  2. Vice President, who runs meetings when the president is absent
  3. Treasurer, who responsible for the money, bank accounts
  4. Secretary, who is responsible for filings, minutes of meetings
  5. Directors, typically 3 or more, who add their voice to the board meetings

Any and all of these directors are expected to contribute their time in carrying out the business of the club, like fundraisers, pitching in on club events, organizing work parties, chairing or participating in committees, etc.

Those board/officer roles are, however, run-of-the-mill for most any organization, not just sportsmen’s clubs. They’re like default settings that few people change, whether or not they are appropriate.

What roles are more appropriate for such clubs?

A typical sportsmen’s/conservation club has a finite set of concerns, such as the following, which I listed in order of more permanent/stable to more temporary/fluid.

  1. Property
    • Grounds, including any roads, trails, parking areas, access gates, maintained areas, and wild areas
    • Ranges, including for archery, trap, skeet, rifle, pistol, and some ranges may be indoors
    • Buildings, main halls, kitchen areas, indoor ranges, storage sheds, etc.
    • Routine maintenance, like mowing or range repairs, and non-routine renovations or expansions of facilities
  2. Members
    • Recruiting activities
    • New members
    • Repeat members
    • Volunteerism
    • Member communications and engagement with club
  3. Events
    • Competitions
    • Gun shows, etc.
    • Rentals
    • Fundraisers
    • CPL training
    • Club membership meetings
    • Annual banquets

Of course, I’m just listing concerns that are routine for sportsmen’s clubs. Each club will have their own particulars.

And to be clear, yes, any club must be dealing with these concerns already, but in my observation the handling is too ad hoc or unclear to be as great as it ought to be.

Another category that every club has is Administrative, which isn’t what the club has, who it serves, or what it does (property, members, events), but is instead about the necessary overhead to enable it to have, serve, and do its purpose.

Administrative work includes running meetings to make sure the right things are getting done and that the club is in good order. This is where the officers mentioned really come into play. It is about money, insurances, licenses, bylaws, and planning for the seasons and the long term of the organization.

So, the officer roles, and often I think the bylaws, are concerned with the administrative functions but not the subjects the club is responsible for, that is its property, members, and events.

Which, in my opinion, is boneheaded.

Instead, bylaws for sportsmen’s clubs should include officer roles that fit the reality of the clubs.

Consider these members of a board of directors.

  1. President, responsible for running board and membership meetings and directing attention as needed for the current and long-term good of the organization.
  2. Vice President, responsible for filling in for the president as needed.
  3. Treasurer, responsible for the accounts, income, expenses, vendors, contracts, insurances, and financial reporting.
  4. Secretary, responsible for maintaining the records of the organization, including non-profit status, meeting minutes, and so on.
  5. Steward (or Custodian?), responsible for the grounds, buildings, general real property of the club, both regular upkeep and planning as needed.
  6. Membership Director, responsible for processes related to bringing in members well, maintaining membership, renewals, and overall communications to and within membership.
  7. Events Director, responsible for ensuring the club holds a good mix of events for the benefit of members and the club, whether rentals of facilities, competitions, fundraisers, and so on.
  8. 2 Directors at large, responsible for speaking on behalf of members and actively participating in board business in an effort to continuously support good decision making and commitments.

That’s a 9 person board of directors. Plenty large enough for a sportsmen’s club, but enough hands to make lighter work for a set of volunteers, with more clear responsibilities listed for the actual concerns of the club.

Not everyone will be equally suitable for these roles.

It’s worth considering that a person who might be talented as a Steward, concerned with sustaining the quality of the properties, may well have different talents from a person suited to be an Events director, concerned with the hospitality and details of many ongoing events.

Permanent committees for the 3 areas

Clubs often get work done using committees of volunteers, and it makes sense to have specific committees for Club Stewardship, Membership, and Events.

The officers would chair those committees, but for anything but the smallest of clubs, there will be far too much work for any single person. Each area is going to benefit from members pitching in, and this structure conveys to volunteers how to help.

To be effective for the club, committees should seek to name two types of processes that will require different sorts handling that are likely to have some sort of tension with one another. Those are (1) processes to support stability and (2) processes to support change.

For example, a Membership committee should name the processes that promote the stabilization of the membership roster, which is something every club ought to have well organized and up-to-date, always. A Membership committee should also name processes that promote positive change, like campaigns to draw in new members and procedures to welcome and train/onboard those new members, or programs to engage more members in volunteering for the first time.

Depending on who is on the committee, it is predictable that only one, not both, of those concerns gets the attention the club needs it to receive—so the Membership Director should make sure the spread of membership concerns are named, understood, and cared for, ideally by committee members to whom the director is able to delegate authority.

What about the club’s website and social media, etc?

Wondering about the website, a social media presence, communications with members, etc?

I think you have two obvious options. First, see that as a hat the Membership Director wears. Second, define an additional board role as Communications Director.

My hunch is that actually falls well within the role of Membership Director, who is going to be thinking about members and what they ought to know anyway. And if the Membership Director does’t have the skillset, go back to that section on Committees: some volunteer in the club might well step up if he or she knows how to connect and that there is a need.

These many roles will need to work together.

For example, imagine the Steward sees Spring coming soon and knows the ranges will need a lot of clean up and repairs. He can define that need and ask the Events Director for help to make an event out of this thing.

The Events Director can turn that need for volunteers into a proper event that will be great for the club, identifying particular needs, including opening the kitchen up for volunteers who will bring in pots of chili and drinks for the crews — and making sure to handle kitchen clean up. Plus, the Events Director knows to make sure the event is on the club’s calendar to make sure everyone knows to not show up that day planning to shoot on the range.

And the Events director asks the Membership Director for help, who gets the word out and starts recruiting members to participate, while making sure someone is on hand to take photos and communicate afterwards to the membership how fun and successful the Spring Range Clean Up event was this year.

This way the Steward can focus on keeping the club in good shape, the Events Director can focus on putting together a club work event, and the Membership Director can round up volunteers and get some positive news to the membership to spur on more volunteering next time around.

This coordination should happen naturally during a board meeting, during which each officer should have an opportunity to report on their responsibilities. (And this is one more reason they ought to be on those boards.)

Provide administrative support for Steward, Membership, and Events roles

So what about the President, Vice President, Treasurer, and Secretary roles? Those officers already have default duties, but new among them is to provide administrative support for the officer roles that are responsible for care and effectiveness of the property, membership, and events of the club.

If not roles, at least hats

And, all that said, if a club is short on people willing to serve, in a pinch the Treasurer could also serve as the Steward, the Secretary could also serve as the Membership Director, and the Vice President could serve as Events Director; or some other combination.

The point is, everyone is clear on essential responsibilities.

And the President may do well to referee as needed.


Simply, sportsmen’s and conservation clubs should own up to the reality that they are stewards of the club’s property, that they must support their membership, and that they host events for members and/or the public to engage with the club itself.

And because of that reality, the bylaws should identify particular officer roles that are responsible for each distinct area of concern, in addition to the strategic and administrative roles that are named by default.

I posit that when clubs will do this and support the structure with proper processes to handle those responsibilities smoothly among one another, that those clubs will be more vibrant, fun, and successful.

Oh, and who is responsible for the proper formation of the club? The currently elected board is, and more particularly, the President.

This is the sort of officer definition that was likely poorly established at the beginning, and should only be reset once in the life of the club—and only when the change is clearly good for the long haul.

Thanks for reading. I welcome comments!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *