If you’re passionate about something that’s outside the scope of your work and family life, a great way to channel that passion is to start a club. I founded a running club during a time in my life where I was dissatisfied with my career and rather unsure of myself. Now, well into its third year, it has been one of my most affirming and fun life experiences.
If you have a vision and any kind of organizational ability, you can start a great club that may even become the cornerstone of your social life! Here are a few tips to help you on your way.
Disclosure: Everything looks easier from the outside
A lot of work goes into soliciting sponsors, promotion, and organizing events. For me the biggest stressor was the emotional stress of getting started. “Will anyone show up or will I end up like the new kid eating alone in the cafeteria?” Be prepared for early disappointments, but also be confident that with perseverance a well-conceived idea will eventually succeed.
A club isn’t a business. It isn’t going to make or break you, but if your concept is something you’re passionate about it still becomes your baby. If nobody shows up, it’s kind of like nobody thinks your baby is cute. If you don’t want that to happen you have to go out and pound the pavement.
Don’t try to be another version of an existing club
If you can’t think of something really unique that’s lacking in your community, just become involved with another organization. It’s still rewarding to be in a non-leadership role in a great club, and who knows?—in a couple years you may find yourself living in another town that needs something exactly like it.
Consider what others are doing, what you want to do, and how they differ.
The emphasis of each club varies widely, and that’s the way it should be. Try to beat others at their own game and you’re likely to lose. Figure out what you can be the best at and do it. Then decide what else needs to get done, do it adequately, and ignore the other things. Clubs are meant to have very different appeals and draw different types of people.
That leads us to the nuts and bolts of actually getting started and managing a club…
Selecting and communicating value to sponsors
Whether you’re after funding, exclusive discounts, or other perks, you need your proposals to be strongly tailored to each establishment you approach. Ask yourself whether you’d be a good culture fit. Does the venue host community events? Are they involved with local nonprofits? Are they already hosting other clubs—and if so, would that make them more or less likely to want a bunch of sweaty runners milling around?
Whatever you’re asking of a business, think of how you can offer something of comparable value in return. Increased revenues and brand recognition, promotions on social media, featuring a business’s logo on your club’s T-shirts, and other forms of acknowledgement are all fairly tangible things you might offer.
Don’t use the scattergun approach
Tap rooms, running stores and restaurants receive sponsorship requests a lot more often than you might think. Only by having highly-individualized proposals that show you’re familiar with the establishment will you get anyone’s attention—and sometimes not even then. Approaching few sponsors in a conscientious way will help you get the needed support and avoid a bunch of unnecessary letter writing. And P.S. Nobody likes form letters.
Funding and perks
Few running stores and restaurants have big philanthropy budgets burning a hole in their pockets. In contrast, large health clubs, breweries, and food brands may have expendable cash. Don’t ask too much of mom and pop establishments, but also don’t be afraid to ask larger businesses to cover all your costs. If you’re smart you can attract a decent following without spending too much, but consider Meetup.com fees, printing and design expenses for fliers, Facebook/social media promos, and T-shirts (which most self-respecting clubs eventually want). If you ask someone for a pittance that’s what you’ll get, and you may have to cover more of your club’s costs than you’d hoped to. In sum, don’t be greedy, but do be realistic.
Meetup.com. It’s a no-brainer. Have a Meetup page, one additional social media site, and maybe do some flyering. I started out with a website through GoDaddy that didn’t cost much. While this helped lend me credibility soliciting sponsors and raffle donations, it wasn’t necessary and I later defaulted to Facebook.
Posters and flyers are a lot of extra work, but not necessarily a bad idea. First, the actual act of flyering presents extra opportunities to generate word of mouth, and second, the extra few people you draw in could be really high-quality. Just know that online promotion is easier and more effective overall.
Other considerations: Nuts and Bolts
A few final considerations that don’t merit their own section in this article include whether you want to have the following:
- Membership dues
- Rotating venues or one venue
- Leadership team
- Use of waivers (My opinion? It’s being paranoid.)
As you may have gathered, my club isn’t all about running. It’s about community engagement, supporting local businesses, fun and friendship. There’s nothing wrong with a gritty club that’s all about training, but most have a unique culture and unspoken values that go beyond the scope of running. Part of the beauty of most community organizations is what they do outside of their core purposes. Give that some thought. Just as important, have fun!
John Garvey is the founder and president of North FoCo Running Club and community Outreach Coordinator for Altitude Running.
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