Whether your club has a dozen members or several hundred, it is essential for the Club Committee to apply sensible club management principles to ensure that everyone has a safe enjoyable bushwalk, disputes are resolved appropriately and effectively, legal requirements are met, and club funds are used in accordance with the club constitution and the law.
The NSW Government Office of Sport has some excellent guidelines for sporting clubs, many of which can be applied to bushwalking clubs.
Bushwalking NSW has set up a blog for sharing your tips on club management
Promote your club
If your club is to remain healthy it needs to have a constant influx of new members to replace the old ones who no longer bushwalk, move away from the area, or have other priorities in their lives. Advertise your presence in the community by:
- Having a great professionally designed website. If your website looks old fashioned or amateur, spend a little money and have it revamped. Most people access information about clubs solely on the web, so this is an important part of your strategy. Ask other similarly-minded organisations to link to your site to give it more visibility on the Google search engine results list.
- Starting a Facebook page and ask members to contribute. A committee member should be the administrator, ensuring there is at least a weekly post, that messages or negative comments are answered promptly and anything inappropriate is removed quickly.
- Answering phone or emails inquiries about your club promptly, preferably the same day.
- Utilising the free What’s On section of your local newspaper to advertise meetings or walks
- Holding a Try Bushwalking Day and advertising it in the local newspaper or community radio station. Local stations and the ABC radio often have a phone-in segment for community activities, but you will usually need to ring them early on Saturday morning to advertise the event.
- Participating in bushwalking festivals
- Placing a poster on your local library noticeboard and community information file
- Listing your club in local council publications such as “Activities for Seniors” booklets
- Hiring a stall at a local festival or event. A tent makes a good free stall and stands out from the other boring tables and shelters. Be sure to include signboards with lots of colourful pictures of the club having fun activities, free handouts, bushwalking books or maps for sale, balloons for kids, and other enticements for people to come to your table. If there’s nothing to see they will just pass you by. Members who man the table need to be proactive and approach passers-by rather than stand back and wait to be spoken to.
- Organising a bushwalk for a local interest group, college or school. You will need to have a good risk management framework in place to do this. See below.
- Giving a slide presentation to other organisations on the fun of bushwalking
- Preparing a leaflet about your club for visitors informing them about your activities and how to join
- Sending visitors a follow-up email encouraging them to return
- Appointing a Visitor Welcome person to greet visitors at meetings and ensure they are not sitting alone and un-noticed
Meetings are a great way to get to know fellow club members, share information and conduct club business that requires input from members. Make meetings fun and enjoyable by:
- Inviting a member or guest speaker to share their bushwalking or travel experiences
- Inviting the local bushwalking supplier to demonstrate their latest products
- Inviting a speaker on environmental issues
- Asking the local physiotherapist to show you ways to keep fit and healthy through stretching and exercise prior to bushwalks
- Holding a quiz night
- Enjoying a cup of tea over supper after the meeting
- Holding a BBQ or picnic
Incorporation provides a legal framework for your organisation and offers certain legal protections. All incorporated Clubs must have a Constitution by law, but even if your club is not incorporated it is a good idea to create a formal document listing the club goals and rules. This document should cover:
- Club goals e.g. to provide members with opportunities for engaging in bushwalking and other outdoor activities
- Who can join
- How to join
- How the club is administered e.g. the size and make-up of the committee, length of terms of office
- Voting rules for decision-making e.g. quorums and the percentage of votes needed to make a change
- Methods of conflict resolution
- Fund management
- Dissolution of the club
Policies and By-laws
If you have a Constitution, it is a good idea for the Committee to also create a series of By-laws or Policies and Procedures. Policies state the club’s position on a topic, while procedures detail how to do something, such as how to fill in an incident report and submit it to the committee, or how to apply for club membership. A Procedure should detail what is to be done, who can do it, how it is to be carried out, under what circumstances it can be done, and when it can be done.
Changes to By-laws normally require a vote by club members at a Special General Meeting. Policies are simpler to implement. It’s always a good idea for the Committee to consult with members before making radical decisions, but Policies can be made by the Committee without a formal vote by members e.g. Child Protection Policy, Risk Management, Website Policy, Leader’s Guidelines, Trip Refunds and Cancellations, Records Retention, Accident Reporting.
There is no point in creating a constitution, by-laws, policies and procedures if no-one knows what they are. Upload these documents to your club website so that all members can access them.
Club committees should promote a fair-play culture, embracing diversity, transparency, integrity and respect. Create a Code of Conduct that shows how you expect members to behave towards each other and what to do if there is a dispute. Dispute management is also a topic that should be covered by your Constitution.
Risk management is the course of action you take to reduce:
- The likelihood of accidents
- The negative effects of accidents
- Potential legal liability
Some of the risks inherent to a bushwalking club are
- Injury to members or visitors, or even death in extreme circumstances
- Becoming lost in the bush
- Not having the legal protection of being incorporated
- Financial costs of being sued, due to failure to carry accident and third party liability insurance
- Not complying with Child Protection legislation
- Not having a member protection policy
- Not requiring participants to sign a waiver or release form prior to participating in activities
- Providing equipment and facilities that are not safe for intended use, or failing to ensure members carry their own equipment appropriate to the activity e.g. abseiling gear, personal flotation devices (PFDs) for kayaking trips.
Unfortunately, many clubs see this as some form of onerous legal mumbo-jumbo, but risk management is just a way to address potential problems before they occur. Risk management aims to be pro-active rather than reactive – creating a safer environment and legally safer operational procedures. Risk management is not something that only club committee members should look at. It should become a standard part of the way all club members, and particularly club leaders, engage in club activities.
Bushwalking NSW has made risk management easy by producing guidelines and templates which can easily be adopted by your club and adapted to suit your club activities and conditions.
Gone are the days of volunteers sitting around for hours folding programs, stuffing envelopes and licking stamps. Or are they? Make your club administration more efficient by going digital. You will save the committee time, make life easier when trying to communicate last minute changes, and save money.
- Create a Website and Internet Communications Policy setting out who can edit the website or send out information in the club’s name, and under what circumstances. You don’t want every committee member to edit your website at will, or send out alerts without authorisation from the other committee members. The policy should also refer to privacy issues.
- Keep your Constitution, By-laws, Policies and Procedures on your public website for all members and the public to access freely.
- Open a free Dropbox or Google Drive account and deposit sensitive committee documents in it, such as membership lists. Invite all committee members to share the folder. This way all committee members have instant access to important information from their own computer.
- Save money, time and effort by sending members your newsletters and programs using a free online service such as MailChimp. You do not need a program installed on your computer, just access to the internet. This site has excellent help pages to show you how to use it and it only takes a little practice to use it confidently. Remember that the club exists for the benefit of members, not vice versa. If members don’t all have access to computers you will still need to mail hardcopies to a few people.
- Send members last minutes alerts and program changes via free services such as MailChimp. You can also authorise several members of the committee to use this service in your absence, but you should set some guidelines on who can issue alerts.
- You can also set up templates on MailChimp for things like membership renewal notices and then program the system to send an alert when membership fees are due. If your renewal date is variable and starts at the date each member joined, you can set up an alert for each month. To do this create a hidden field on the sign-up form for the month of membership renewal. and use the market segmentation capacities of the site to group members by renewal date. The program can be set up to send out a reminder alert on a specific date each month for each of your 12 segments.
- Larger clubs should engage a web designer to create online membership application forms and set up an online payment system. Although this may cost more initially, it will reward you in saved time and effort.
- Use Survey Monkey, Survey Gizmo, or similar online programs to survey members on important issues. It’s easy to set up. It’s free for a few questions, or inexpensive for slightly larger surveys and instantly produces easy to read reports on the results.
- Keep members actively involved in club activities by setting up a Facebook page. Set some guidelines with a Facebook Usage Policy first. The page needs to be regularly monitored by a committee member who can answer messages and delete unsuitable material.
Your club constitution should clearly set our who has responsibility for funds and how the money can be spent, including what happens to funds if the club should be dissolved. It is a good idea to have a bank account which requires a second committee member to authorise a payment online before it is processed by the bank.
All expenditure must be approved by the Committee, recorded on a spreadsheet and receipts kept. All income should also be recorded. Prior to your Annual General Meeting, appoint someone (preferably with accounting or book-keeping skills) to audit the books, so that any problems with misappropriation or mismanagement of funds are identified early.
Recording Decisions and Actions
There are many types of club records that may assist in the running of the club. Many of these records should be kept for future reference or legal reasons. These records could include:
- Constitution, by-laws,policies and procedures
- Department of Fair Trading communications
- Meeting agendas and minutes
- Club newsletters and programs
- Bushwalking NSW communications
- Insurance documents
- Risk Management guidelines
- Risk Waiver forms
- Incident reports
- Membership forms
- Leader accreditation information
- Profit and Loss Statements and Balance Sheets
Create a table showing how long you wish to keep each type of club record. Any records connected to your Child Protection Policy must be kept until the child turns 21 years of age. Financial records must be kept for 5 years. The committee should determine how long they wish to retain accident forms and waivers, programs and newsletters, but note that accident reports should be kept as long as possible, as legal action can drag on for years. Rather than clutter the Secretary’s house with a filing cabinet full of records, consider moving to electronic records which could be kept indefinitely.
Ensure committee meeting minutes accurately record the decisions of the committee. Often a committee makes a decision, then a few months later can’t remember what they decided. One method of minute-taking is to create a table listing the item number, the date, the topic, decisions taken and action proposed, action taken and who actioned the item, date of completion, and its status (i.e. open, closed, ongoing). Rather than start a new table after each committee meeting, all completed items are moved to the bottom of the table and new items added to the top of the table. This enables the committee to not only see what decisions were made throughout the year, but also reminds them which items are still pending and just how long they have been on the agenda. At the end of each year start a new table, transferring any remaining un-actioned items to the new year’s schedule,
Once the AGM is over and the new committee installed, one of their biggest problems is to decide what to do and how to do it. It can be an intimidating time for new committee members, especially if most of the office bearers are new. Continuity of club management can be achieved through creation of a Committee Manual. The manual can be in a pdf format or printed.
Each year the current committee updates the information and passes it on to all members of the new committee, so that it is a living document detailing current practice. Of course the new committee can change any of the procedures and practices as they determine may be suitable, but it is vital they pass on this new information. Topics for the manual may include:
- Detailed descriptions of the duties of each office bearer
- Contact details for all committee members
- Contact details for the Public Officer, who is responsible for ensuring elections and voting are held in accordance with the Constitution, and Constitution changes are lodged with the Department of Fair Trading.
- Newsletter and program production schedule
- Website administration including technical details, who hosts the website, payment dates and methods for site hosts, who to contact for website help, how the website is backed up, access codes and logins, how to edit the website, how to send electronic alerts.
- Constitution, by-laws, policies and procedures
- Copies of all official documents such as waiver forms and membership forms
- Record retention
- Dates due and methods of payment for hall hire, program printing, and insurance
- Club calendar showing club meetings, committee meetings, AGM, Bushwalking NSW meetings, program issue dates, and other important dates in the club year
Preserve your heritage
Don’t clutter your files with archival material. There are specialist organisations who would love to keep a record of your club history. NSW State Library and many libraries collect information about local organisations. Most council libraries have a Local History Library attached to one branch. Ask the Local History Librarian or your local historical society if they would like to collect copies for their archives of historic club programs, old bushwalking photos, or your anniversary celebration book.