Whether your hiking and bushwalking 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.
Incorporation provides a legal framework for your organisation and offers certain legal protections. If you dont know where to start, the NSW Government Department of Fair Trading provides a Model Constitution which you can use as a basis and adapt to the needs of your club. Once the Constitution has been ratified by the committee, it must be submitted to the Department of Fair Trading with an annual fee, if your club is an Incorporated Association. Other clubs do not need to submit their Constitutions.
All incorporated Association 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, what types of decisions they are authorised to make.
- 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.
Give the committee the authority under the club’s constitution to handle the day to day affairs of the club, including making decisions, finances, policies and procedures.
Focus on activities – not committee meetings. The committee should meet the absolute minimum times per year that is needed to organise the club program and fulfill its legal requirements. Under new Incorporated Associations law it is permissible to hold electronic meetings e.g. Skype, Zoom, conference calls and committee voting by email.
Design the committee structure around roles. Don’t have inactive ‘ordinary’ committee members. Each committee member should have a defined purpose and role. You may need to change the constitution to do this.
Ensure that committee members change regularly by limiting the number of times a member can stand for a particular role. This prevents stagnation and burnout and brings fresh ideas onto the committee agenda.
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. See our Risk Management page for more guidance and encourage your members to review that page also, as it has a quick set of guidelines for Leaders.
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