Last week, someone on the Slowtwitch triathlon forum asked for advice about starting a tri club. I answered based on my experience forming the Chico Tri Club in 2010. After receiving some questions over e-mail, thought it would be useful to add a blog about it as well.
Membership has privileges
A triathlon club with a formal organization offers significant advantages over an informal group, whose advantages are limited to social support and camaraderie.
- Official USAT clubs carry insurance. It supplements medical insurance that members carry to cover incidents occurring during scheduled club training sessions. If someone rolls an ankle during the club’s Saturday morning run, the club insurance will help.
- Races often offer discounted race entry and priority rack locations for tri clubs.
- Special discounts through USAT for official club.
- Eligibility for grants through USAT. You can use grants for club marketing, uniforms, event funding, and more.
- Improved negotiating power for discounts through sponsorships. Remember though, sponsorships are about what you can do for them. Think of it as a “partnership,” rather than a “sponsorship.”
- Greater ability to impact your local athletic community. You can use club funds and recruit members to support charitable events and organizations in your community.
- Improved accessibility to the sport for new athletes.
Before you start, there are things you should think about.
- What is your local area like?
- Are there a good number of triathletes?
- Are you well-networked in the community and among other triathletes?
- Is there sentiment among the local community that a new tri club is necessary and would be beneficial?
What is your vision?
- What kind of club do you want?
- Will it be all-inclusive or will it be exclusive to a certain experience/competitive level or to a certain gender?
- Will you have regularly scheduled group workouts?
Write a vision statement and a mission statement. In general, a vision statement is a statement of what you seek to achieve. A mission statement is how you want to achieve it. This will help focus your goals. It will also be useful in marketing material.
Getting down to nuts and bolts
This is where the rubber meets the road. It is a lot of work, but if you are successful it will also be extremely rewarding.
1. Use USAT’s resources for clubs.
USAT has excellent resources for clubs through their club page. There is information on registration, insurance, management, discounts, bylaws, and more. The booklet “How to Organize a Triathlon Club” is especially useful.
2. Network, network, network.
Get out into training groups. Talk to people on group runs, during group rides, and during Masters swim workouts. You may have to sacrifice the quality of some of your workouts, but this is business. Find out who does more than one sport. A lot of these people may be “occasional” triathletes, but they can nonetheless help you a lot. They are also potential members. Find out who owns or manages a business that could potentially offer you some sponsorship support.
3. Talk to the people at the local bike shops and running stores.
Get to know the local sport businesses. These may include triathlon stores, runnings stores, and bike shops. Find out if any would be willing to help support a triathlon club, whether through special discount programs or through marketing assistance. In starting a new club, the latter is more important, because it will help you market your club and grow your membership, which ultimately gives you the leverage you need to negotiate sponsorship agreements. You will have a significant advantage if you know the owners or managers or have a history of patronizing the business and building a relationship with them. This is where patronizing your local running store or bike shop pays off.
4. Hold an organizational meeting.
After some initial networking and getting a sense of who your potential members and supporters will be, hold your initial meeting. Publicize the meeting through the local running stores and bike shops. Also use social media. Give yourself about three weeks lead time. Use this time to continue networking and talk up the meeting every chance you get. In choosing a location, choose a location with enough space that is reasonably quiet and free of distractions. I held it at my house. Have some snacks ready with some time before the meeting for socializing. Have an agenda ready before the meeting.
- Talk about what kind of club people want. You may want one thing, but others may want something else. You need enough consensus to get people working to support the club.
- Decide whether there is consensus for a formal organization with uniforms, sponsorships, etc., or whether consensus leans towards something informal.
- If you decide on setting up a formal organization, nominate directors and officers. At a minimum, you will need a president, secretary, and treasurer. Your board will be your core group of people working on things. Most of all, you want people who are willing to put the work in, but people with backgrounds in law, accounting, web design, and coaching will be very useful, as well as people who are strongly networked with the local business community.
- Pick out a name. Avoid temptations for anything overly creative. Name it after your local area so it comes up first in Google searches. Lastly, decide what your annual dues should be.
- Decide on initial dues. Research your startup costs before the meeting so you have an idea of what your dues need to be, at least initially.
5. Draft and file articles of incorporation and bylaws.
Legal requirements will vary from state to state, but in general you will need to file some paperwork, including articles of incorporation, with your secretary of state. Most clubs are set up as 501(c)(4) or 501(c)(7) nonprofit corporations. Some clubs have ownership structures, but I think of these as “teams,” rather than clubs.
Few clubs pay much attention to their bylaws, but the bylaws establish an orderly operation of the club. Operating pursuant to a clear set of bylaws can help avoid serious personal conflicts (they happen). In addition, showing you are well-organized, well-run, and well-managed helps attract sponsors. The USAT document “How to Organize a Triathlon Club” has a simple set of sample bylaws. You can also contact other clubs, tell them you are forming a new tri club, and ask for a copy of their bylaws (and maybe also a copy of a membership application) that you can use as a template. Make sure your bylaws are flexible, easy to follow, and consistent with how you plan to operate.
7. Develop a plan for the club with your your board of directors
- Develop a group workout schedule. Each workout should have a leader who, while not necessarily a coach, organizes the workout.
- Choose some local races that you can attend as a club to both race and volunteer. Volunteering at local races, as a club, is also a great way to build a relationship with local RDs.
- Calendar your general membership meetings, board elections, social events, etc.
8. Register with USAT. Buy club insurance and director and officer insurance.
9. Market your club and recruit members.
Come up with a logo and set up a website. Ask one of the sport-related businesses in your community to host a “triathlon night” where you can pitch your new club and recruit new members. People will want to know whether your have coaching, training plans, group workouts, etc. Be ready with answers.
Try to hold a board meeting every month. You don’t need to hold a general meeting every month, but you should try having one every 2-3 months. It is very important to get people involved, so you have people going to workouts, racing, and supporting the club.
10. Use your board.
Your board is your team. Delegate and let people do things their own way. What matters is that things get done. If you micromanage you will be the one doing everything. In addition to the board, try to involve members by encouraging them to lead workouts and help plan events. Members who become more involved with your club will be good prospective board members in the future.
That is a start… Network, network, network. Be positive. It’s not about you. It’s about having fun, inspiring others, and giving back to the sports.