Who better to advise you on how to create a better member experience at your facility than, well, your members?
I am a big fan of using a Member Advisory Board as a tool to ensure we not only meet but exceed members' expectations. I have personally used them in my facilities, as well as with other clubs among my consulting clients. By my definition, an MAB is a group of members who meet to share, discuss and give feedback on facility operations. Members of the MAB serve as representatives and liaisons to their fellow members during this feedback-gathering process. But for an MAB to be effective, it must be strategically created and guided.
The following four areas are critical to the establishment and implementation of a successful Member Advisory Board. While I offer general guidelines and options within each area, I will also share options with which we have had success.
1. Determine logistics
Factors to consider include: How often will the MAB meet? How long will meetings last? Where will the meetings be held? Will snacks or full meals be offered? How long are the members' terms? Will board position turnover be staggered for continuity or switched simultaneously en masse? What sort of perks will participants receive?
At our last club, we held three meetings a year, each lasting two hours. Members held a two-year term, and half the board transitioned every year. Our meetings were held at local restaurants. Finally, all MAB members received a complimentary membership for the duration of their term, as well as 20 percent off all ancillary services.
2. Select the right members
There are two ways to select members: by taking applications or by selecting a team to appoint them.
When you allow members to apply, you tend to get serious applicants because they have chosen to go through the application process. These members tend to be more invested in the work of the board. Drawbacks might be that members apply for self-serving reasons. In addition, you may not have a diverse enough group of people. When you appoint members, you can work to create a more diverse group, helping to guarantee a wider variety of thoughts and opinions. A potential disadvantage is these members might not be as invested. Choose what works best for your facility based on the way you operate.
At our last club, we appointed members to an eight-person advisory board. We strategically chose members of different genders, races and ages. We deliberately made sure we had a representation of people who regularly attended at different times of the day. We also picked people who participated in various programs — we wanted someone who regularly did group exercise, someone who did personal training and someone who might just come to run on a treadmill. This gave us a diverse group with a variety of experiences and insights about our facility.
Once the board is selected, make sure to promote it. Use newsletters, facility posters and social media to publicize this great tool to everyone within the facility.
3. Prepare the board
It may sound cliché, but failing to prepare is preparing to fail. To ensure meetings are productive, assign work to be done ahead of time. This allows the board to spend more time on discussion rather than the presentation of information.
For example, before the first meeting with our MAB, we informed members that we had two goals — to improve the member experience and to increase our membership base. We let them know that their feedback would be an important factor in helping us achieve those goals. We sent the board general information about the state of the fitness industry, as well as an overview of the state of our club.
We also assigned homework to be turned in ahead of time. The first part of the assignment was to answer the question, "With so many choices, why choose this facility?" This gave us insight into what our uniqueness and differentiators might be. The second part was to have board members carry out a start/stop/continue exercise. What should we start doing that we are not currently doing? What should we stop doing? What are we doing well and should continue?
We compiled all the feedback to present at that first meeting. Not only did it demonstrate to the MAB that we took their feedback seriously, but it made for a much more productive meeting and an overall better experience for the board.
4. Create an agenda
Effective planning, including a strong agenda with clear objectives, helps to ensure you and your MAB stay on topic and on time. Unorganized meetings tend to be inefficient, which not only makes for a bad attendee experience, it also makes it difficult to achieve objectives. Here is an example of what a first meeting agenda might look like:
Overview of the industry: MAB members are not industry experts. This empowers them with overall knowledge and puts things in perspective. Without this information, they may have misplaced opinions or expectations that can't possibly be met.
Overview of the club: Review the information sent ahead and answer any questions about where the club is and where it is going. This is typically a high-level look without divulging sensitive information, such as financials or membership numbers. The state of the club allows them to see where the club is in relation to what they just learned about the industry.
Prework review: Present the compilation of information gathered. This allows members to see how others responded, as well as reveals any trends or patterns within the data.
Discussion and brainstorming: All the items up to this point lead to discussion. This is the open forum to examine, engage and answer questions, as well as formulate possible next steps. This is generally allotted the most time on the agenda, as it is the most interactive and often the most productive.
Summary: At the end of each meeting, take time to summarize the notes from the discussion. Review action items and next steps based on the discussion. Don't forget to confirm the next meeting date, place and time. Finally, make sure to thank everyone. They are dedicating time and effort to helping your facility, so make sure they feel appreciated. A little gratitude goes a long way.
Member Advisory Boards have a high rate of return when run correctly. An MAB is a great way to gather data and information to make better decisions.
But there are additional benefits. An MAB gives members a voice. Having an MAB shows all members — even those not on the board — that their opinion matters. Consider the impact from the eyes of a member or prospect. It is nothing short of awesome!
Moreover, most facilities do not go this extra mile, making it a remarkable differentiator. So what are you waiting for?
This article originally appeared in the September 2021 issue of Athletic Business with the title "Create an Effective Member Advisory Board" Athletic Business is a free magazine for professionals in the athletic, fitness and recreation industry. Click here to subscribe.