How best to oversee your club’s membership system? Joanne Harris talks to rowers from Northwich, Thames and Norwich
A rowing club lives and dies by its members – whether they are daily rowers or summer supporters – but managing a membership database has always been challenging.
Membership secretaries come and go. Systems set up in the 1990s are now obsolete, and many commercial options for large databases cost a lot of money.
Just over two years ago, British Rowing launched ‘ClubHub’. Provided by sports software specialists Azolve, ClubHub is a GDPR-compliant portal for clubs to manage memberships, take secure online payments, and stay in touch with members better. It is available to all affiliated clubs for free.
“When we first started playing with it, it wasn’t finished,” says Nick Speakman of Northwich Rowing Club.
“We could see that the things that didn’t work weren’t monumental, that these would get fixed and it was worth persevering with.”
Northwich helped beta-test the system back in 2018 and switched fully to it from May 2019. Speakman says the club wanted to find a membership system that was easily transferable between membership secretaries, and to move away from using a largely paper-based system.
“We needed something where somebody could be membership secretary for two or three years and then hand the reins over. We’ve done that now, we’ve handed it over once, and I’m sure in a few years’ time we’ll do it again,” he says.
“One of the reasons for moving to ClubHub was that we had people who’d been paying 2010’s rates on standing orders”
At Thames Rowing Club in Putney, the club had previously relied on a combination of paper membership forms and an old, spreadsheet-based membership system that ran on a single club computer.
“It has meant we now have a digital database which is good for reducing paperwork, admin, saving the environment – there’s no paper – and also being able to search the database much more easily for other membership things,” says Thames treasurer Natasha Branch.
The attraction of shifting away from standing orders to direct debit was also attractive. Standing orders can only be cancelled by the payee, so if someone leaves a club, changes membership, or fees rise, the club relies on the member to make any alteration to their subscription. Direct debit puts changes in fees and cancellations or refunds in the hands of the club.
“The big benefit is that it’s made sure people pay on time”
“One of the reasons for moving to ClubHub was that we had people who’d been paying 2010’s rates on standing orders 10 years later,” explains Speakman. “Every time you told them to increase their payments they didn’t. Wrestling the people off standing orders has been and is a pain, but the benefits to the club are we now know everybody is paying the right amount.”
David Ashcroft, club captain at Norwich Rowing Club – which switched to ClubHub in September last year – is also enthusiastic.
“The big benefit is that it’s made sure people pay on time, which is very good,” he says. Ashcroft adds that used in tandem with the club’s online booking system, Norwich has better oversight over whether a member using a boat is fully paid-up.
Individual members can manage their own ClubHub accounts online, using the same login as they use for British Rowing memberships. That gives clubs visibility – not only over who is a current club member – but also who currently holds a racing licence, all in one place.
Thames’ membership secretary Christie Davis says this is helpful, although she would like to see more functionality when it comes to batch editing to help larger clubs manage the database.
“Speakman suggests giving clubs the ability to sell kit or other merchandise through ClubHub”
The visibility of the system to more than one person is helpful. Speakman says he appreciates the fact that as a club director he can quickly access the latest updates on membership and revenue.
“It’s really useful for on the go,” Branch says. “Quite often I get a membership query in the middle of the day, and if I’m not by a laptop I tend to prefer to do it on a phone rather than my work laptop or waiting until later.”
Norwich is planning to use ClubHub not just for membership, but also to run its three annual events when racing is again allowed.
ClubHub is not perfect and there remain bugs to be worked out. Both Branch and Davis say they would like more report functionality – currently, information can be bulk downloaded, but then needs to be manipulated in Excel, more or less manually.
Speakman suggests giving clubs the ability to sell kit or other merchandise through ClubHub would be a positive step.
“There’s loads of other purchasing things that take place within a club, if that was the place for that it’d be really good. It’s just a way of not having to deal with the cash anymore,” he explains.
The main criticism is ClubHub’s speed. Although the system has got faster than on its launch, Speakman says it remains “unnecessarily slow” with a “quirky” user interface.
However, all three clubs recommend the use of ClubHub as a tool that has saved time and effort and increased transparency for membership management and finances. It may take a new club a little time to get to grips with the system, but ultimately it is worth it.
“When you know how to use it it’s great,” Speakman sums up.
Photos: Drew Smith, James Waller