Whether it's a sports club, a choir, an orchestra, amateur dramatics, or something else, starting a club is a brilliant way to meet like-minded people and even learn something about yourself while doing it.

It can seem quite a daunting task initially, but broken down into smaller chunks you can definitely do it, and you don't have to do it by yourself.

So how do you actually get a new club off the ground? This guide will walk you through the important first steps you'll need to take to plan and establish the club.

This guide is in four sections:

  1. Idea and purpose
  2. Structure and governance
  3. Money
  4. Club presence and communication

Let's get into it!

Idea and purpose

What and why

What is it your club will do, and why is it needed? Who will join the club and what will they get?

Answering these will give you your high-level vision and purpose. It doesn't need to be a long description, maybe just a couple of sentences, but capturing this will focus your mind on what you're trying to achieve. Aim for something like:

A football club for 10 to 18 year olds, to provide a route to fitness and eliminate boredom for the youth in our local community

or

A choir to bring people together across the community, improve singing technique, bring joy to others, and raise money for local charities

Once you have this vision, you can use it as your mission statement.

Do some local research

Is there already a similar local club or organisation? Would your efforts be better served helping to improve that club? If not, why not? Knowing this will help you understand why your club needs to exist.

Club objectives

Next, establish some overall objectives for the club which are driven by your mission statement. Make these short and snappy, but have as many as you need. For example, the football club will:

  • deliver quality football training to local amateur players
  • provide a safe, friendly environment for all
  • be well-known and respected in the local community
  • provide a gateway for retired professionals to pass-on their experience

Club goals

These are targets for the objectives you defined above. The trick here is to start small, so that they're achievable, and revisit them regularly. Sticking with our football club, their goals (pun not intended) might initially be:

  • recruit a full squad plus reserves to make the club viable
  • finish the season in the top 3 in the local league
  • secure a permanent training ground
  • raise £2,000 in the first 12 months through fundraising, sponsorship and donations

Test local demand

If there isn't a local club already, there might be a good reason for that. Perhaps others have tried and failed to set up such a club in the past. A quick google might help you find out. Maybe there wasn't enough interest back then.

The next step is to see how much local demand there is now. Make a few posters for your proposed club and put them up in places like your local:

  • post office
  • community hall
  • church
  • school
  • job centre
  • library
  • supermarket

Your town might also have a hyperlocal blogger who can help promote your idea with a general interest story about it. Cardiff University has a Find A Hyperlocal page which covers a lot of UK towns and cities.

Put an email address on the poster. You can create a free email address using Gmail or Outlook to record responses from potential members, giving you a way of contacting them if the club goes ahead. Starting now with a dedicated email address also helps keep club emails isolated from your personal emails.

Talk to potential members

Now you have some potential members, find out what they're looking to get from such a club. Update your original vision if necessary - these conversations may not only make the club more viable, but give you some good ideas or new angles that you may not have thought of by yourself.

Name it

We've deliberately kept this one until the end of the planning phase. Now you have a solid idea of what your club is and what it is trying to achieve, it will need a name. The chances are you've already been thinking about this, however informally, since you started considering setting up a club. Again, check that the name doesn't conflict with any existing local organisation - you don't want to be confused with one other.

Research your town's history - Wikipedia is useful for this, and might give you the ideal name right there, or a useful thread to follow.

The best names are ones that people instinctively understand how to spell when they hear it. What will the nickname for your club be (mainly relevant to football, I guess)?

Get a domain name

With that done, you might want the club to have its own domain name on the internet, which you can use for the website and email addresses. iwantmyname and Hover are good places to look for available domain names. Different domain endings (e.g. .com, .co.uk) have different prices attached to them. .org and .org.uk are a good choice for clubs and are around £13 per year. There is a .club domain type, though this costs more (around £24 per year on the searches we did).

Don't spend money on a domain name until you definitely know the club is going ahead.

Structure and governance

Leadership team/committee structure

Whilst the club will initially start quite small, there will still likely be more work than one person can handle. Having a formal structure might seem overkill, but it makes decision-making and reporting easier, as well as identifying the right person someone should speak with about different topics.

Think about what roles your club will need when it is fully up and running, even if that means some people have several roles initially. You can always reallocate some of those roles later.

A typical club will have at least:

  • chair - the personal nominally responsible for the club, and overseeing effective decision-making (note: this doesn't mean they alone are the person who makes the decisions)
  • secretary - handles the club's administration/paperwork, minutes of meetings etc.
  • treasurer - responsible for recording the club's finances, such as income from member payments/subscriptions, fundraising and sponsorship, expenses like pitch hire, and supplier payments for events

You may also have roles responsible for:

  • publicity/communication: to club members, press, patrons, sponsors
  • technology: social media, website
  • risk management: safeguarding/welfare of members, identifying risks and implementing processes to mitigate them
  • management: team manager, coach, director, musical director
  • fundraising
  • social activities and events
  • volunteer co-ordinator

There will also be times when you need extra pairs of hands to help set out chairs, serve drinks, operate front-of-house at events, so keep a list of people willing to occasionally be volunteers or staffers for the club.

Formal club definition

The club's rules and processes need to be defined in a constitution. The good news is that if you've done the above, you've already done most of the hard work needed to make your own constitution. This document should contain the club's:

  • name
  • purpose
  • aims and objectives
  • leadership team and committee structure
  • membership processes and culture
  • decision-making processes
  • disciplinary processes and procedures

The club then abides by the rules and processes in the constitution and a copy of it should be given to all members when they join the club.

There are some free club constitution templates at Net Lawman.

Committee meetings

Your committee will meet regularly - how regularly is something you'll jointly agree, although monthly is common. A typical committee meeting agenda might consist of:

  • reading and acceptance of the minutes of the last meeting
  • any matters arising
  • chair's report
  • secretary's report
  • treasurer's report
  • any other business (AOB)
  • date of next meeting

Actions from the meeting should be recorded in the minutes by the secretary, and have one or more persons assigned to them, with a timescale for update or completion. Distribute minutes of the meeting to committee members as soon as you reasonably can after the meeting.

AGMs and EGMs

The committee is reformed and refreshed annually by way of an Annual General Meeting. Each member of the committee is proposed by at least one club member and seconded by another. If more than one person is nominated to a committee post then a vote takes place to determine the appointee.

AGMs involve the whole club for this reason - everyone is invited to the meeting. It is also an opportunity to discuss any club-wide issues or provide significant updates to the entire membership. Minutes of AGMs are also recorded by the secretary.

Extraordinary General Meetings can be called when a club constitutional rule, process, or even the constitution itself, is requested to be reviewed or changed. An EGM can also be triggered by a significant event which cannot wait for the AGM. A minimum number of members is required to call for an EGM - your constitution should define what this minimum number is.

Governing bodies/associations

Your sport or hobby is likely to be covered by a National Governing Body or Association. These can provide specific guidance and the legal requirements for running your specific type of club. They'll also likely have posters and other resources for use by clubs like yours.

Sport England has a list of sports National Governing Bodies that they recognise. In addition to having them all listed on the website, there's a link just above the table that compiles them into a PDF, which shows NGBs from England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland, and UK-wide.

Safety

Your club has a duty to protect its members from harm. Carry out a risk assessment to identify and then mitigate risk to your members, management team and volunteers.

Your club will likely need at least one form of insurance. Your governing body will be able to advise on the types of cover you need and tell you about any affiliation schemes they run for clubs like yours. You can also google for club and sport-specific insurance products.

Remember to check that any facilities you use such as training grounds, huts or halls have up-to-date insurance policies of their own.

Money

Expenses

All clubs have costs and most have a membership fee or subscription payment. Whilst you will want membership to be affordable, knowing the costs that need to be covered will give you an understanding of how much income the club will need to continue. Think about:

  • pitch or hall rental
  • equipment hire or purchase
  • insurance
  • travel expenses on behalf of the club
  • communication expenses (phone calls made on behalf of the club for example)
  • registration and affiliation costs

There will be other items too, so make a note of them as they occur to you throughout the day.

Income

In addition to receiving member subscriptions, you can reduce the club's costs by applying for funding. Your governing body may have a grant scheme for new clubs, as well as access to other benefits and incentives. Also research what your local council has to offer, particularly if you can demonstrate your club delivers social benefits such as youth activities or promoting better mental health. For example, it's been proven that singing reduces stress and can also benefit those diagnosed with dementia.

Some charities will also have schemes to support smaller organisations in their sector and may be distributing funds on behalf of the government.

See:

Rotary Club - District Grants

Gov.UK - Apply for funding (directs you to your local council website)

The National Lottery - apply for funding

Sponsorship

Another source of income for the club is sponsorship. Find out if any potential club members have links to the business community or if their own employer would be willing to sponsor the club.

Local businesses will often offer club sponsorship. Bear in mind that they will get such requests regularly, so think about what will make your application stand out. Some national and international companies also allocate funds for corporate sponsorship.

You can also learn from other clubs. Twitter is full of clubs looking for sponsorship, so look at their phrasing, images, website pages and incorporate the best ideas into your application and don't be afraid to ask them what works.

There's some great advice on how to approach potential sponsors on the Sport Wales Club Solutions website, including these gems:

Dear Sir letters do not work – if you cannot be bothered to find out about a funder why should they be bothered to give you money?
No passion, no value – you must believe in your project when you sell it to funders

Check out that page for a whole host of good advice.

Financial best practices

You should have a dedicated bank account for the club. This keeps your finances distinct from the club's, and will make auditing the accounts both easier and less intrusive.

Any bank or building society will be able to offer your club a basic account. Some also offer a "treasurer's account", specifically for organisations like yours. Merchant Savvy has this roundup of treasurer accounts and concludes the best value account is from Starling Bank. This account is online only, but when paired with a member payments system like Payzip, your club can go cashless, so it's quicker and safer for everyone.

You should aim to reconcile your club's bank account at least monthly, so you know how the club is doing. It also prevents this becoming a massive job ahead of the club's AGM, where the accounts should be audited.

We know reconciling club accounts is a key, but time-consuming activity for club treasurers, which is why Payzip aggregates all the payments from that week into a single transaction to the club's bank account, saving hours over reconciling member payments manually.

Club presence and communication

Physical presence

Unless your club is virtual, you'll need a regular physical meeting space to train or rehearse. Sometimes the choice is obvious, like the local park or leisure centre, but they may still be oversubscribed or too expensive. Check with your local council about the facilities they have, and it can be useful to check the neighbouring town too.

If your group is based indoors, also consider community centres, churches, schools and colleges - these all have rooms that may be available in off-peak hours for very little money or even free. If you're in a larger town or city, coworking spaces could also be an option and may be willing to provide the space for free as their sponsorship of the club.

Remember to think about any Covid Secure practices you may need to apply to your space. The UK Government has this information for community centres and shared spaces.

Online presence

Think about how your club will appear online. Which social media networks do you want to use? You don't have to be on them all, so keep it manageable. You can see what account names for your club are available across dozens of social networks by using a service like Namechk.

Facebook

We generally see clubs sharing videos of matches and events on Facebook and Instagram. Get the word out about your new club on Facebook and ask for friends and followers to be re-share it.

Twitter

Tweet about your new club and use your town or city as a hashtag - there are automatic bots looking for relevant local content and these can help amplify your message through their news accounts.

Use Twitter to connect with and form a community of similar clubs. Football clubs use Twitter extremely well to drive follower engagement, provide real time match commentary, sponsorship requests and arrange friendlies with one another.

Blogs

Contact those hyperlocal bloggers and ask them to run a story about your new club and what it aspires to do.

Tell us at Payzip about your new club and we'll be happy to promote it too!

Club website

Some clubs have a website, some don't. Depending on the social media networks you use, it may not be necessary. If you do want one, website builders like Webflow and Wix can help you and you don't need to be very technical to get results. They can even host the website for you too, saving the complexity of setting that up. They are commercial products, so see which is best for you and factor the costs into the club's expenses.

Some club management systems offer you a website builder as part of the package. Be careful here, because you can become locked into that provider if they host the club's website (it's one of the reasons they do it). You'd have to remake the website somewhere else if you leave their platform.

Email enquiries

Whilst some clubs use social media for all their enquiries, it's a good idea to have an email address too, for any longer correspondence (e.g. sponsorship, grant applications, press enquiries). As mentioned earlier, you can use a free service for this. If you get a domain name for your club, you can attach this to your email service so you can be reached at [name]@[yourclub]. This also gives the club a more professional image.

Club communication

You'll often need a way to message other members of the club or committee as a group. Some club management systems want you to use their proprietary chat systems, but then everyone has to learn how to use them (and you may have to pay per user too). Again, you risk being locked-in if all your historical messages are with a club management product provider.

You're better off using something that almost everyone knows already and is comfortable using, such as Whatsapp or Signal. These are cross-platform, so it doesn't matter if someone is on Android or iPhone. They're also very secure and are free to use.

Further reading

Sport England has an excellent scheme called Club Matters, which has useful  guides and resources most of which is applicable to non-sports clubs too.

Spotted something useful that we haven't included here? Let us know.