Whether you’re involved in a business, a governmental entity or a nonprofit organization, it’s wise to listen to the people you’re trying to reach and to be aware of trends and best practices in what you do.

Columbia Association (CA) recently announced a new membership structure for its fitness clubs, outdoor pools, golf and tennis clubs, and other sport and fitness facilities. We listened and came up with a better idea — a set of memberships that is easier to understand and more flexible.

It was a process that began in 2014, when CA’s board of directors requested that CA engage a consultant firm to explore the creation of a new, simpler membership structure that would lead to more participation. The consultant, Club Intel, is a leader in the sport and fitness club industry.

Club Intel visited each CA property and spent about a year conducting research, holding focus groups with members and nonmembers, analyzing the competitive landscape, interviewing CA board and staff members, and administering a survey. Approximately 2,000 members and nonmembers participated in the research.

The research found a need for a simpler membership structure that offers flexible options for the community while also being competitive in the market. Club Intel also concluded that CA should make changes to members’ access to equipment and classes.

CA staff proposed a new membership structure and pricing, which the CA Board of Directors approved in May 2016 (Haven on the Lake membership options will remain separate and are not changing).

The new structure begins May 1, 2017.

It’s a big change, yet it will be a relatively easy one. It’s definitely the right change to make.

It will be easier for members and potential members to decide what they want, with just six types of memberships available. The names of the memberships are still being finalized, but the options will include the following.

  1. A membership to an individual fitness club, with access to all equipment and group fitness classes in that fitness club.
  2. A membership to all outdoor pools and the Columbia Swim Center, plus Columbia SportsPark, Columbia Ice Rink, and all outdoor and indoor tennis courts (with additional fees for indoor courts).
  3. An aquatics and fitness membership providing everything listed in membership No. 2, as well as all three fitness clubs (Columbia Athletic Club, Columbia Gym and Supreme Sports Club) and all equipment and group fitness classes within them. This membership also will receive discounts on green fees at the golf clubs.
  4. A golf and recreation membership providing unlimited green fees on weekdays and eight-day advance reservations at CA’s two golf clubs (Fairway Hills and Hobbit’s Glen), plus everything listed for membership No. 2.
  5. A golf membership providing unlimited green fees on all seven days of the week and eight-day advance reservations at CA’s two golf clubs (Fairway Hills and Hobbit’s Glen).
  6. A golf, aquatics and fitness membership that provides everything listed in memberships No. 2 and No. 5. This membership also includes a free KidSpace child care membership.

The transition will be easy for existing CA members, who will automatically move to the new membership option closest to the one they currently hold. Most of those members will receive benefits greater than those they received before the transition. Their rates will nevertheless remain the same until their membership comes up for renewal.

And once their membership does come up for renewal, members can either remain in the membership to which they transitioned — the new rates will closely mirror what they paid for their memberships before — or they can choose to change to another available option.

CA’s members already were getting a lot of value for their money. Now they will get even more, and they will have an easier time deciding what they want.

E-mail milton.matthews@columbiaassociation.org with questions/comments.