Joining or starting a pickleball club

There's something to be said for strength in numbers. Joining a club where you live, or where you go to vacation, even on short visits, gives you that advantage of numbers: New people to play with, and more options for venues.

When I plan travel, one of the first things I look for are clubs and venues in the area where I'm going. You can find options at this website, https://www.places2play.org/, or you can just Google "Pickleball" and the city or area you are traveling to.

Usually, clubs in larger cities will have a website with more detailed information on what the club offers, where there are playing venues, the cost to play, and any special programs they offer (like beginners' classes, levels of play times, social get togethers).

For example, on the home page of the Anchorage Pickleball Club (https://www.anchoragepickleballclub.com/), they feature their monthly schedule, which typically has up to six events throughout the month. These are special events like tournaments or recurring events like clinics. On their "Places to Play" page, they list outdoor and indoor places with the times and cost to play. Other web pages on their site offer resources and information on pickleball in general, local equipment dealers, and their membership signup.

Yearly dues are a very reasonable $25 a year for adults, $15 for 18 and under. For that you get:

Opportunity to register before non-members for events

Discount on all events (non-members pay $15 more for all events)

Access to "members only" section on website

Company discounts, which are in the members only section

Secondary insurance for all players

Monthly news blast

This is what a club with nearly 600 members can offer for a very reasonable membership fee. Plus, those 600 members have a strong voice in advocating for their sport.

In Homer, where I live, I've been helping the local pickleball community start a club. A startup committee of four people, myself included, has forged ahead and become an Alaska non-profit corporation with a recently granted Federal 501(c)(3) charitable status. This was done under the direction of a loose band of about a dozen people who are, in turn, a part of about 125 folks from a collected email list. That list is the product of signups at the two indoor facilities we use in Homer: the city run HERC (Homer Education and Recreation Center) and the SPARC (South Peninsula Athletic and Recreation Center).

We sent out two surveys to the email list before we took the plunge and filled out the paperwork to the state and the Feds. The first survey, using the free Google Forms program, asked people general demographics questions -- where they lived, seasonal residents, how often they played, player level -- and then asked if they wanted to start a club, how much would be a reasonable membership fee to join. It also asked if they would be willing to volunteer in the club, and in what capacity.

This gave us a general idea of the interest in forming a club. Out of the 125 emails to which we sent this survey, we received 45 responses, a 36% response rate. It also gave us a good idea of what people thought was a reasonable membership fee. We knew we'd have to propose higher membership dues than Anchorage because of our smaller player numbers in the area.

Our second email was a one-question survey that asked which type of membership the person would potentially sign up for:

Single player, $35

Family (two or more in same household), $55

Half-year Single player, $30

Half-year Family (two or more), $50

Again, we received 44 responses to our email blast, and from the collected responses we determined that membership fees would generate about $2,000 the first year. We may have put the cart before the horse, in that the cost of filing for corporation and charitable status, plus liability insurance and other financial necessities (like a website) would leave us very little cash on hand to do the things we had intended to do, like purchase equipment and sponsor tournaments. But, in for a penny, in for a pound!

We mirrored the Anchorage club's benefits to some extent, but we had to back off the promise of new equipment, at least in the first year. We began to see the biggest advantage of forming a club was the status a formalized organization would give us for advocacy and future fundraising.

Here is the process I used to create our non-profit club. Necessary disclaimer: I'm not a lawyer, your process may be different:

1. Obtain an Alaska business license ($50 a year);

2. Create your bylaws that include the following specifics. These should also go in your state Articles of Incorporation. You should research the specific language:

a. limit the purpose to tax exempt purposes,

b. net earnings not benefiting anyone,

c. what happens to assets upon dissolution

3. File for your State of Alaska Articles of Incorporation ($50);

4. File an Initial Report with the Dept. of Corporations;

5. Obtain an Employee Identification Number (EIN) from the IRS (free);

6. File your IRS form 1023, the Federal 501(c)(3) tax exempt application ($275);

7. After you receive your approval letter from the IRS, register as an Alaska Charitable organization ($40) with the Alaska Dept. of Law.

That's a bit of work, and it helps to have someone who has gone through the process shepherd you through the paperwork and online filing. Reach out to an established sports non-profit in your area to see if they can help.

This Chamber of Commerce website has a pretty good primer for creating a non-profit in Alaska. https://www.chamberofcommerce.org/nonprofit/alaska.

Homer is in the midst of planning a community recreation center, and we want to work with other non-profit sports groups to see this happen. As a club, now we can advocate with a single and loud voice the specific needs of our pickleball community to our city government. Is that worth $35 to $55 a year? We'll know a few years down the road. Stay tuned.

Next column: Focusing on high-percentage shots.

Jim Lavrakas has lived in Alaska for almost a half century. The self-proclaimed "squirrel man" has found a lively outlet in the pursuit of pickleball. You can reach him at http://www.FarNorthPress.com.

 
 
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