From the Corner Office

From the Corner Office: Jim Singerling, Club Managers Association of America

By Association Adviser staff • November 5, 2012

By Jill Andreu
This month’s Corner Office profile falls on James B. Singerling, CEO of The Club Managers Association of America (CMAA) based in Alexandria, Virginia. CMAA is the professional association for managers of membership clubs with close to 7,000 members.

ASSOCIATION ADVISER: What are the biggest challenges you're facing with respect to membership retention and CMAA’s value proposition?

JIM SINGERLING: It's a challenge to be proactive and have your finger on the pulse of what is going to affect your specific membership. There’s a continuous need to go out and actually show verifiable, quantifiable results so members can justify placing their confidence in you and their resources at your disposal.


Reacting and explaining after the fact why you’re so valuable [as an association] just isn't effective anymore. You have to go to into an initiative with the confidence of your constituency behind you. Trying to go forward without that base of support is a very difficult thing to do.


  • Reaching prospective members before they’ve officially begun their careers greatly increases your chances of having your profession’s “leaders of tomorrow” join your organization.
  • You need to test and explore all available forms of communication, but don’t discount the value of print media, face-to-face communication and other traditional forms of member communication.
  • If members feel they have a stake in your organization’s recruitment and growth plans, you’ll have a great (low-cost) means of achieving your marketing and promotion goals. The grass-roots, bottom-up flow of information will pay bigger dividends than the top-down approach.
AA: Are you finding any differences in the way that younger members and longer standing members engage with CMAA?
JS: As a professional [vs. trade] association, we have been pleased over the last 15 years to see the average age of members drop from 57 to 44. That shift ensures we have the leaders of tomorrow continuing to join and become a part of the work that we’re doing. I would suggest that embracing [prospective members] as we have at the undergrad level through student chapters has probably been the most significant factor to bringing the average age down. Making [prospective members] aware of who and what you are before they have developed an opinion instead of trying to change their opinion after the fact is a much stronger approach.

AA: What tools are you using to communicate with members and have those tools changed at all in recent years?

JS: Currently, we’re using Facebook and Twitter in addition to offering our brand pieces: our magazine [Club Management, published by Naylor] and our newsletters – all in electronic format as well as in print form in some cases. Long-term there may be a unilateral transition to digital format, but there is still a value to having something they can take with them if they really can’t read it on a PDA three-inch screen. I think using multiple formats for all communications pieces is essential in today’s’ world.


The thing you have to be most aware of is that in many cases the individuals holding the purse strings and signing the checks are generally of the more senior status. Although they may choose to purchase a new toy or a new communications device and see it as a toy, they may own it for 10 years and never understand its true capabilities. Following up with training and making the applications that you develop user-friendly to these varying age groups is going to be an essential part of moving more people to accept the digital formats.

[Article continues after Greg Norman sidebar]

Greg Norman’s DIN and DIP Philosophy

Greg Norman, PGA TOUR pro, winemaker, fitness enthusiast and entrepreneur, sat down recently with Club Management, the official magazine of the Club Managers Association of America. In this excerpt, he provides tips that can help business leaders improve efficiency by compartmentalizing all aspects of their lives.

CM: We talk a lot [in Club Management] about a work/life balance, and I’m thinking about the club manager who has to manage his time and his family, but you’re a pro golfer, you’re doing golf course design, you’re doing fitness. How do you keep all the balls in the air and stay successful on so many fronts?

GN: Well, I’m going to talk for myself here, but I like to compartmentalize my life and to be successful, I think you need to do that. Compartmentally, you say OK, I’m sitting here doing this interview now and I’m here for whatever, 20 minutes, 30 minutes, an hour, two hours, whatever it is, and you stay focused on it. There’s a little saying I have. DIN and DIP: do it now, and do it properly. Each project or each task you have at hand, if you do it now and do it properly, you’ll be surprised how much spare time you have at the end of the day.

I’ve gone to the driving range when I’ve hated going to practice for eight hours and I’d get out of bed and say, ‘Oh, do I have to do it today?’ I don’t want to do it today, I just want to do nothing today. But I’d get in my car and go, and the first half hour would be painful but then I’d get into it and leave seven hours later and say that was the best thing I did today. That’s where I came up with DIN and DIP, and then I have more time.

My whole day is compartmentalized to a degree, and there will be times when I won’t answer the phone or send an e-mail because I want to do something – I don’t care who calls. This is my time to do this, and when I’m done with that I can focus on the next thing.

CM: Did it take a long time for you to be able to stick to that? That’s a great philosophy, but sticking to it is another thing.

GN: I just learned that worked for me because I didn’t have a big support team or entourage like the kids have nowadays. They have their sport psychologists and their therapists and their masseuse and all of a sudden you look and they’re traveling with five or six people. There’s always someone doing something for them. I was on my own and traveled the world on my own. I left when I was 21, and no one told me what to do or how to do it, so I would figure it out. And I knew if I didn’t figure it out fast, then I wouldn’t be successful.

AA: How is CMAA integrating its various membership communications?
JS: The issue of integrating communications with our members isn’t about purchasing equipment and devices, but providing training and establishing a comfort zone with the applications. When you’re looking from RIM technology with BlackBerry and the iPhone technology via Apple, I believe we’ll continue to find those individual camps that embrace one and don’t want to talk about the other. Just as we have supplied information [to members] in print and digital formats, we’re going to have to continue to adapt to applications that come in very different styles.
AA: How has the advent of the Web, social networking, etc., impacted your communication strategy?
JS: We need to understand what is available to us as an association, but we still need to be sure that the membership and marketplace that we deal with will also accept these ideas and look forward to the changes we’re offering instead of dreading them.

 I think that’s all in how they’re presented. Transparency of the process leading up to change and creating anticipation is going to be essential. I don’t believe people will embrace every new idea – because they come so quickly now – simply because it comes from us [as an association]. We’re going to have to show value and also make sure [members] are educated about how these tools benefit them. Maybe we show the benefits of a new communications strategy as a lifestyle enhancement, maybe as professional development, or maybe as a tool for the overall improvement of the business culture in which they operate.

AA: Speaking of new communication platforms, how have things like the Web, blogging and social media impacted your communication strategy?
JS: We need to understand and explore all that is available out there, but we still need to ensure that our membership and marketplace will accept these ideas. We need to make sure they’re looking forward to the changes we’re offering — not dreading them.
AA: Can you tell us how CMAA generates non-dues revenue?
JS: We negotiate with national providers who provide industry-specific value in the products and services that our members use in their business, day in and day out. In my estimation, no longer will the offer of an affinity program be accepted just because your association says, ‘This has our brand on it, so use it.’
AA: What are the biggest challenges to growth in your industry and CMAA?
JS: We’ve been very fortunate to have averaged more than 90 percent retention of our members for 20 consecutive years. That may be unique; however, it hasn’t come without significant work on the culture that we offer to our members, which is not having a top-down-fed information stream. The grassroots, bottom-up feed of policy, programs and initiatives has generated a membership that takes ownership in the association. If you can let it be their idea and their initiative, you’ve gone a long way with marketing and promotion that doesn’t cost you a dime.
AA: Does CMAA have any strategy adjustments planned with regard to

policy (i.e., potential changes to healthcare legislation and tax-exempt status of not-for-profit organizations)?

JS: Yes, last year we adopted a collaborative approach to strategic issues that were of concern to not just our association, but associations of similar thought or similar background. These coalitions are available through the support of organizations like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. It doesn’t mean you have to give up your identity with regard to specific issues facing your industry and legislative liaisons. However, you also shouldn’t look beyond the value of coalitions similar to the U.S. Chamber. It’s a great example of the value of participating in a coalition with issues like healthcare, job benefits, job creation, tort reform, etc. that clearly have shown that collectively you can have a much greater impact than you can individually.
AA: What's keeping you up at night?
JS: Issues at the office have never kept me up at night because I feel I take care of that business every day. When I go home, I need to step away from it and gain perspective.


Issues that would keep me awake would be issues that would affect my immediate family – my children, my wife and the individuals personally close to me. Within the last 10 years, we’ve seen attacks on our personal lives that cause the greatest anxiety because we really don’t know collectively what we could do to change them.


Washington, it wasn’t just the Pentagon and it wasn’t the
Towers in
New York, but it was the follow-up of the Anthrax scares, the copycats, the planes circling around over

. Those personal threats are probably the things that have waned a bit now, but there’s the reference that there is a new normal today, and in my estimation, that’s a normal that carries with it a greater degree of anxiety than a human being has ever had to carry on a daily basis in previous generations.


The good thing is that young generations will grow up with that anxiety being part of their daily lives and they won’t see it as abnormal. With all of the challenges out there today, be it the economy, personal safety, moral and ethical norms that have seemed to completely gone away to some of us, I do believe that this is the brightest time in my life as a professional in the 45 years I’ve been working as an executive or as a CEO. I think we’re more alert, we have a better-educated workforce, and our country has more opportunity than has been available in my lifetime.

Jill Andreu is managing editor of Club Management magazine and a publisher in Naylor's Gainesville, Florida headquarters.

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