All sports clubs are essentially membership bodies that exist for, and because of, the people at the club; members, players and participants.
Becoming a two-tier charity with a membership is a powerful model for a sports club. By empowering a wide range of people around a specific cause, the model enables clubs to grow stronger, impact society and have a sustainable funding stream.
This article looks at the nuances of structuring a membership for a sports club charity, focusing on managing memberships, membership fees and benefits such as gift aid.
The details of a member’s rights vary depending on the legal structure of the charity and the charity’s membership rules but in general members have the following powers:
- remove and replace directors/trustees
- amend constitutional documents
- approve transactions between company and directors/trustees
- control any remaining assets when the charity is wound up
It is the trustees who have day-to-day control over the charity’s operation so the membership power with the most impact is the election of charity trustees.
Sports clubs with a two-tier membership (as opposed to a single tier of just Trustees) are likely to also have a separate document governing the terms of membership. The terms of membership should include reference to the following items, some of which are discussed more in the remainder of this post.
- Who can join?
- Are there any membership criteria?
- What fees are payable?
- What benefits come with membership?
- How long does membership last and how is it renewed?
- In what situation can members be barred or removed?
- How are membership terms reviewed and amended?
By their nature, charities’ memberships need to be open to a sufficient section of the public and their structures ought to be for the public benefit.
When deciding whether a club has fees/costs that represent a ‘significant obstacle’ you must check:
- whether the club charges membership fees over £1,612 a year
- if the costs associated with being a member of the club are more than £520 a year
- where costs associated with being a member are more than £520 a year, whether the club makes a satisfactory provision for those that cannot afford to pay more than this amount
If a club charges any member more than £1,612 a year for membership fees then it would not be considered open to the whole community – therefore you may wish to consider breaking down aspects of this fee, i.e. what is membership and what is for services?
In order to be a more inclusive organisation, you may wish to set membership fees at different levels. For example, you could have concessionary rates (for young people, senior citizens, etc) and gold membership for more affluent members. For special members you could provide extra benefits such as discounts on training or events where they can get to mingle with important people.
Membership Fees and Gift Aid
One of the main advantages of a sports club becoming a charity is the ability to claim Gift Aid on membership fees, something unavailable to Community Amateur Sports Clubs. Gift Aid is a scheme enabling registered charities to reclaim tax on a donation made by a UK taxpayer, effectively increasing the amount of the donation by 25%.
There’s a statutory requirement, under Gift Aid, for payments to be gifts. This means that payments that are made to acquire goods or services are not eligible for Gift Aid. However, there are rules within the Gift Aid legislation that allow charities to provide donors with token benefits, within specified limits, in recognition of their gifts.
Most membership subscriptions are not gifts, they’re made to gain access to the facilities and services provided by the charity. However, membership subscriptions paid to charities that secure voting rights and the right to attend a charity’s AGM are gifts provided they do not secure any right to the personal use of any facilities or services provided by the charity.
Membership subscriptions that secure the right to personal use of facilities or services are not gifts. So, for example, subscriptions to a sports charity are not acceptable if they secured for members the free or discounted use of, say, a golf course or a swimming pool or the viewing of films that are not available on similar terms to non-members.
Where a charity separates that part of the membership subscription that simply gives the basic rights of membership and does no more than cover the basic administration costs of the charity from any part that relates to the provision of services or facilities the membership element can be a gift. So, for example, a sports charity that charges a basic membership subscription, with additional, variable, training or playing charges depending on the member’s standard, could regard the basic membership as a gift. The additional training or playing charges could not be treated as gifts. A charity that charges a standard membership fee that covers membership and participation could not treat any part of the subscription as a gift if participation in the activities involved personal use of services or facilities.
Be sure to speak to us about incorporating as a charity, registering and claiming Gift Aid, our preferred membership management systems and/or general advice around structuring and improving your membership.