Membership, Fees & Gift Aid for your Sports Club

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.

Memberships

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?

Membership Fees

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. 

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Behind the Goals with David Nicol of SMISA

We caught up with St. Mirren Independent Supporters Association & Championship winners St Mirren Director David Nicol to talk all things fan ownership, fan director, supporter liaison officers and community benefit at the Paisley club.

If you’re supportive of our work and the content we’re producing, please do consider supporting through a small monthly financial donation via our Patreon channel. We aim to keep all our resources, guidance and documents free of charge to ensure we can help support as many clubs and fans as possible. 

The Masterclass Series: Volunteering with Erin Fulton

The third in our Masterclass series, this week on Behind the Goals we speak to Erin Fulton, Volunteer & Interns Manager at PAS about volunteering for community sport clubs.

If you’re supportive of our work and the content we’re producing, please do consider supporting through a small monthly financial donation via our Patreon channel. We aim to keep all our resources, guidance and documents free of charge to ensure we can help support as many clubs and fans as possible. 

Behind the Goals with Austin MacPhee of AMS

We made the trip to AMS, a charitable organisation which uses football as a means to support education, employability and sports development in Fife. An SFA Legacy Mark club, it was set up by Austin MacPhee, who is also assistant manager for Hearts and Northern Ireland.

A fascinating character, Austin filled us in about his career as a player and about the experiences which inspired him to set up AMS, and his perspectives on the game.

Supporters Direct Scotland are proud to support AMS through their Club Development Scotland unit, where they offer ongoing support in the areas of development, governance and finance. Want to find out how we can help support your club? Get in touch.

Why Clyde FC became a Community Interest Company

Clyde FC adopted a ‘Community Interest Company’ structure in 2010 which allowed fans to have a share in the club and giving them a vote on club affairs. Their website on the move reads:

Clyde FC has gone back to where it began in the 1870s, as a sports club owned by its supporters and dedicated to working within its community. That step into history is your opportunity to take the club forward.

Now, as a Owner of Clyde CIC you will have a meaningful say in the running of Clyde FC.”

That’s because:

  • You have a vote and as every Owner’s vote is equal, your vote really counts
  • You will actually be part of the democratic process that adopts club policy
  • The articles of association guarantee transparency and accountability in the running of the club
  • More than ever before this is your club.

Here is an interview with former Clyde FC chairman John Alexander about why the club adopted this legal structure.

Most examples of supporter ownership appear to come from a crisis situation. Why should a club adopt a fan owned model if they are currently successful or not in any financial trouble?

I would argue that that most clubs are already in supporter ownership. So the challenge is why are they not in a more representative ownership structure. Recognising that clubs are already supporter owned takes away one of the major gripes of club directors who get irritated that nobody seems to recognise that they are supporters when espousing the benefits of supporter ownership.

A club should only adopt a representative model if they see that it meets their strategic objectives. Being in financial trouble should not be a reason to be supporter owned. Whatever legal/ownership structure gets a club out of trouble is good. We all want our clubs stable and secure and we are all less interested in the ownership model than we are in having a successful club. Not a popular view, but it is honest.

A club should therefore adopt a broad based ownership model if having greater engagement with customers is recognised as something that could lead to greater success (the definition of success will vary from club to club). I don’t think there is any business that would not want to have significantly increased engagement with stakeholders, but they are probably businesses that would know how to deal with challenging engagement. For instance, all listed companies have to deal with stakeholder engagement and the vast majority of them are not controlled by a single individual and they are often very successful.

How much of a factor was the move towards a Community Interest Company structured club in the abolition of the club’s debt?

For Clyde, the switch to a CIC came long after the financial troubles, we still had debt but we were in a stable structure of collective supporter ownership but it was structured through 3 companies. One  of our reasons to become a CIC was to simplify our legal structure into a single company. Debt reduction was in no way linked to the historic finances.

Why should other clubs adopt the CIC structure?

No easy answer. The reality is that a CIC structure is not a silver bullet for the ills of the game – which are many. The start point is at each individual club where they need to consider their medium and long term succession plans and strategic objectives for the club.

Having done that it is possible to establish what legal/ownership structure would best support the club in delivery of those objectives. One of our objectives was to improve corporate and financial governance and that was achieved by making the board directly accountable to the supporters on a one person one vote system. However, we did not need to convert to a CIC to achieve that, it just set it more in stone. A major factor for us in choosing a CIC was a marketing issue – we wanted it clear that we were a community club and that the community had to be part of building the club. This is a very difficult message to sustain within a football club unless it is already in their DNA, it was not in ours. We were clear that the future of the club lay in being a community focussed club so wanted to ensure that future club leadership could not easily revert to an unsustainable model of operation.

Was the transition to a CIC club a smooth one? What advice would you have for any clubs considering doing the same?

Technically it was very easy, I understand company law and guided the lawyers through what I wanted and I used lawyers that could make sure that what I wanted was delivered. Our bigger challenge was communicating it to stakeholders, amongst whom there was some opposition. We put a great deal of effort into communication and explaining the benefits – the benefits are not generic and are specific from club to club, so when we cited examples that related to our club then they were fully understood. The same examples of benefit might not be relevant to another club. There are a few things we might have done differently but not many.

The advice I would give is that anyone considering becoming a CIC should not rush it and should not do it unless they have established that it would support their strategic objectives. They should also take good advice as there is an element of creativity in thought that is required to manage a transition. It is possible to achieve the same perceived benefits that a CIC delivers within a standard Ltd company structure with no need to convert to a CIC – so the advice is to start with the objectives in mind and retrofit a legal structure, do not decide on legal structure first.

How does the club use CIC to set its goals both on and off the pitch?

The honest answer is that it doesn’t. On the pitch is not linked to being a CIC. The off the pitch activities, which are growing, meet and exceed CIC regulator objectives but these are just part of our model of operation now and would happen whether we were a CIC or not.