4 September 2008

Starting a Collector Car Club

My favorite car club started when a man from California couldn’t find a grille for a 1926 coupe he was restoring. He ran an ad in a hobby publication and, before long he had his grille and 200 new friends. The number of people interested in his type of car inspired him to start a club that now has 12,000 members throughout the world — which goes to show you how many people love collectible cars.

You may not have such a big organization in mind, but this article will give you advice that’s useful for starting a club of any size and making it successful.

Why Start a Collector Car Club?


As a rule, collector car clubs form: 1) to preserve classic cars; 2) to promote interest in antique and classic cars; 3) to help antique and classic car owners network; 4) to provide classic car owners with social activities and 5) to help classic car owners fix and maintain their cars. Clubs hold meetings, distribute newsletters or magazines, plan shows, publish books, make reproduction parts, sell club garments, hold tech sessions and pool resources to organize club workshops.

You should first answer a few questions to see if a new collector car club is needed. Are there similar clubs? Will starting a club solve a problem? Can the club provide needed services? Can your club attract enough collector car enthusiasts to grow? Will other collector car owners benefit from your club? After answering these questions, you’ll know why you are starting a club.

Picking a Good Name Is Important


Picking a good name for your classic car club is important. Let’s say you decided to call it “The Collector Car Club of Tuxedo Junction.” By limiting the focus to “Tuxedo Junction,” you have scared away members who live just outside the city limits. The name you pick should draw as many people with a common interest as possible. It should also be short, simple and easy to remember. Because many clubs wind up being referred to by their initials, a club’s acronym should have a ring to it. For example, Wisconsin ’s Ripon Area Car Enthusiasts Club is also known as the RACE Club, a name that rolls off the tongue and sticks in your memory.

A Good Club Needs a Good Constitution

One of the strengths of America ’s Constitution is that the framers of the document worked so hard to get it right the first time. After determining why you want to start a collector car club and picking a name for the club, you will be faced with the job of creating a framework on which to “build” the club. Get it right! Often, it’s best to avoid the “committee approach” during this phase. Leadership is needed to get the ball rolling. Basic decisions are best left to a small number of people or even one person. Most good car clubs have one or two founders who start the ball rolling in the right direction. Once the club is formed, refinements can always be made. Few car clubs get bogged down on parliamentary procedures. Most use Roberts Rules of Order Newly Revised as the basis for conducting meetings.

The foundation of the club — the structure on which it’s built — will be its constitution and bylaws. 

Dues

Setting proper dues is important. In general, it isn’t a good idea to “guestimate” the costs you’ll run into (postage, printing, trophies, etc.) and “back out” the amount of dues. For one thing, your estimates could be way off. In addition, your dues will have to be competitive with that of other clubs. It’s far easier to base your dues on hobby standards, get as many memberships as you can through good promotion, and then create a budget to keep your expenses in line with income. Make the services match the income, instead of going the other way around.

Incorporating

Incorporation of your collector car club is a good idea. This sets up the organization as a separate legal entity. There are tax implications that being incorporated will help you deal with. Corporations have certain legal rights that individuals do not have. Getting your club incorporated makes it look more official and stable. It’ll help if you want to trademark the club name and/or logo too. For information about getting a trademark, contact the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Being incorporated also makes the organization, rather than the individual officers, liable if any legal problems should arise. If nothing else, this will make people more comfortable in serving the club as an officer.

Statement of Principles

One final important step in organizing your new car club is to create a statement outlining the principles of your group. This should cover many of the same points addressed in your club constitution but be expressed in simple prose. Once you state the club’s principles, they can be used to promote new memberships. The statement of principles will also be helpful if you decided to file for tax-exempt status. The first part of your club constitution can easily be reworded to create your statement of principles, for example:

We the members of Your Collector Car Club Inc., a nonprofit educational and social club, are committed to the goals of: (1) gaining information about collectible automobiles; (2) exchanging ideas among the many collector car owners throughout the world; and (3) helping people throughout the world to better enjoy the collector car and its history through the publications, shows, events and other activities organized and sponsored by our membership for public enjoyment.

Nonprofit status for tax purposes is commonly referred to as “501(c)(3)” status after the Internal Revenue Code section of the same name. 501(c)(3) status allows a club to receive donations for which donators can receive a tax write-off. Depending on local law, 501(c)(3) status can also allow a club to receive benefits and breaks that ease a charitable mission, such as being eligible for reduced government fees, or exempt it from certain laws, such as those against running a raffle.

John “Gunner” Gunnell is the automotive books editor at Krause Publications in Iola, Wis., and former editor of Old Cars Weekly and Old Cars Price Guide.

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