How to Start a Club
There are many steps involved in getting an investment club up and running, but fret not -- most of them are relatively straightforward. We've summarized many of them below and we've also prepared a short book, "Investment Clubs: How to Start and Run One the Motley Fool Way," which offers a concise coverage of what you need to know. If you're greedy for much more detail, check out the NAIC's "Starting and Running a Profitable Investment Club" by Thomas E. O'Hara and Kenneth S. Janke.
Below is a list of steps to help you along. It's fairly thorough, but isn't set in stone. We're mere Fools, remember, so we may well have left out a step or three. If you have any constructive feedback or suggestions, please share them on our Investment Clubs discussion board.
- Start talking with friends and see who's interested. It's best to gather a variety of people who will bring to the club a variety of interests, experiences, and perspectives. Once you find a few interested friends, let them invite a few of their own friends. Aim to form a club with roughly 10 to 15 members, give or take a few. Anything from 6 to about 20 is probably workable. Too few and you may have trouble accumulating funds to invest. Too many and you'll have trouble having quality discussions and finding a place to meet.
- Don't assume that you're doomed if your group is composed only of utter novices. That can be a very good thing. Sometimes, if you mix in some sophisticated investors with novices, the sophisticates can get bored or frustrated, and the novices can get intimidated. Don't doubt that a bunch of novices can tackle learning everything together. (Remember, you have a lot of resources to help you, such as the online community here at the Fool.)
- Distribute information about investment clubs to anyone who has expressed interest. Perhaps print out the material you've found here. You want people to learn what investment clubs are all about and think about whether they're really interested.
- Gather all interested parties for a preliminary meeting. Meet to discuss (A) whether you have enough in common, (B) how you'll be organized and run, and (C) whether people are still seriously interested in forming a club. The following items are things that you should try to agree on. It might be good to go around the room and get everyone's thoughts on each of these issues.
- Make sure that you all have similar or compatible investing goals. If some people want to double their money in two years and then get out, that's not only unrealistic, but also probably at odds with those who want to learn and slowly grow their savings.
- Agree on the amount of the monthly minimum contribution. You don't have to set this as high as possible. Remember that this is a learning activity, and you can always increase the amount at a later date. Many clubs allow members to contribute more than the monthly minimum level if they so desire. Also, contributions to the club shouldn't necessarily be the only investment you make. You might be contributing $25 per month to your investment club, but putting aside $150 per month for your personal savings and investing.
- To the degree that you can, agree on some common ground regarding a general investing philosophy and approach. As an example, perhaps you agree that Warren Buffett's approach is one you'd like to incorporate or emulate. Maybe many of you believe in Foolish investing tenets. Perhaps some want to find significantly undervalued stocks, while others want to find high-flying stocks. Differences don't necessarily represent a death knell, but it's good to start out knowing how everyone feels. And besides, many investment styles are not diametrically opposed. Fools and Warren Buffett have much common ground.
- Agree on a set of common-ground references, instructions, tools, and/or readings. Dare we be presumptuous enough to suggest that the "Motley Fool Investment Guide" or the "13 Steps to Investing Foolishly" could be such references? (Yes, we dare!) Peter Lynch's "One Up on Wall Street", "Beating the Street", and Learn to Earn are some other fine works. You might even all agree to subscribe to a certain magazine, such as SmartMoney, or to regularly read the Fool's news and commentary.
- Agree on a regular meeting time, place, length, and format. One reason to try and keep a club size to no more than about 15 people is that it permits meetings to be held in living rooms. Another possibility is to seek out some other space, like a local library or church. A coffeehouse or local watering hole might also work. Perhaps a member has an available meeting room at his workplace. Decide when you'll meet, and how often. Most clubs meet once a month. For the format, outline the various items of business you plan to cover at each meeting and allocate an amount of time for each. This will help you keep meetings running efficiently and prevent someone's report from going on for an hour and dragging things out too long. Most meetings will probably last between one and two hours.
- Agree on snacks. Snacks can be a very important part of any meeting. In unfortunate situations, it might even be what meeting attendees look forward to most. Your club can choose to bypass snacks -- or you can decide to take turns bringing donuts or cookies.
- You'll need a name for the club. You can be straightforward and name the club after something like your geographical region, or you can be creative. Names that some clubs have used include: The Money Makers, The Small Wonder Investment Group, Blue Chips and Salsa, The Common Bond Investment Club, Common Cents, The Fortune Seekers, The Steady Plodders, The Live and Learn Investors, The Silk STOCKings Investment Club, Stocks and Bonding, Blooming Assets, Lady Investigators, The Hounds of Xemba, The Stockettes, Fortune Hunters, Dynavestors, and so on. One group of women named their club the Stroke of Luck because they all met at a doctor's office. Their husbands had had strokes, leaving the women suddenly needing to take control of the family finances.
- We've covered a lot of ground so far. If this has taken a long while, you could close the first meeting and resume organizational discussions at the next. There's no rush. Below are more (yes, more) things to settle as you set up your club.
- Agree on how you'll be organized legally and operationally. The NAIC guide noted above and the Fool investment club book both include sample legal language for contracts and agreements. Some Fools online have also shared their agreements. This might sound scary, but you should realize that your $20 or $50 initial contributions will be growing into a significant pile of wealth. You'll need to have formal agreements in place to protect yourselves in case one member turns out to be a dastardly demon. Don't neglect this paperwork issue. For your club to be recognized as a legal entity, there are forms to fill out.
- As part of the previous discussion, you'll have determined how your club will be organized -- or at least will have begun talking about it. Finish that now. Agree on what responsibilities there are, and what kinds of officers you'll need to elect to take on these responsibilities. Clarify what the responsibilities of the officers, as well as club members, will be. (Remember that even regular, non-officer members have responsibilities.) Elect your officers in one of the first meetings. Typical clubs have:
- A president/presiding partner, who sets meetings, presides over them, and plans activities.
- A vice president/assistant presiding partner, who fills in when needed and might also run the education program.
- A financial partner/treasurer, who deals with the brokerage, buys and sells stock, and keeps records of the club's holdings as well as each member's share. (This needs to be a careful, detail-oriented, and responsible person.)
- A recording partner/secretary, who keeps minutes of each meeting, reminds members of meetings when necessary, and possibly mails out minutes to members who miss a meeting.
- Some clubs have a separate education officer, responsible for planning (with the input of the group) an educational program, which might include presentations, field trips, guest speakers, and assigned reading.
- Since you're likely to be a Foolish club, though, you might come up with some more inspired names for offices. Some examples are below:
- Big Kahuna
- Not-Quite-as-Big Kahuna
- High Priestess of Learning
- Foofah of Finances
- Head Honcho of Minutes and Agendas
- Superintendent of Snacks
- Assign someone to look into choosing a broker. Some clubs have traditionally favored full-service brokers, who'll provide some advice and guidance and perhaps even attend meetings on occasion. Contrary to this, Fools generally opt for discount brokers. Discount brokers may offer some research, but they won't tell you what to buy or sell. Since in a club your group should be calling its own shots, you don't need to pay hefty commissions to full-service brokerages. Discuss the differences between full-service and discount brokers and decide which you prefer. Consider taking advantage of the incredibly low commissions offered for online trading by discount brokers. Several are in the neighborhood of $8 or less per trade. Visit the Fool's Brokerage Center for more information about how to evaluate and choose a broker. You can actually sign up for an account there, too! (Do so and you'll help support the sponsors who keep Fool.com free.)
- Decide on an educational agenda. This will naturally change a bit over time, as you become more sophisticated investors. But it's important to start out with some kind of plan. Perhaps you want to take the first few months to learn how to read annual reports. If you're already comfortable with that, you might delve into various valuation methods. Discuss topics of interest and set up a plan for learning. A good way to start this discussion might be to go around the room and ask members to say what big questions they have about investing that they'd like answers to. If members think this would be too embarrassing, you could all write down lists of these questions anonymously and then collect and discuss them. (No one should be embarrassed, though -- your club should foster an open and unintimidating atmosphere.)
- Make a list of member interests and expertise. Here's why. As you begin hunting for companies in which to invest, you'll want to choose industries to study. As both Peter Lynch and the Brothers Gardner like to point out, it's a great strategy to "buy what you know." (Actually, it's probably best restated as "research what you know.") If you're in the chemical business, you might volunteer to look into companies in that industry, choosing a few for a close look. If a member is an avid golfer, she might look into golf-related companies. It's a good idea to make a list of the industries with which your club members are familiar. Even if someone's only hobby is hitting the malls every weekend, that's a great boon -- he'll be familiar with many retailers.
- Finally, agree to have fun and to keep your meetings friendly and cooperative. And please consider dropping us a note now and then with any experiences, suggestions, or even funny stories that you'd care to share. (Perhaps your group came up with some clever officer titles? Let's hear 'em!)