NOTES ON FAN CLUBS
Having run KMAS, Inc. for as long as we did, myself and the other members of the board of directors encountered many of the typical highs and lows of fan club organization and participation. Here are a few words of advice for prospective and present fan club presidents, which you may take or leave as you will.
AN OFFICIAL FAN CLUB FOR A CELEBRITY IS A BUSINESS, WHETHER OR NOT IT'S INCORPORATED AS SUCH.
Treat it as such. Keep any and all correspondence, documents, and income separate from your own, Make sure your records are thorough and comprehensible. As soon as it's feasible, open a separate bank account for all club funds; never mix them with your own, even if you used your own money to start the club (if you must, pay yourself back with a club check after documenting all the expenses). Make sure your bookkeeping is such that if your honoree, your members or the IRS demands an accounting of club funds, you can provide it. This is to protect you as much as it is to protect the club and the honoree.
Don't try to run a fan club all by yourself, or with only a couple of friends. You need people with diversified interests and skills: those who are good writers, those who are good with numbers, those who get along well with people, those who understand publicity and public relations, etc. Be prepared for some tensions and some competitiveness regarding the celebrity. Try to recruit people from within the club who seem dedicated to the interests of fans, rather than trying to gain access or popularity. Pick some people whose views don't always agree with your own; while you need to be able to get along with the other officers, differences of opinion and expertise make for stronger leadership potential.
AN OFFICIAL FAN CLUB FOR A CELEBRITY IS NOT A DEMOCRACY.
Get used to this phrase, because you're going to need to repeat it more than once. There are several reasons for this crucial rule:
1) Most fan clubs are presided over by a person or a few people whom a celebrity or manager has come to trust, based on personal contact and long-term reliability. Most fan clubs start as small, homespun organizations, and are accorded sanctioning based on the honoree's impression of the fan club creator(s). When an honoree gives sanctioning to a club, in many cases he or she is really granting permission to the leaders to run it. That sanctioning will not necessarily be transferable to a new leader.
2) Some members will complain that it is horribly unfair if they won't ever have a chance to try to become president of the club. Tell them that it is in the best interest of the club and ALL the members to ensure that only someone already known and trusted by the honoree and/or that person's management holds the position. If the honoree isn't comfortable with the people running the club, there isn't going to be a club for long. It is also of vital importance that the officers and/or board of directors get along and work together well. While there is always the risk of cliquishness in an organization that doesn't support open elections, a track record of appointment based on involvement and support for the club will enable the officers to defuse such accusations.
3) Stalkers are a real problem. Make certain you have bylaws in place so you can remove them from your club and limit your liability for actions they may take in the club's name. If at all possible, don't use your home address as the club's address. Save any troubling or threatening mail; if you feel it is necessary, forward it to your honoree's manager.
4) There are fans who may not represent a physical hazard for celebrities, yet will nonetheless do everything in their power to bully, domineer and dictate their own interests to your honoree and other fans. Fan clubs have a right and an obligation to restrict or deny memberships to people who cross the lines of propriety and good taste, as well as those who directly violate a celebrity's privacy. Make sure you and your fellow officers include provisions in your bylaws for removing members who make inappropriate demands on your honoree. Even if those people are not breaking the law or violating specific club rules, they can cost you the trust of the honoree and other members.
5) Make sure all club members understand that being a member of a club does not mean that they have the right to speak for the club, either to celebrities or other fans. If people don't want to join a club with such restrictions, let that be their choice.
AN OFFICIAL FAN CLUB IS NOT PRACTICING CENSORSHIP BUT COMMON SENSE IF IT REFUSES TO SANCTION SLANDER, INNUENDO, OR HURTFUL MATERIAL ABOUT ITS HONOREE OR MEMBERS, OR IF ITS LEADERS REFUSE TO DISCLOSE PRIVATE INFORMATION ABOUT ITS HONOREE OR MEMBERS.
Within private organizations, management is entitled to restrict certain forms of discourse without infringing on free speech. Just because your members pay dues, that does not give them the right to have access to all the same information you have access to as a club officer. It is not only your right but your responsibility to keep certain information (the honoree's address and phone number, for instance) from members. It is also not only your right but your responsibility to monitor publications and public message boards or mailing lists that fall under the auspices of the club. You can be held accountable if libelous information is disseminated via a club mailing list or newsletter. Your club can be shut down at the honoree's whim if members ask inappropriate personal questions or make offensive comments, and you appear to be condoning such behavior. Again, if people object to such restrictions, remind them that they are free not to become members.