Setting Initial Goals for Your Club
by Douglas Gerlach

Congratulations! You've just started your new investment club. The members have all signed the paperwork, you've set a regular meeting schedule and elected officers, and -- now what? Obviously, you want to get started building a portfolio, but where exactly do you begin?

To find out, we spoke with Herb Barnett, the Chairman of the Computer Group Board of Directors of the National Association of Investors Corp. The Computer Group is the volunteer arm of the NAIC that supports computerized investing activities for members, including software, online services, and data. Herb has served on the Computer Group board since 1992, and is also a director of the NAIC's Pittsburgh Council near his home in Wexford, PA. He travels frequently, giving workshops across the country to investment club members, and occasionally has time for his business as a museum book publisher.

According to Herb, new clubs should focus on three main goals. First, says Herb, "active participation should be encouraged of each member, in one way or another." The basic essence of investment clubs is that they are a group activity, so if a few members don't get involved, the entire club can suffer.

Herb realizes that not all members will turn out to have the investing prowess of Peter Lynch, but that's okay. "Some members may never feel comfortable recommending a stock for purchase," he says, "but they should be encouraged to participate in some way that uses whatever abilities they have." Perhaps a less experienced club member could be responsible for making copies of Value Line reports of the club's stocks before each meeting, for instance. In some clubs, members report on recent books they've read, or make short presentations on a financial topic that's not about heavy-duty stock-picking.

The second goal, explains Herb, is "to concentrate on getting every member of the club trained in, and reasonably comfortable with, NAIC's Stock Selection Guide -- as soon as possible." The SSG, as its known, is NAIC's primary tool for making investing decisions. The two-page paper form looks intimidating at first, allows Herb, but with practice can be a decisive tool in analyzing a company's future growth prospects and current value. And, Herb hastens to add, NAIC does produce software that can greatly simplify the task.

Finally, Herb recommends that clubs "begin investing as soon as is practical, perhaps by enrolling in one or two dividend reinvestment plan (DRIP) stocks." NAIC's Low Cost Plan is a great way to get started investing in stocks without a lot of money. Clubs (as well as individuals) can buy a single share in any of about 150 companies for the purchase price plus a $7 fee. Many clubs sit around for a year or longer and never make any investments. "Buying a few shares like this," says Herb, "gives the club something tangible to focus on." As you follow your initial purchases, you'll surely learn a thing or too, even if some of your early purchases turn out to be mistakes.