In the 60s and 70s, when I got into ham radio, clubs thrived. The Hazel Park Amateur Radio Club, for example, used to hold its general membership meetings in an elementary school gymnasium and 100 or more people would show up for the meetings.
Lately, however, many clubs have fallen on hard times. Membership is down, and consequently, so is attendance at meetings. This phenomenon, brought to light in the book Bowling Alone, is not limited to ham radio, but it’s especially disappointing to those of us who remember how much fun attending ham radio club meetings used to be.
At the recent ARRL Great Lakes Division Convention (Sept. 6, 2003 in Findlay, OH), the ARRL Affiliated Club Coordinators for Michigan and Ohio, Sanra KG8HM and Brenda KB8IUP, conducted a session aimed at helping clubs attract new members and increase attendance. Instead of giving a presentation, the moderators decided to just let the attendees talk about what was working (or not working) with their clubs. Although the session lasted only an hour, a lot of good ideas were discussed.
Reeling Them In
Perhaps the most important thing a club can do is have interesting speakers at its meetings. One thing that was surprising to me is that several people mentioned that the topics don’t have to be related to amateur radio. One club, for example, had great attendance the evening they scheduled someone from the state transportation department to speak about the construction of a local bridge. Others were successful when inviting representatives from the local fire department or police department to talk about their communications systems.
Another attendee brought up the idea of having a speaker’s bureau. One of the moderators noted that this had been tried in the past, but with limited success. Another attendee noted that they had tried one time to get a speaker from the bureau, but that the speaker never seemed to be available. There was always some reason that the speaker had to excuse himself.
One thought that occurs to me is that a list of topics posted on a website somewhere would be a good resource for clubs searching for ideas. This would be relatively simple to implement, so I’m putting it on my list of features to add to the ARROW website.
Classes Bring In New Members
I mentioned the Hazel Park ARC earlier. One of the reasons they are so successful is that they have been conducting ham radio classes for many years. The graduates provide a never-ending stream of new members for the club. They’ve been so successful at training new hams, that they say that they have practically exhausted the local population, and have started reaching out to neighboring communities.
Other folks mentioned that they also hold classes and do things to attract the graduates to their clubs. One club, for example, mentioned that they treat graduates to a pizza dinner. Other clubs–including ARROW–give graduates a one year free membership.
Tapping the ARRL
Finally, the moderators pointed out that the ARRL does have some resources available to help clubs. One resource, obviously, is the Affiliated Club Coordinator. He or she can help if you’re club is in the doldrums.
Another resource is Club Companion page of the ARRL website. On this page, you’ll find news about other clubs around the country, which could help you plan events for your club, and articles about club promotion and putting out a newsletter. There’s also a pointer to the Active Club Online Primer, a new publication that combines and updates two ARRL favorites: The Club President’s Workbook and the Special Service Club Manual.
Having strong clubs helps amateur radio. They help bring us together in emergencies and help us to speak with one voice to authorities. They also make ham radio more fun, and that alone is a goal worth striving for.