Ham Radio Organizations, Revisited

About a month ago, I posted some ideas about how we might change the way ham radio is organized locally.  You can read that post, but basically, I think that we need are “real” nonprofit organizations, with paid staff, to promote ham radio and conduct ham radio activities.

I talk up this idea whenever I can, most recently in an e-mail exchange with my friend, Ralph, AA8RK. He challenged me, “What, in simple terms, would be the mission of this nonprofit? What would the money be used for?”

I replied, “A simple mission statement might be ‘to provide opportunities for people to become amateur radio operators and to become better amateur radio operators.'” Thinking about this some more, I think a good mission statement could be crafted around the five bases of amateur radio as spelled out in Part 97.1, “Basis and Purpose.” Each of those are great goals to strive for.

As for how we would use the money, I came up with the following list off the top of my head:

  • Provide more training than just quarterly one-day Tech classes, such as General and Extra classes, basic electronics and antenna classes, and emergency communication training.
  • Provide leadership training and perhaps other types of support services to ham radio clubs.
  • Operate publicly-accessible ham radio stations and workspaces, such as our station at the Hands-On Museum.
  • Run a “lending library” of equipment, such as beginner transceivers, antenna analyzers, and other test equipment.

These are things that clubs or the sections could do, but rarely do because they’re all-volunteer organizations. All-volunteer organizations can only do so much.

Anyone have any thoughts about this? Anyone good at fund raising that might want to join with me and start raising some dough?




  1. Martin AA6E says:

    You need an economic model. A non-profit with 2 FTE staff is going to need a budget of $100-200K. Where is that money going to come from? Not from your local ham club or a regional group of them. Another way to look at this is that 160K ARRL members pay $39 a year to get QST, national representation in Washington, contesting, DX, and EMCOM support, and all those good things. With dues, publications sales, extra donations, and a little endowment income, ARRL has around 100 paid FTEs and many volunteers. I have wondered if ARRL could open regional staffed offices for local support, but the economics don’t seem to work.

    It seems that the only way to get something like this to fly is to find sources of funds beyond amateurs themselves. Or to find 100s amateurs willing to spend serious money – $100 to $1,000 a year – for the local office.

  2. Elwood Downey says:

    I get the same feeling as Martin, the money won’t be there.

    Maybe go the other way around: approach a community college with a curriculum of classes they could offer. There’s some overlap with existing electronics classes, public service might fit in with business or leadership tracts, and they probably already have some lab equipment. This way they raise the money and, if there’s enough students, they pay you to teach.

  3. Dan KB6NU says:

    Martin, more than an economic model, this idea needs a business plan, or whatever they call it in the nonprofit world. And, yes, some of the money would have to come from sponsors, but that’s how “real” nonprofits fund their projects and programs.

    Elwood, approaching community colleges might be a good idea, but the community college here has all but abandoned its electronics program.

    I guess in the end it comes down to commitment, and apparently, there just aren’t enough “committed” hams around now to make this work. I’m going to keep flogging this idea, though. Who knows? Maybe it will strike a chord with someone.

  4. Elwood Downey, WB0OEW says:

    I feel bad that I just blasted your idea at point blank range. Ham radio is a great hobby, and I’m sure there are lots more folks who would enjoy the hobby if only they could started. I want to encourage you and anyone who has ideas on how to share the challenges and fun of ham radio.

    Your mission statement already implies a key point: it basically takes two kinds of efforts. The first is to improve awareness which means advertising in all its varied forms. Ignore the skills at this point, just focus on the wow factors. That will get more folks interested and some will get licensed. But then the next effort has to be keeping them engaged and growing until they reach a critical mass where they are self sustaining, otherwise they will fade away again. This is not an indictment of people today, just a fact of society now where we are constantly being pulled in so many directions.

    So with any given budget, it might help to start by deciding which of these two ends of the spectrum you want to focus on first. Your task list covers the entire range so maybe take one and start there. Ironically, you might have a better chance of raising support if you have a narrower focus.

    Anyway, thanks for wanting to try things, that’s how everything starts.

  5. Dan KB6NU says:

    Not a problem. All constructive criticism is acceptable. :)

  6. Elwood Downey, WB0OEW says:

    There’s a post today related to this thread over on http://frrl.wordpress.com . The premise there is young folks want to see how ham radio is relevant in a world that is already well connected. I’m not so sure they do. Hobbies don’t need to be sold on the basis of being “relevant”. Whenever the topic comes up, I just say I enjoy ham radio as a hobby and it is occasionally quite useful for public service. I don’t apologize for it compared to a cell phone or the web at all. Besides, over selling just pegs the BS meter and then you’re dead for sure.

    So, whatever you do in your outreach, just tell it like it is.

    • Dan KB6NU says:

      A guy I used to work with would always say, “[As long as it's not illegal or immoral,] you don’t have to justify your hobbies.” Like you, I normally just say that I am a ham radio operator because it’s fun. I like the comparison to sailing. There’s really no reason to sail anymore, except that it’s fun to do.

  7. I also use the “sailing” analogy, and actually thought it was original, but great minds run in the same path, as the old saying goes.

    How to promote Amateur Radio is a topic that always seems to be around. What attracted me was that many members of my family were and are hams. Lately my 40CW QSOs seem very often to be with men my age that have been hams since they were very young, as I have.

    People sometimes express surprise that ham radio still exists when I talk about it. It’s easy enough to direct them to news articles and information on the ‘net that proves that it does. Lately I try to emphasize the competitive nature of many ham activities (“radiosport”), thinking that since so many Americans are attracted by electronic games that it might generate some interest.

    Public service notwithstanding, amateur radio is a hobby. Hobbies are personal, and not subject to rational thought. I know people that play golf, fly model airplanes, hunt and fish, ride motorcycles, make quilts and knit baby clothes. It would be an exercise in futility to try to interest me in any of these activities. Ham radio is in my DNA. When I look at a tall tree I think about shooting a monofilament line over it. When I drive past Fort Lewis I never fail to notice the enormous log-periodic beam they have there. There are other signs and symptoms, but you get the idea.

    Other hobbies have weathered the ages, I think ours will too. Since it is technological, it has the quality of constantly changing with new discoveries and advances. Some of us, myself included, may not like the direction that Amateur Radio takes in the future, but I expect that it will continue, in some form.

    • Dan KB6NU says:

      I did not originate the sailing analogy, either, but I still think it’s a good one.

      Another way to promote ham radio is the DIY nature of it. There’s been a huge resurgence of “doing it yourself” and when I talk up this aspect of the hobby, it resonates with doers and “makers.” For the last several years, amateur radio has been part of the MakerFaires in Northern California and here in Detroit. This year, I’ll be giving a Morse Code demonstration there.

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