Retaining New Club Members
by Tim Van Milligan of Apogee Components,
In this article, I'd like to talk about a
problem that many rocketry clubs experience; namely attracting and
retaining new club members. Without new members, the club goes through
a stagnation period where it seems that only the "same-old"
people show up at meetings and launches. To break out of this phase,
it is important that new members become involved with the club and
eventually take over important positions.
There are many good reasons why a club should
continue to grow, but the most important is to develop new friendships
and share the common passion of rocketry. Isn't that why we all
joined a rocket club in the first place?
I guess the first place to start the process
of getting new members is to stop; step back; and see where your
club is at the moment. Is it the same people at every meeting assuming
the responsibility of running the club? Is membership dwindling?
Are people getting bored?
I would suggest that at a "membership
meeting" all the current club members write down the benefits
of having the club. What does being a member mean? Can you get those
benefits on your own?
The second phase would be for the group to
jot down their goals for the organization. Would these goals mean
more benefits for the members? The more benefits you can offer new
people, the more inclined they will be to join the organization
and take part in it.
Finally, list all the reasons why getting
more people involved in the organization would be a good idea.
The purpose of this club evaluation is to
get everyone fired up about attracting new members. It also arms
them with ammunition to use when approaching other people about
becoming a member of the club. For example, when talking to someone
about the club, they can tell them many more benefits about being
in the club than they might have thought of before.
At this point, I think the club can start
to think about new ways of attracting new members. You have to start
with attracting a new person to the club before you can get them
to join. I would be willing to bet that at a club meeting, at least
20 new ways to get people to come out to a launch or meeting could
be put forward for more discussion.
But before your club goes out and implements
these new ideas, I would suggest that you also talk about retaining
the new members once they come out to a launch or meeting. What
steps will be taken to make sure they stay excited about being a
member of the club?
In my opinion, those are the basic steps involved
in getting new members to join a rocketry club. From that basic
discussion, I'm sure that any club could go out and double the size
of the club in a matter of months. What I'd like to do now is to
give a some specific examples and ideas that could be used in a
"new member" program.
As listed before, the first step would be
to list the benefits of being a member in a club. Here are some
examples. I'm sure there are many more, so write them down as fast
as you can think of them.
Benefits of Being
A Member In a Rocket Club
• You can launch rockets with others and develop friendships
with those people.
• Share the club resources so that the individual doesn't
have to buy lots of specialized equipment. For example: launch pads,
tower launchers, piston launchers, high current launch control systems.
• The club has established connections in the community, such
as getting permission to use certain launch sites.
• The club may have established good relationships with local
hobby stores, allowing discounts to club members for their own rocketry
• Members may be covered under the club's insurance policy
Setting Goals for
The second part of the "new membership" program
is to determine what new goals the club should try to consider undertaking.
There are many types of goals a club can establish. For example,
a club may set a goal of "education," where they try to
get school kids interested in rocketry and space exploration. That
is a very worthy goal, and I think these types of things should
be written down when doing a self-examination. But from the perspective
of attracting new members, you should try to think of as many goal
for the club that will add to the number of benefits for being a
Remember, the more goals you write down that have a new benefit
for the individual members, the easier it will be to attract and
retain new people.
Why Recruit New Members?
The last step in the "self-evaluation process"
was to list all the reasons why getting more people involved in
the organization would be a good idea. Here are some that I came
up with. You should add your own ideas to this list too.
• More people means more potential friends!
• It takes money to run the club, and if more people are involved,
the financial burden for the individual members is decreased. So
the individuals get "more bang for the buck" (pun intended).
• It takes people to accept the different leadership positions
in the club, so if more people are available, the same people may
not have to do all the work. This prevents burnout and keeps things
exciting for the "old gang."
Ways of attracting new members.
Here are just a few ways of attracting potential club members.
• Put up posters in all the local hobby stores.
• Have a launch at a popular local park when other activities
are going on. You always get people that come over to watch; and
they all say they used to launch rockets at one point during their
• Put on a demo at a airshow.
Attracting people interested in rocketry isn't
too hard in my opinion. Let's face it; rocketry is very fun and
addicting, so we've got a tremendous advantage over other hobbies.
Whenever a launch occurs in a populated area, people always come
out to watch. So do as many launches as you can in areas where a
lot of people can see you. I'm also sure you can think of many more
ways to advertise your launches, so I'll leave you to generate those
Retaining New Members
I believe that turning those new people that come out to
one launch into long time club members is much more difficult than
getting them to come to that launch to begin with.
The first step in this process is to make
a good first impression. When a person comes out to a launch, you
must make them feel welcome.
A big part of this is telling the new person
the benefits of being part of the club. Your club might print up
a simple little promotional flier to hand out to watchers at a launch.
And before they leave, by all means, get their
name and address so you can send them a reminder note about the
next launch or meeting.
Hopefully by this point you've convinced them
to join the club. With all those great benefits, who wouldn't join?
Getting Long Term Commitment
Now, what do you do to make sure they come
to the meetings, launches and sign up again when their membership
First, I think some type of membership packet
should be given to every newbie as soon as they fork over their
dues. Most clubs fall down on this step. If you compare rocketry
to other organizations, the good ones all give the new person something
"tangible" to show that they are a member of the group.
This would be the "membership packet."
Someone must take the time to put it together.
So the first step would be to elect a "membership chairman"
whose job it is to put together this packet.
A club could probably get a local hobby store
to give a special deal for clubs, and I (at Apogee) would also give
a special promo to a newbie joining up. It might be as simple as
a free data sheet.
Use Club Meetings
as a Tool to Retain Members
The final part in retaining members (old and new) is by
keeping them interested in rocketry. This is where the club meetings
and launches come in. They need to be kept interesting and fun where
a new person could gain new friends and have a good time. The meeting
is particularly important in northern climates where long winters
and cold weather can prohibit launches, making it easier for members
to forget about rocketry.
The way to keep the general membership excited
about the meetings is to take all the boring "business stuff"
out of them. You might consider having two separate meeting, one
where only business stuff is discussed, and the "general"
meeting where only fun stuff takes place. If it is too much of a
problem to have the meetings on separate days, then maybe consider
having the business meeting just prior to or just after the general
membership meeting, where new people don't feel obligated to attend.
The general membership meetings should have
only one purpose: to be fun. Start them by welcoming new members
and visitors. Then give them a very brief and quick synopsis of
what will be discussed in that particular meeting. You want to get
to the fun stuff as quickly as possible. You must remember that
you are competing for their spare time, and they could easily stay
home and watch TV.
After welcoming newbies and doing the emergency
business stuff, it is time to start making the people that came
glad to be there. One good way to do this is to hand out as many
rewards and recognition as possible. The more people you can recognize,
the better. Every individual on the planet likes attention, and
if your club can satisfy their ego; odds are that they will enjoy
the meeting and continue to support the club with their membership.
But the general club meeting should be more
than just handing out recognition. It also needs to be entertaining.
The first way to make them more entertaining
that comes to mind is to have a rocket building session. It isn't
always necessary to built an entire kit in a session; maybe just
demonstrate a single technique that modelers haven't grasped yet.
Something similar to a building session is
a competition strategy session. In this meeting, you can review
the rules of a competition event (how not to be disqualified) and
some hints and tips of how to win. Those clubs that have tried this
type of meeting have found that participation in contests increases
The Club Newsletter
The newsletter is an important tool to use to maintain excitement
about being a member of the club. I don't think that any club should
be without one. Besides passing on important club business information
like meeting dates, launch schedules, treasury and committee reports,
the other stuff you can put into the newsletter is what the members
joined the club to get. Modelers want plans, kit reviews and scale
data! So give it to them, and they'll stick around a long time.
And by putting out a newsletter, you are sending
out a message to the members that your club cares about them enough
to invest a lot of time and resources to produce one on a regular
schedule. It is also a tangible item that they can put their hands
on to show that they belong to the group.
The content of the newsletter should also
reflect your club's commitment to keeping members interested in
renewing their membership again next year. Put in stuff that they
want, and they'll stay involved in the club for a long time.
A note about rocketry
One of the unique features about being a member of a club
is that you can test your skills against others in friendly rocketry
competitions. For a certain type of individual, this is very appealing.
And if you look at clubs that have been around long periods of time,
they have been active in holding competitions, and those individuals
holding the leadership positions have been active in past competitions.
Therefore, holding competition events may give a long range stability
to the club that other types of activities don't.
If your club decides to hold competitions,
you should do it in a way to stress the positive benefits and minimize
those things that turn people off. You should also try to hold competition
seminars to try to refute the negative stereotypes that people may
have about contests.
Here are some other
• Select a large portion of the events so that they
can be flown by newer modelers using readily available kits. Established
competitors won't be turned off, as this means they don't have to
build a new set of models.
• You are under no pressure to hold only NAR recognized events;
so for variety, make up your own simple events. How about things
like upright lander-spot landing, or ping pong ball duration?
In this article, I've tried to show you the procedures that
your club can use to attract new members and retain those that you
already have. If you remember, the steps were: perform a self examination
of the club - the members should get together and write down on
paper the benefits of belonging to the group, and what the goals
are for the club. Finally, your club should really decide whether
or not they want new members, and why - so again, write down on
paper the reasons that having new members of the club would be a
But the one key item of attracting and maintaining
members is to show them the great benefits that are possible by
belonging to a club. In this publication I've listed many possible
benefits. You may not have available all of them from my list, but
you can probably think of many more. But make that list known to
your club's members, and do this as often as possible. They need
to be reminded that they can't access those benefits if they aren't
a member of your group.
We as rocketeers are always envious of the
AMA and their 100,000 plus membership. They grew that large because
they built strong local clubs first. As rocketeers, we have a much
greater advantage to get new members; rocketry is challenging and
very exciting. Every year, over a million people try rocketry; which
is much greater than those who fly RC airplanes. But we should follow
their lead, and build strong local clubs first. Then we'll have
them envious of us.
Good luck, and keep in touch.
Author's Note: This article is an abbreviated
version of a much larger publication. If you are interested in the
long version, please contact the author at the address listed at
the end of this article.
The longer version has these features:
• 21 different benefits of being in a club.
• Five goals for a club with direct member benefit.
• Nine reasons to recruit new members.
• 22 ways to advertise your club.
• How to make a good first impression in the eyes of a potentially
• 14 items to put in your membership packet.
• 29 different awards and special recognition certificates
you can give to your club members to make them feel important.
• Eight topics for general meetings that make them fun for
• Nine types of special meetings to break up the routine of
• 30 types of articles you can put in your newsletter to make
• The specific duties of the membership committee.
• 15 sample questions you can put into a new member questionnaire.
• 12 ways to raise money for the club besides the regular
• 12 reasons why competition attracts new members.
• Eight excuses people give for avoiding competitions.
Tim Van Milligan
Apogee Components, Inc.
630 Elkton Dr.
Colorado Springs, CO 80907-3514