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Chapter Gatherings- A New Model for a New Era

Creating “Can’t Miss Events”

By David Leiting, President Chapter 1342

September 2016 - The monthly chapter gathering is the cornerstone of chapter events. Whether it’s sharing a meal together or listening to a presenter discuss their latest restoration project, these gatherings are what being a chapter member is all about.

When planning a chapter gathering, it is essential to make it a “can’t miss” event. Chapters must give their members a reason to attend each month. In today’s world we have thousands of entertainment options, and sometimes people only give each option one shot.

If a perspective member attends a monthly gathering and is anything less than very satisfied, they are not likely to return and attend your chapter events.

Breaking the Meeting Mindset

How exactly does a chapter leader turn a monthly chapter meeting into a “can’t miss” chapter gathering?

First and foremost, it is important to get away from the meeting mentality. Coining the event, a “chapter gathering,” “chapter wing-ding,” or “chapter get-together” sounds much more enjoyable than a meeting.

Folks sit in meetings at work and school all day so the last thing they want to do in their free time is sit through another boring meeting.

Banish the term “meeting,” but even more important -- make sure the event does not feel like a meeting.

Very few people attending your gathering are deeply interested in learning about all of the nitty-gritty business functions of a chapter. They are there to talk and learn about airplanes!

These in-depth chapter business discussions should be reserved for chapter board meetings, which should be held on a separate day from the chapter gathering. By the way — anybody can attend a board meeting if interested.

By all means have a treasurer’s report ready, and tape it next to the coffee maker for all to see.

Don’t use Robert’s Rules of Order, grow your chapter by promoting your gathering as friendly and informal.

Having extensive debates on how the chapter will finance a new grill will not impress first time visitors or build excitement; rather that behavior will make members think twice when invited back to your boring chapter meeting. Create a more social environment by reducing back-office clutter.

Share a Meal — Build a Community of Friends

Build camaraderie within a chapter by sharing a meal together. Having a pot-luck style meal at a chapter gathering is the number one way to create added value for your members and visitors.

Our lives are busy -- jobs chores and kids soak up an amazing amount of time and will get in the way of recreational activities, such as chapter get-togethers.

When a chapter incorporates a dinner into an evening chapter gathering, rushing home to fix dinner is eliminated. Families, especially, find themselves in a time crunch on a day to day basis. If they can eliminate the time it takes to cook a meal and feed the whole family, attending your chapter gathering no longer seems like a major time commitment, in fact now it becomes fun!

Chapter meals also provide a very cost effective alternative for those not looking to spend much money on dinner. Most meals at chapter gatherings are prepared by volunteer members at very little cost to the chapter. Typically, we ask members to bring chips or dessert, and we put out a donation jar and collect, on average, $5 per person if they can’t bring a dish or side.

Having a meal for a Saturday morning chapter gathering is equally as important as meals at evening gatherings. Although members are typically not as busy on Saturday mornings, having an airport breakfast always seems like an event. Families like to enjoy breakfast together on weekends, so why not give them a reason to do it at an upcoming chapter gathering?

Fun and Interesting Programs

People love good food and good company, but that’s enough to keep them returning month after month.

The key attraction of a can’t miss event is the quality and variety programs your chapter offers. There are many types of presentations that the chapter can host, and the diversity important.

Is your chapter a one-trick pony? We sometimes hear, “that chapter is only for aircraft builders,” or “that chapters just flies Young Eagles.” We know this just isn’t the case. But some chapters sometimes do get branded and lose members.

By hosting a variety of presentations, the chapter can ensure that all of its members are engaged, educated, entertained and satisfied. Common presentations include pilot safety seminars, building project presentations, aircraft maintenance tips, presentations by historical aviation figures, or presentations by aviation industry professionals.

Chapters can visit the EAA’s Speakers Bureau to help schedule interesting, creative, educational, and diverse programs for their monthly meetings.

Some chapters in rural areas are hard pressed to have live speakers every month. If so, Chapter Video Magazine is always a great alternative. Chapter Video Magazines usually run about 20 minutes, cover important news coming from EAA headquarters, share a fascinating aviation related story, and conclude with a Hints for Homebuilders segment.

The Chapter Video Magazine can also be a great addition to an already amazing night of programming. Kick off the gathering with the news from EAA headquarters segment of the video, or simply play the video in the background during your pot luck meal.

Timing is Everything

Your chapter has put together a stellar presentation and a few volunteers have put together a delicious meal for the members to share with one another, but will anybody be able to make it to the gathering?

One of the most important items to address when planning a chapter gathering is the day and time of your event. What day of the week and time of day are your members going to be most available?

Friday evening at 7 p.m. is not a very friendly time for most people, so it is no surprise that only 4 percent of EAA chapters meet on Fridays. In addition, 9 a.m. on a weekday is not a very good time to meet for anyone who is in school or work. That is a gathering for retired folks and alienates at least two generations of aviation enthusiasts.

When your chapter is evaluating its gathering time, consider:

  • Does the time conflict with any other airport get-togethers, such as CAP or a local flying club?
  • Will the majority of your members be available at this meeting time?
  • 59 percent of EAA Chapters meet on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday evenings.
  • Saturday is by far the most popular meeting time – 30 percent of EAA chapters meet on Saturday.

Chapters that gather on Saturday usually do so during the morning hours, especially in the hot summer, then transition to a noon BBQ and then an afternoon presentation. These times fit very well into almost any schedule, and they also provide the opportunity for a chapter to enjoy a meal together. Most people have Saturday off, and many aviators are going to be at their local airport already so you have a built-in source.

Saturday is relaxed travel wise because it’s not rush hour and those that have a far commute can make your event as opposed to rushing through traffic after work to try to make an evening event. Keep in mind there is no 100 percent solution, do what makes sense for the majority and start publicizing it, so it becomes habitual.

If your chapter has can’t miss events, members will make them the priority.

Planning a successful chapter gathering may seem like a daunting task, it may require some change in how the chapter is currently being operated. It may take a few gatherings to get the hang of planning conducting these events. However, the chapter will begin to reap the benefits of these well planned events. Chapter members will return month after month, and new faces will begin to appear. Just like practicing your landings, your chapter will get better with practice.

Change is Good!

If your chapter is currently operating under the model outlined in this article, congratulations! For those chapters who have yet to adopt the chapter gathering model, I challenge you to make one change each month starting now.

Next month, host a dinner at your gathering, and the following month host a speaker who specializes in aviation weather.

If your turnout is low, consider moving to a more appropriate family-oriented gathering day.

As your chapter makes these changes, you are encouraged to post your success stories on the EAA Chapter Leaders Chat, and watch your chapter grow!

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