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Running a Chapter Like a Small Business
Christopher Gauger, EAA 746128, Chapter Field Representative I
September 2022 –
In some ways, EAA chapters are similar to small businesses. Although chapters are non-profit entities, they still have a product to sell: The Spirit of Aviation. They have their own customers: aviation enthusiasts of all stripes. Chapters, like a small business, have finances, resources, and people to manage. They have to market themselves and offer programming to bring in new members and retain existing ones. They also have to plan for the long term to ensure their continued success.
In this article, we will look at some of the best practices for successful chapter management.
EAA chapters may be non-profit, but they still need to generate revenue to pay for their expenses. At the very least, there is the annual EAA chapter renewal and insurance fee of $399. Beyond that, chapters will need to raise money if they want to provide activities, own or rent a facility, or hold events. Member dues are the primary way to raise money, but they should not be the only way.
Aside from member dues, there are many other sources of revenue for chapters:
- Public fly-in/drive-in events, like the ever-popular pancake breakfasts, corn roasts, or hamburger socials
- Hosting an EAA touring aircraft such as the B-17, B-25, or Ford Tri-Motor
- Renting out the chapter’s facility
- Raffles (governed by your state’s law)
- Silent auctions
- Aviation day camps for youths
- Charitable flights under FAR 91.146
- Selling an aircraft built or restored by the chapter
- Partnerships with local businesses
- Donations – This last item is important since people are willing to donate to good causes
The treasurer is the chief financial officer of a chapter. They are responsible for maintaining chapter finances, including receiving and depositing all funds, issuing checks, and balancing checkbooks. The treasurer maintains the chapter’s financial records, prepares and files the chapter’s taxes, and — if the chapter is a public charity — issues receipts for donations.
Although the treasurer is the primary manager of chapter finances, the rest of the chapter’s board of directors have a responsibility to know where the chapter’s money is going. Expenditures by the chapter should be pre-approved, whether by the board of directors for small expenses, or by the general membership for large ones.
Webinars on chapter financial management are available at EAA.org/Nonprofit. They cover topics ranging from tax-exempt basics, to donations and contributions, to how to serve as chapter treasurer or secretary. These webinars are extremely helpful for chapters of all kinds, whether one is brand new or has been around for a long time. New chapter leaders will also benefit from watching these webinars.
Beyond revenues, a small business can also measure its performance by how many people are buying its products. It can see if the number of customers is increasing, decreasing, or staying the same year after year. Businesses can also learn what their customers are interested in, and provide products and services that may satisfy those interests.
EAA chapters are no different. One of the measures of a chapter’s success is whether its membership is growing, declining, or static. Having a growing or steady membership is one of the points a chapter can earn for Chapter Recognition. A chapter’s members may also have a diverse array of aviation interests. Some might be homebuilders. Others may be interested in youth programs. Still others may be interested in pilot proficiency. Some may just love airplanes and want to be around like-minded people. Understanding what your members want will help your chapter determine what activities and resources it can offer for them.
The EAA Chapter Roster Management tool will help chapters oversee their membership. It provides an easy way for chapter leaders to know who is a member of their chapter, which members have active or expired membership in the chapter and EAA, what their members’ aviation interests are, and much more. Best of all, this tool is FREE to use! Go to EAA.org/ChapterRoster to sign up to use the Chapter Roster Management tool, if your chapter does not use this tool already.
As you begin to understand your members’ aviation interests, you can determine what the chapter can offer to cater to your members. If you have homebuilders in your chapter, then it would be a good idea to have a technical counselor or a flight advisor who can assist them. If you have pilots who want to improve their flight proficiency, then starting an IMC or VMC Club would be a great benefit to them. If you have certified flight instructors in your chapter, then you may want to consider hosting a Flying Start event for adults interested in learning to fly, or even provide a ground school course at the chapter for student pilots. Remember that you should keep your current chapter members happy, while also finding ways to recruit new ones.
Planning for the future is essential, since it gives chapters a vision and a direction to pursue. It also helps you avoid making plans at the last minute before an event. To help your chapter accomplish its goals, EAA has a 5-Year Chapter Flight Plan template that you can download from our Managing Your Chapter webpage. Your chapter can use this template to set clearly defined goals, determine the tasks needed to accomplish them, set a timeline to complete them, and assign the chapter members in charge of working toward those goals.
To fulfill your chapter’s mission, consider the goals you want to achieve:
- How will our chapter accomplish our mission?
- Young Eagles / Eagle Flights / Flying Start
- Builders workshops
- IMC/VMC Clubs
- Et cetera…
- How will we measure success?
- Implementation of programs
- Number of new members
- Attendance at monthly gatherings
- What is the timeline?
- Dates to implement new programs
- Membership growth progression
As an example, let’s say your chapter wants to increase its visibility in the local area. Here is the plan it could assemble, using the EAA-provided template:
- Goal: Create chapter awareness away from the airport to grow membership.
- Tasks: Advertise chapter events (fly-ins, monthly gatherings, Young Eagles rallies, etc.) via ChapterBlast, the EAA Calendar of Events, and the chapter’s newsletter, website, and social media. Submit press releases to the local newspaper, radio station, or other media outlets. Invite local media to chapter events.
- Timeline: Begin in April 2023 and continue yearly.
- Person in Charge: The chapter’s vice president.
Long-term planning will help a chapter focus on its objectives and make the right moves to accomplish them. Completing these carefully planned objectives will allow a chapter to grow and sustain its membership, hold successful events, and offer new programming and improve existing programs it already offers.
It is crucially important for chapters to keep accurate records of their finances, bylaws, and internal decision-making. There may come a time when you need to audit your chapter’s financial transactions or resolve a dispute between members. It is also good to have a written record of the decisions made by your chapter’s officers during their meetings.
Chapters should maintain accurate financial books to keep track of their profits and losses and their overall balance. Record the amounts from each source of income for the chapter, and the amounts for each expense and what those expenses were for. Having accurate and up-to-date records will help your chapter understand its financial state and prepare budgets for future activities.
A chapter’s treasurer should keep all receipts and invoices (printed or digital) for the chapter’s transactions. For financial transactions, the treasurer should record the following information:
- Who made a transaction?
- What was the amount of the transaction?
- When was the transaction made?
- Where was the transaction made?
- Why was the transaction made?
Here is an example of a transaction and the information recorded:
- Who: John Smith
- What: $20.00
- When: February 10, 2022
- Where: Chapter gathering
- Why: Annual chapter membership
For cash or check transactions, a receipt book is a must-have for recording them.
We recommend that chapters retain their receipts and bank statements from the previous six years. Paper records should be scanned to a computer so they can be stored electronically. A three-ring binder would also provide a simple way to store records.
Bank statements should be accessible and reviewed by two chapter officers. In addition to the treasurer, another chapter board member should review the financial books annually. In the interest of transparency, chapters are encouraged to publish a summary of their financials, such as in their monthly newsletter.
All chapters have bylaws, which should be kept up to date. This document establishes your chapter’s structure and governs the business functions of your chapter. Bylaws are the “rules” that the membership expects you to follow in carrying out chapter operations. Any dispute that arises within the chapter should be resolved by following the bylaws.
If your chapter’s bylaws have not been updated in many years, then you may download our Guidelines for Bylaws from the Managing Your Chapter webpage. You can customize this default bylaws document for your own chapter. Sample bylaws are also found in the Chapter Handbook. You may optionally email your approved bylaws to the EAA Chapters office at firstname.lastname@example.org for our recordkeeping.
Your chapter should record the minutes of its board meetings and other meetings of chapter officers. This is usually the duty of the chapter secretary. The minutes can be shared in your chapter’s newsletter or on your chapter’s website, allowing the rest of your members to stay informed on chapter business.
Lastly, your chapter’s secretary should maintain a permanent file of key chapter documents, including its bylaws, federal employer identification number (FEIN — your chapter’s tax ID), articles of incorporation, and other important items. It would be wise to have electronic copies of all paper records stored in an online database as a backup.
Running a chapter can feel a lot like running a business. Some of the same practices involved in small businesses are applicable to small non-profits like EAA chapters. These practices should not be afterthoughts. Chapter leaders have the responsibility to provide sound management for their chapters. The quality of this management can make or break a chapter.
To learn more, please go to EAA.org/ChapterResources and click on Managing Your Chapter.