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A Sweet 16 for Your Chapter — Ideas From a Successful Chapter

By John H. Rousch, President Chapter 1240

October 15, 2018 — EAA chapters around the world have a great diversity of members and a common bond of a love for all things in aviation. Chapters are large and small, active or not as active as they could or would be. There is a life cycle to chapters depending on the mix of the membership and the leadership involved. Many chapters desire to have their own hangar/facility, a place to call home. Making that dream a reality can be a challenge.

Our chapter in Sebring, Florida, had the same dream, and over time it became the EAA Chapter 1240 Aviation Development Center, a 60-by-70-foot, two-story aircraft hangar and chapter headquarters. We have been very fortunate with the community support that made the dream come true and would like to share the ideas and actions that made it happen.

The first thing to consider is to have a plan and a clear chapter vision/mission that can be shared and understood by the folks who may want to help you fulfill the dream. It is easy to identify the what, as in the building specs and details, but being able to explain the why is more important.

The chapter needs to sell the idea to future supporters. Years ago, I taught a sales training program that stressed that you always attached a benefit to a fact or feature about what you were selling. You can show a picture or floor plan of a building for your chapter, but the potential supporter needs to know what benefits will happen from their support of the project. You sell the sizzle, not the steak.

Our chapter adopted the mission/theme of supporting youth aviation education. One of our community members developed an aerospace aviation technology course in one of the high schools. This course was very popular, and was supported by the chapter and led to a community partnership that included the Highlands County School Board, the Sebring Regional Airport, our EAA chapter, and the local workforce board. The community partnership was the key element that led to future support.

Each partner had an individual need and supported a common goal of supporting youth aviation education. The school board wanted a way to support the STEM curriculum with hands-on programs, the airport wanted to get people in the community out to the airport to see what was there, the chapter wanted to expand the membership with youths and their families, and the workforce board wanted a track to develop a skilled future workforce. It was a win-win for everyone.

The recognition of the partnership led to a major donor coming forward to help build the facility we enjoy. The anchor donation was a great start, but there was much more that our dream required to meet our mission and goals. The following is a list of concepts and action steps that worked for us.

  1. Have a plan written down in a format that can be shared. It helps to have a building rendering or floor plan, but the why of what the facility will do and the benefits to the community are essential 
  1. Consider the theme of supporting youth aviation education. Get involved with local schools. Find a teacher who is involved in aviation who could champion an aviation course or aviation club that your chapter could support. Young Eagles and Eagle Flights are a great way to get folks excited about aviation. 
  1. Develop resources that can support the STEM curriculum in schools and volunteer your time. The relationship you develop with the schools is essential for community support and chapter recognition. 
  1. Make friends with the media. Take the publisher or a reporter from the local paper on a flight around your area. Ask them to report on a Young Eagles rally. I write a weekly newspaper column that highlights all things aviation: what is happening at the airport and what the chapter is doing with youth. If you can’t write a regular column, find a way to get something in the paper from time to time, or find a reporter that can run a feature about what is going on. 
  1. Get involved with social media. Develop a chapter webpage, a chapter Facebook page, and an e-newsletter. Find ways to share what you chapter is doing and what community benefits are being developed. These online resources are typically a person’s first impression, so you want to be sure to impress prospective members. 
  1. Become a 501(c)(3) so you can accept charitable donations. Give recognition and say thank you to your donors. A small thank-you goes a long way. You never know what other donations may pop up. 
  1. Have a needs and wants list and let the community know what they are. You would be surprised how something can come your way just by letting folks know what you need. It can be more than things, but also could include volunteer time. This is also a good way to develop new members. 
  1. Speak to service clubs and community groups. Get out there and tell your story/mission. Let them be a part of it with you. Cooperate with other community events and festivals. Let the community know about your chapter and what you are doing. Have Young Eagles and Eagle Flights brochures handy and a schedule of chapter events and gathering times 
  1. Link up with or start a separate nonprofit flying club. This is a great way to expand your chapter involvement, and bring skilled aviators (CFIs, A&Ps) and folks who want to learn how to fly into the EAA fold. EAA now has a great Flying Club Resource Center for you at www.EAA.org/flyingclubs
  1. Attend a Chapter Leadership Training session. These training sessions are the No. 1 one way for your chapter to improve. Items such as growing your chapter, managing your chapter, recruiting volunteers, nonprofit basics, chapter programs, insurance, and much more is covered. You can register for these sessions at www.EAA.org/chaptertraining
  1. Host an open house at the airport. Show airport stakeholders how active your chapter is and how much you are doing to support aviation in the local community. In addition, this is a great way to show the local community what is going on at their local airport. 
  1. Spread the tasks of the chapter operations around so there are not just one or two people doing all the work. Leaders tend to be great delegators, so do not feel the need to be the superhero who accomplishes every task. Recognize those who get involved. In our chapter, nobody does everything, but everyone does something. Let chapter members find their place and invite community volunteers to help, and you’ll soon find you have another member. 
  1. Have a youth or community project you can point to. Our chapter had two different aircraft donated to us that the youths helped restore, and we are building an AirCam with our youth members. The chapter is also enhancing an aviation exhibit at the local children’s museum. Our next project is mounting a donated aircraft fuselage on a trailer to be used as a mobile STEM exhibit to tour the local middle schools.
  1. Have fundraisers that are consistent. We have a pancake breakfast every second Saturday of the month. At first, we only had it during the winter or snowbird months, but we decided to carry on through the summer. We found we had a loyal following of locals who enjoyed coming out and supporting activities. Date equity is key with events and gatherings
  1. Host an annual dinner that is a major fundraiser. We have had different community businesses underwrite some of the cost for the food and the special guest speaker. We align the annual dinner with a major aviation event held at the airport so there is a natural aviation attraction that will be a draw for the dinner.
  1. Develop family and youth memberships and encourage anyone who has an interest in aviation to get involved with your chapter. The more families you see involved with your chapter the better. This gives mom, dad, and the kids an excuse to come out to the airport, which is exactly what you want to see. 

In summary, there is not one way to build a chapter and develop a permanent home. The ideas that have been shared may or may not work for your specific situation. Many of the ideas you probably already are involved with. The important thing is to have a plan, a mission you can share. Be patient and take small steps. As your success develops, it all will come at a faster rate. Develop relationships that will provide opportunities for the community to share in and support your chapter activities. EAA headquarters in Oshkosh has many resources available to help chapters fulfill their dreams. You can check out these resources at www.EAA.org/chapterresources or call the chapter office at 920-426-5912.

We at Chapter 1240 will also be a resource — all you need to do is ask, and if you have a good idea, please share it with us! You can contact me at jhr@stratomail.net or call or text 863-273-0522. Our chapter website is www.SebringEAA.org.