This is a letter that was sent to me (Wayne Corwin) in 1994
when I was taking over the office of vice-president of our club.
At that time the officer's of the club hadn't been changed in a
long time and Alan Plante (author of " Western Massachusetts
Mineral Localities") agreed to help our club, as he had done for
other clubs, to put to pen his ideas on "Revitalizing mineral clubs".
This Article is Dedicated to the memory of my good friend and great mineralogist Alan Plante.
We miss you! Wayne Corwin
Revitalizing mineral clubs by: Alan R. Plante
I said I’d think about revitalizing mineral clubs and then sit down and write you a long letter on the subject. So here we go…
From the little we’ve talked about your club’s situation, I get the impression that:
1) The old guard has stepped down, or is in the process of stepping down, and 2) the new kids on the block are sitting around scratching their heads about what to do with a couple hundred people interested in rocks, minerals, fossils, and the lapidary arts. I think that there is a lot of this going around these days. A good many mineral clubs were founded back in the early to mid 1950s when there was a major upswing in the hobbies nationwide. Those clubs that flourished and grew out of that period did so because they had core groups of dedicated and talented people who kept the ball going. Now those people are getting on in years – and a lot of clubs are going through re-birth pains as the old inner circles leave power and new people take over. So, you’re not alone!
One thing I’ve found is that you can’t breathe new life into a club until the old gang is really ready to relinquish power and control. They spent a lot of time, energy, and soul on developing the clubs the way they felt they should be set up and operated – and they tend to feel that what they did has worked well – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Sometimes this is the case, the new kids a bit too eager to try new things, a bit to unwilling to listen to what the old gang has learned from experience. The new folks sort of have the attitude, “just because it didn’t work when you tried it back when doesn’t mean it won’t work now.” While the old guard’s attitude is, “you don’t know what you’re getting into;” or “we tried that and it didn’t work.” Usually both gangs are right, at least to some extent. Anyway, weather or not you will be able to revitalize your club will depend on where you are in the process of changing the guard: If it has changed, no problem – but if the old guard is still holding onto their power and influence you have a rough road ahead of you. (I have been a member of clubs in both states – I ended up leaving the club still being controlled by the old guard, and I ended up helping to revitalize the other club, where the old guard was ready and willing to have new folks take over.)
Since you have a rather large club – a couple hundred members, with fifty to seventy-five showing up for meetings – the first problem you have to deal with is organizing things so that groups aren’t too large to manage. It’s a lot harder to serve the individual in a group of fifty than it is in a group of ten or twelve. People who feel they are getting “lost in the crowd” tend to drift away – or complain a lot! One way to mitigate this problem is to sectionalize the club. I know of at least two large clubs that have done this and had things work out well. What you do is set up sections for “minerals,” “geology,” “paleontology,” and “lapidary arts.” Each section either has its own officers, or one or two seats on the central board of directors – or both. Each section holds its own meetings, programs, and field trips. But you have to watch out for a couple of things. One, the sections have to be bond together solidly in the central organization – otherwise you end up with several groups that each see themselves as separate “clubs” competing for the same resources of the central government, each seeing themselves as the more important part of the organization. Rivalries and animosities develop – the organization doomed. You can prevent this by taking several steps. First, make sure that – no matter how autonomous each section is in the way it handles its internal affairs – sections are
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strongly bond to the central organization. Set up a Board composed of a specified number of seats filled from each section. Larger sections should have more seats – they supply more of the financial resources and person-power for getting things done. Set it up so that as a section grows in numbers it automatically gets more seats on the Board. Continually emphasize the importance of allotting resources based on the numbers receiving benefits; but also try hard to encourage and aid smaller sections: just because there are only five people interested in lapidary arts doesn’t mean they should get the short end of the stick. I chose this group because it was one of the more expensive ones to serve materially – saws, laps, and facetors aren’t cheap!
Second, do everything you can to link the sections to one another: The annual show should be a club-wide activity, lapidary section, equipment should be readily available to members from other sections (safety and training needs still being met,) sections should have to provide one or two special programs each year that are aimed at, or open and announced to, the rest of the membership, each section should have a newsletter correspondent that is required to supply information on that section for the club’s newsletter each issue – even if it’s only notes on what transpired at their meetings or trips. And make sure that the club publishes a central newsletter! If sections want to publish internal newsletters, fine – but don’t let those replace the club-wide newsletter, which is one of the main things gluing the whole structure together (another is the central Board, and another is the club-wide “special program” program.) Board members should be required to attend the meetings of sections other than their own, even if only two or three times a year, in order for them to all see what the other folks are up to and to try and get a handle on club-wide affairs, not just those of their own section. Make sure that all the club’s material possessions remain the property of the entire club. Sections will lobby for separate ownership: Don’t let it happen! Make it clear, and keep making it clear, that everything the club owns belongs to the entire club – and keep it that way! In short, if you fail to strongly link the sections to one another and the central organization, the club will end up disintegrating into its several parts – with some of the parts dying in the process. If anyone tries to convince you otherwise, don’t believe ‘em!!!
One of the biggest problems any club faces is developing a big enough pool of talented and dedicated people willing to take on the responsibility of organizing and operating the club. I’ll bet that every club in the country has at one time or another had to many Indians and not enough chiefs – the few chiefs they could muster ending up burnt out after a few years. This can kill a club – and it is not an easy problem to solve. You have to more-or-less coax and baby people into positions of responsibility, starting them off easy on a committee or some such thing, and working them into more involved roles as they master each step. I’ve found that the big problem tends to be lack of confidence: People can do things, but you have to convince them to give it a try before they will discover that they can. Often someone who is reluctant out of lack of confidence will shine once they find they can do a job and do it well. On the other side of the coin, there will always be people who are not leaders and never will be, either because they lack the ability or because they are leaders elsewhere and joined to have a chance at being a follower for a change. You have to be careful about pushing such people too far – especially the leaders outside who don’t want to lead in the club. The trick is learning to tell the difference between potential leaders and followers – which I have no ready answer for. You just have to develop the knack of judging human nature.
Once you have a viable organizational structure set up, the two biggest areas of operational concern are programs and field trips. People join mineral/lapidary clubs basically to learn, enjoy, and collect/create. While meetings are necessary evils, they must be kept in their place. Focus should be on
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programs and trips. (Our club up here has half-hour Board meetings, half-hour Membership meetings, and one hour to two hour programs.) It can be tough coming up with new programs month in and month out. Some clubs tend to fall into the trap of standardizing programs – you have the annual
auction, the annual Christmas party, the annual pot-luck supper, the annual special guest, and the annual club picnic – and little else, except maybe Federation slide shows to fill in the other months. These things are all okay – but they cannot be the entire slate of programs for the year – year in and year out. People get bored by routine – they want new and different things. (They want to be entertained.) Work hard at providing a varied slate of programs. Arrange a mix of slide shows, workshops, seminars, special talks, etc. Do a yearly questionnaire to find out what people are interested in – then try to come up with programs on topics that people seem to be most interested in. If you sectionalize, get members from different sections to do programs for other sections (more linkage.) And when you set up something that a wide audience might be interested in, make it a club-wide special program, offered to everyone. (At one club I was in we used to arrange for special speakers a couple times of year, hold the event in the museum auditorium jointly with the museum, and invite the general public. These went over really well.)
Club field trips are, in my opinion, “orientation sessions:” They serve to show people where they can go to collect, view collections, etc. You know as well as I do that few people ever find much the first time they visit a collecting area. So stress this! Don’t give people the idea that they are going to find great stuff every time they go on a club trip. Once their expectations are dashed they will feel bad and lose interest. Point out the simple fact that finding good stuff takes time, patience, and experience – and that club trips simply help people find out where to go and give them some experience in how to look for stuff at the sites visited. Then people can go back, again and again if they want, and increase their chances of finding worthwhile stuff. That’s the reality of the game. Some people don’t care for this – they want instant gratification. If they don’t find diamonds and rubies the first time to a site, they write the site off and never go back – and then they’re perplexed when the guy who does go back, again and again, comes in with good specimens or lapidary rough. Quite frankly, I hold no hope for people who are this way. They should stick to “collecting” at shows and swaps – they’ll never be happy with field trips. (I’ve even had the nerve to tell a couple such people just that!) Anyway, I think it is better – and safer – to present club trips as “familiarization” events rather than promise people great stuff their first time out – even to sites that have really good stuff at them. (Our gang just went to the Palermo mine in North Groton, NH – a collector’s paradise! Yet nobody found anything spectacular. But it was still a great trip because of the way we talked it up – see a classic site, meet its owner – and maybe, just maybe, you’ll even get luck and find something good – but don’t count on it!)
Of course, you do have to schedule a number of “official” club trips each year. That’s why people join up – even if they are under the false assumption you’ll take them to great sites where they’ll make great finds every time. If you don’t have the trips, you won’t have the members! So, by all means, dig up the leaders and set up a slate of trips each season. Try to vary the slate from year to year as best you can – remember that if you go to the same places over and over again people will lose interest after awhile. Once they know where a site is they don’t need a club trip to get there whenever they want to go. At the same time, there are only so many open sites: Sooner or later you are going to have to repeat. Hopefully, when that starts to happen you’ll be taking out new people who will appreciate going someplace they’ve never been before. Then there are the “special trips” – to shows, museums, symposia, etc. Don’t forget that people enjoy getting out to these sorts of events and places too.
I think that you sort of have to keep an eye on your membership when it comes to planning trips.
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If you have a bunch of new people on board, then trips to old favorites that they haven’t visited are in order; but if the club has been stable for a few years you’re gonna have to start getting creative, coming up with the new places to go – and people who know the sites well enough (or are willing to scout them out in advance,) to lead the gang.
I think that one of the most important aspects of any club is the opportunity it presents for people to get to know others with similar interests and develop friendships with them – networking. Members get more out of networking in the club than they do from programs, meetings, and field trips combined. This is something else that should be stressed whenever possible, both officially and unofficially. Get the grapevine going and then milk it for all it’s worth! Who’s doing what, where and when. Who had a great trip the other weekend, who got together for lunch or went to someone’s house to see their collection, who’s turning out some nice cabs or cut stones, etc… Publish notes on what people are up to in your newsletter – get the word out.
Newsletters… This can be another tough one. I find that most club newsletters are a little more than announcements, meeting minutes, and schedules of upcoming events. While this is all important information, it should really only be the foundation of the newsletter. You need to have feature articles, trip reports, humor, art work, and items about what people in the club are doing. You also need an editor who has the time and energy it takes to get the rag out on schedule – and the support staff that’s needed for the editor to do this. As you know, I’m the editor of our club’s newsletter up here. When we started the club I said I’d do it – but only if we made the rag a journal and published quarterly, rather than monthly or bi-monthly. I did this because I had been editor at another club and knew from experience how tough it is to get out a monthly publication that’s more than a schedule of upcoming events. While it has worked well for us, it has had its problems – most notably the difficulty of getting information out in a timely fashion. If we don’t plan three months worth of programs and field trips at least four months in advance of the events, I end up publishing “To Be Announced” – and this happens all to frequently, even though we are a small club (40 members.) But it does have the advantage of giving me time to put together something more than a schedule of events. We have feature articles – and they haven’t been coming form other newsletters! At first, I wrote most of them – but I have been slowly getting other members to pick up pen or pencil and get things down on paper for the journal. For one thing, we require trip leaders to submit trip reports – I don’t care if it’s only a page or a paragraph, so long as I have something to keep the membership informed of where we’ve been and what we found there. Also, I am starting to get other members to sit down and write substantial feature articles about area collecting localities, minerals, and other topics of interest. My goal is to get enough people writing so that I truly become the editor – the guy that whips submission into shape for publication. Oh, I’ll keep writing articles – because I enjoy doing that – but I want the membership to write the bulk of each issue, get different voices and different views in print, making the journal more lively, broader in interest.
I’m not saying you should do what I am doing. Your club should do what works for it. But I think it is important to stress the need for feature articles and items other than schedules. If all you’re publishing is a list of upcoming stuff, people will not see the newsletter as a source of information about the hobby – only as a source of information about when club events are taking place. Even if you can only manage one feature article per issue, get that one article in! And don’t be afraid to use stuff from other club newsletters if you have to – there’s no shame in that. Just make sure you give credit to the other clubs and authors. Also, work hard at giving your editor adequate staff assistance. There’s nothing worse than being the only person working on the newsletter month in and month out, feeling like no one cares, and not knowing whether or not people even like what you’re doing. (I know – I’ve been there!) end of PAGE 4
So, set up a “Publications Committee” and “Newsletter Staff.” Make sure there’s at least a handful of people routinely involved in helping the editor out with the job. (And make sure staff knows that the editor is in charge and has final say.) I’ve been lucky, I have a small but hard-working staff of three who come through for me every issue. I’m also lucky that two of these people have artistic talent – of which I have none! They make the journal look a heck of a lot better than it would if it was left solely to me to provide art work (I’d photocopy anything I could get my hands on – still do, to have a stock of space fillers and such!) And, finally, make sure that the newsletter gets out on time – whether it’s monthly, bi-monthly, quarterly, or once in a blue moon – be sure that membership gets it when they expect to get it, not a day later!!!
I’ve found that what power struggles all come down to is, “I’m right and you’re wrong so we’re gonna do things my way! If we don’t, I’ll pick up my ball and my bat and go home.” Or, even worse, “I’ll get you one way or another.” (I’m usually all in favor of them picking up their balls and bats and going home!) And I think this stems from a combination of ego and insecurity. I also think it’s a bunch of bull that has no place in any club. If someone has a problem going along with what the majority feels is best for the club, then they should get out of club politics – or be thrown out. There have been two people in our club who I’ve had problems with in this respect. One is no longer in the club, the other is no longer a director. While the second still has a mouth and can stir up trouble, I think that person has seen which way the wind blows and has been keeping quiet for the most part. Problem solved.
You absolutely HAVE TO keep the needs of the organization foremost at all times. Egos, greed, “me first,” and back room politics all have to be squashed and squashed hard. The people in leadership roles should not be there because they talk a good game – they should be there because they have the vision of what the club is and does, and the talent to see that the club’s needs are being meet. If you don’t take a hard line on this the club will certainly suffer, and is all too likely to collapse sooner or later. Every decision your Board makes should be made because it will be good for the greatest number of members – not just because someone wants something and lobbies hard for it. Occasionally this means killing something which someone has managed to sweet talk others into supporting in spite of it not being in the club’s best interest.
In order to combat problems of this sort the club needs a strong statement of purpose and goals. It also needs a strong ethical and moral foundation within which it keeps a firm grip on its purpose and works to meet its goals. When some individual or clique comes forward with a proposal that is not in the best interest of the club, the directors have to be able to shoot it down on solid grounds. These solid grounds are your charter/articles of organization and your by-laws. I see the club charter as the strongest statement of what the club is and does – and the by-laws as the framework for accomplishing those things. Our club is not incorporated as a non-profit organization with federal tax exempt status; but our charter and the by-laws are set up so that we act as if we are. When we were getting our act together, I steered the by-laws committee in this direction by providing it with a model set of by-laws and articles of organization for a non-profit educational corporation. I then made damn sure that what they proposed for ratification had all its “Is” dotted and “Ts” crossed before it went to the membership for vote. Now when something is proposed the first test it has to pass is whether or not it is legal within our articles and by-laws. If it isn’t, then that’s it – unless someone thinks it’s worth the trouble to try and change the basic nature of the organization. (As an example, someone came up with money-making scheme for members. It was a pretty good idea, too. Only problem is that making money for members is not what we exist for – we’re non-profit, end of idea.)
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If your club is non-profit, incorporated and exempted or otherwise, like us – which I assume you are – then you have to be extremely careful about how you handle your finances. (If you aren’t non-profit, then you can ignore this paragraph.) Both the state and the feds have been cracking down real hard recently on “non-profit” organizations that are working like profitable outfits. While there is a lot of leeway in what you can do to raise money to support club activities, there are legal limitations – and the activities they support have to be non-profit in nature. You can’t say you’re non-profit, then go out and raise a bunch of money and spend it on stuff that is given to the members. Oh, you can set up a “new members” welcome kit, provide them with copies of the charter and bylaws, and a patch, pin, and/or club cap. You can pay certain expenses incurred by members, such as museum admission fees, travel expenses, etc. – but you damn well better have solid justification and receipts for every single penny that goes to members. The tax folks love nothing better than to “disallow” every penny they can – and when they disallow any expenditure made by a non-profit group they can then take away the non-profit status – and probably will! So, if you’re non-profit, you have to do two things: 1) Make sure your charter and by-laws state this clearly and make provision for distribution of assets to other non-profit organizations should the club fold (they can’t be liquidated and distributed to the membership,) and 2) Watch how you handle your money like a hawk! The best thing to do is have a tax lawyer on tap that you can run things by before expenditures are okayed. If you don’t have one in the club, find one and put him or her on retainer. Remember: Your outfit is big enough, financially, to be noticed by the tax boys – and even one little complaint will have them crawling all over you.
Dealing with stuff other than finances, like what programs you offer, where you go collecting, what shows you schedule club trips to, etc., is less of a head ache legally (just don’t start treating yourselves to all sorts of little perks…) but is a headache none-the-less. Most of it is petty stuff – so-an-so wants a trip to such-and-such a mine, but he’s the only one; or somebody thinks it would be a great idea to enter a club float in a parade while everyone else thinks he’s nuts. Whatever. I’ve found that the best thing to do is treat all proposals equally, be tactful, even helpful – then let the membership or directors vote the harebrained scheme down. As I said above, anyone who can’t deal with going along with the majority shouldn’t be in the club in the first place. Losing such people is no loss…
Liability wise, you’re two biggest problems are likely to be safety and vandalism – both internally and on field trips. Mineral clubs need strong safety policies that are enforced. You also need to empower someone to deal with unsafe practices and keeping people in line when it comes to other people’s property. In our club if the safety officer or trip leader says “don’t” twice and you do, you’re out the door – no third strike unless you can convince the Board you deserve one – which won’t be easy. (We back up our safety officer and trip leaders. They have to be off the wall before we over-ride – and replace – them.) So far as internal liability goes, there is the Federation group liability policy – but you have to understand that this policy only protects the club and its members from suits by outsiders, it does NOT cover members (you can’t sue yourself…) and it does not cover mine owners, except that the insurance will pay them if they sue you for damages done to their property. A lot of people are under the mistaken assumption that the Federation policy will pay out to members if they are hurt or lose property. This is not true. Read the policy carefully – or, better yet, have an insurance agent go over it and explain it to you. Also, the Federation policy is a pool – if someone makes a claim against it after other claims have depleted the fund, tough luck – you’re club is stuck. In my opinion, the only reason to get the Federation policy is if you can’t afford to buy regular liability insurance tailored to your club’s needs. Then, while it isn’t much, at least it’s something…
The only other real problem I can think of off-hand is that of bad apples in the bunch when it comes to collecting – the specimen hogs, the light fingered at shows and shops, the ones who think
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nothing of sneaking in to closed sites, etc. There’s not really much you can do about the specimen hogs, except maybe black-ball them if they’re really bad; but the true criminal element can be dealt with legally – and should be! So far as I’m concerned, any club or club member who does not stand up against such people in some way only worsens the problem. If a member gets caught stealing, then by God testify against them in court if you’re a witness! If you know that someone is sneaking into closed localities – and you can prove it – then throw them out of the club! (And back up the landowners if they want to take legal action.) Both types of people give the club a bad name, make the good folks feel bad, and antagonize dealers and mine owners – losing your dealers for your shows, and closing mines to all your members. Clubs that tolerate this crap are just digging their own graves. What else can I say…?
Well! That’s sure a lot to think about – and not such a great note to end things on; but I guess that’s about all I have to offer for now. If you have any questions, ask away. I won’t promise you answers – but I’ll at least give it the old college try.
Organizing and running a club isn’t easy, not doubt about that. You gotta love what you’re doing in order to take it on. I guess it’s a good thing there are a lot of us around who do – else we wouldn’t have any club’s! There have been times I’ve despaired of the whole thing, pulled back with the intention of staying out of it all – but I always seem to end up back in the fray sooner or later, so I guess I’m one of the die-hards. Damn it!
Good luck with your gang!
KOR (Keep On Rockin')
Wow – Seven pages! Guess I got a bit carried away! Sorry – but then I did warn you it would be a long letter…
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