Growing Your Astronomy Club
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2. Conduct meetings that members want to attend
What does your monthly club meeting agenda look like?
TIP: More focus on astronomy, less focus on business & announcements
How much of your monthly club meeting is spent on business and how much on astronomy? Is the invited speaker’s start time frequently delayed because of an extended discussion of some aspect of club business?
At your monthly club meeting, do you try to conduct a business meeting complete with readings of minutes, reports from the treasurer and other committees, and discussion of numerous items? You might want to ask how many of your members are REALLY interested in that. You might discover that most of the members only tolerate the business portion and become annoyed when it extends beyond a few minutes and interferes with other astronomy-related items on the meeting program agenda.
Making all the members who attend your monthly meeting listen to minutiae like the wording for a flyer, detailed plans for a school astronomy event, or reports on membership dues can be excruciatingly boring for much of the membership.
As a practice, many clubs have found that having business meetings separate from general monthly meeting is more appreciated by the members as well as a more effective and efficient method of making decisions.
So how do clubs separate business from the monthly meeting?
Here are different ways clubs handle it:
- If your club feels it must have business meetings that are for the general membership, consider not having them every month – only conduct them when your Board needs input from the members. And only include the one or two issues the Board needs feedback on. Clubs find this doesn’t take more than 15 minutes.
- Plan a more formal business meeting just once a year to handle elections, annual treasurer’s report, awards ceremony, and any significant issues that need member input. Many clubs do this at the December members meeting. The rest of the year, business meetings are held separately from the monthly membership meetings and all members are invited to attend.
- If you hold Board meetings, invite your members to participate. Discuss all business at the Board meeting. Most clubs find that other members only infrequently choose to attend. So all members stay informed of decisions, post the minutes of the meeting on your website or attach them in a document to the Board meeting event on Night Sky Network.
- Schedule the business meeting before or after your general meeting. You might find that not many members will attend and that your membership has confidence in the Board to make the necessary decisions.
TIP: Limit announcements at club meetings
How much time is spent giving announcements at club meetings? Successful clubs have found that limiting announcements to take up no more than five minutes of the meeting is a welcome change. Consider placing announcements in email notices, your newsletter, and/or on your website, where all members can see them, not just those who attended the meeting.
“I was so relieved when we set a time limit of one minute for anyone who wanted to make an announcement. We even have a timekeeper who uses a clicker to signal when they have to sit down.”
MORE TIPS for holding club meetings that your members will look forward to attending
- Take a look at your club meetings: What is the balance between business, announcements, and astronomy? Is the amount of time spent on each appreciated by your membership? Or is too much time spent on business and announcements and not enough on astronomy?
- How are your meetings structured? Do you have meeting programs that include a lot of variety? See “Ideas to Enhance Club Meetings” for suggestions.
- When you first invite a speaker to do a presentation to your club, ask the speaker to aim the level of the presentation to that of the “interested public.” Too many technical talks might confuse many of your members. The talks should be accessible to most of your membership.
- If your speaker is getting too technical, have a member whose job it is to interrupt the speaker and ask, “Some of our members may be unfamiliar with the term <repeat the unfamiliar term or concept>, could you take a minute to explain what that is?”
- Begin and end your meetings on time.
Ideas to Enhance Club Meetings
These ideas come from astronomy clubs around the country:
- Schedule an annual dinner with videos and socializing. Show classic science fiction movies.
- Have a meeting where several members set up “stations” around your meeting room to share some aspect of astronomy or equipment in which they have an interest.
- Consider having a Kids Corner. Some clubs have found that more members attend meetings if they can bring their children too. The Night Sky Network ToolKits* have a variety of activities to keep 6 - 12 year-olds interested. Astronomy-related movies, videos, NASA lithos, and astronomy applications for mobile phones and other electronic devices can also provide interest. (Photo: Kids making Pocket Solar Systems. Credit: Alyssa Henderson, Kansas Astronomical Observers)
- Hold a telescope workshop once a year to tune up telescopes and (for those who may have received a scope over the holidays) introduce new telescope owners to their instruments.
- Invite local high school science fair winners to come in and talk about their projects.
- Hold a swap meet and invite other local clubs.
- Invite post-docs as speakers – many colleges and universities offer a speaker’s bureau for new post-docs to get used to talking to the public. These are usually younger people (under 35) and include quite a few women. (Post-docs: graduates who have recently earned their PhDs.)
- Don’t forget your own members often have a wealth of experiences and interests to share: historical perspectives, vacation trips that involve astronomy, research or projects they’ve done, skills they can share. So do members from other clubs.
- Speakers can come from your local college or university, science center or museum, planetarium, even engineering and research firms.
- Give a ticket to each person attending the meeting and have a door prize drawing at the end for a poster, book, red flashlight, or other such item.
- Check the club calendars and newsletters of nearby astronomy clubs for speakers they have used. Contact the person who arranges the meeting program from another club to exchange ideas.
- Hold an annual awards meeting to recognize all members who have contributed to the club.
- Sell raffle tickets and have a drawing for special prizes, if allowed in your area.
- Introduce one of your Night Sky Network ToolKits* by showing the Training Video and trying out a couple activities. You can download astronomy activities and a variety of PowerPoints with scripts: http://nightsky.jpl.nasa.gov/download-search.cfm
- Use the PowerPoints with speaker recordings from Night Sky Network Tele-Conferences. These bring NASA scientists and others in as your meeting speaker – no stipend needed! See the list and download them here: http://nightsky.jpl.nasa.gov/club/download-list.cfm?SearchString=tele-conference
- Show Sharing the Universe videos to discuss issues concerning doing outreach with the public or on ideas for growing your club: http://www.astrosociety.org/SharingTheUniverse
* Night Sky Network ToolKits: If your club is a member of the NASA Night Sky Network (NSN), contact your club’s NSN Club Coordinators for more information. http://NightSkyNetwork.org
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Sharing the Universe videos are produced by the Astronomical Society of the Pacific (ASP) from research conducted by the Institute for Learning Innovation, the ASP, and from astronomy clubs like yours. www.astrosociety.org/SharingTheUniverse
The Sharing the Universe project is funded by the National Science Foundation and is supported by the Division of Research on Learning in Formal and Informal Settings (DRL) of the National Science Foundation under Grant Number DRL 0638873. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in the material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.
Video production by Flying Moose Pictures