Thinking about Chapters (aka Groups)

I think it was 2003 or 2004 when someone from PASS came to Orlando and helped start what became OPASS. They stressed the need to find speakers each month and the need to have multiple people involved so that the group wouldn’t die if someone moved on. The formula was find a sponsor, find a speaker, have a meeting, repeat. I don’t recall much in the way of coaching beyond that, or since.  We were moderately successful I guess – we had some meetings, averaging 10 or so attendees – but it wasn’t sustainable. oPASS went dark after a year. When I restarted the group in mid 2006 I went to bi-monthly meetings to reduce the pressure to find speakers and sponsors, but otherwise the formula was the same. Since then we’ve moved to monthly meetings (more or less), split into two groups, and otherwise tried to keep the plate spinning.

I write this knowing that I’ve been to relatively few different group meetings; oPASS, MagicPASS, Jax, Space Coast, West Palm, Pinellas, ONETUG (.net), and Dallas. Maybe I missed one or two. But all are done just about the same and have the same challenges. Kendal Van Dyke has perhaps experimented the most with the formula at MagicPASS, but it’s still been the meet every month formula.

In 2007 we started SQLSaturday for many reasons, but high among those was to have a fund raiser and membership drive. That’s what groups do, or should do after all. It’s been successful on both counts, but we’ve never translated that mailing list (~2000) to increased monthly attendance, and from what I’ve seen that is true in most cases. It doesn’t mean poor marketing to the list but rather serving the market in different ways.

There are a lot of factors that impact chapter success. Finding good speakers/topics is perhaps the biggest (not counting the size of the hosting city). Sponsors are not always easy, but there are options. Venue can take work but is doable, and isn’t an every month problem. It’s a grind to figure out and market the meeting every month. Offsetting those for the group leader is the chance to network and raise their profile, and to earn a free registration to the Summit.

Many groups have found new members via Meetup, because Meetup sends a list of local events to their list and it’s surprisingly effective. The downside is that registration is on Meetup and you lose a bit of the connection back to the chapter (and to PASS) without some extra work.  Here in Orlando the .Net group (ONETUG) relies on Meetup and does pretty well.

All of that leads to this – how we frame the mission of the chapter matters. For too long (forever) we have framed it in here in Orlando as evening meetings on a once a month basis with a sponsor, speaker, some food, and maybe a bit of networking, plus SQLSaturday (and our student seminar). I’d guess that most chapters are similar.

For at least the past year I’ve been thinking we have the wrong mission statement (and maybe I’ve just had it wrong all these years), but I think it should be to “serve the Orlando SQL (and close relatives) community”. Now don’t read that as me saying we haven’t served that community, I just don’t know that we had that over arching view.

If you back up from the “we have to meet every month” mantra and think about how to serve the community best and how to leverage advantages you have from being local, does that change the game? I like the idea of thinking of doing something each quarter, maybe something like this:

  • Q1 – a meetup with 2 speakers, 2 hours of content, (or 1 speaker for 2 hours, its not rigid) and not much else. Food, optional. Sponsor optional. Could we have more than one? Sure.
  • Q2 – Join in supporting Code Camp with speakers, sponsors, marketing, and maybe do a full day paid class or a half day free one, or a smaller BI event, or …pick. Have a meetup if a speaker materializes.
  • Q3 – Host a couple networking lunches, with perhaps a short (15-20 min) presentation about something, in various locations. Maybe a become a speaker class.
  • Q4 – SQLSaturday, student seminar, and a holiday dinner

Don’t get stuck on the quarterly thing – that’s not the point, just an example.

I see us putting more focus on networking, and doing more to think about different segments we should serve (even if not every year); newbies to SQL, new speakers, introverts, extroverts, BI (and maybe that BA thing?), hard core DBA’s, ETL geeks and what we can do here that adds value over someone watching a video on Youtube or Pluralsight or wherever.

I have no objection to groups that want to meet monthly or otherwise do their own thing, it’s all good.We do a lot of good here in Orlando and I think we can do more, but we have to do things that are effective, fun, sustainable. If we let go of the idea that we have to meet most months I think we might find better ways to serve.










2 thoughts on “Thinking about Chapters (aka Groups)

  1. Having been active in the SQL Server community in person since 1999 I’m puzzled why more information isn’t available about connecting to other local people remotely and asynchronously.

    Can I get to a daytime meeting of the Pittsburgh group or spend a Saturday with them? Low probability. You have a much higher chance of reaching out to me by connecting with me on social media (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter) and posting video on Youtube.


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