N5FDL: Ten Sure-Fire Ways to Grow Your ARES® Group

Reprinted from the ARRL ARES® E-letter, March 16, 2011:

This month, I'll share some simple ideas for growing your ARES group. You can probably implement most or all of them.

Location: Having a great location is one of the keys to success of ARES® groups. Among the most important things a served agency can provide to your group is a place to hold meetings and events. Finding places to "do things" was the most difficult part of getting our group started. Now that we are established, it isn't a problem--but, we are careful to provide special support to the groups that support our program by providing meeting locations.

Dinner Meetings: If you haven't considered holding dinner meetings, you should. I was initially reluctant because of the expense to members. I didn't want anyone to avoid our meetings because they couldn't afford an expensive meal or would be unable to find something to eat at the restaurant I chose. One way to handle this is to separate mealtime from program time or select a restaurant that is OK with someone just ordering a cup of coffee. This has not turned out to be a problem. Dinner meetings can keep groups alive when non-dinner meetings will not.

HamCrams: Creating new, emergency-minded hams may be the best way to grow your group and goes hand-in-hand with the next item. One-day licensing classes don't teach someone how to be a ham, but the license makes someone trainable and worth investing in.

Make Friends: I am a big proponent of linking ARES® to Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) groups, church emergency preparedness, Scouts and anyone else who we can help get a license. I don't expect these people to become "ham first" volunteers, but they add significantly to the number of trained persons we can call upon. And some really do get interested in Amateur Radio as a primary hobby.

Don't Say No to People Who Want to Make You Look Good: If someone has an idea that will make your ARES® group look good, by all means let them. Good judgment matters--the person has to actually be able to deliver, but make it known you are open to good ideas that aren't your own. And bask in the glow of their success. This is where future leaders come from.

Be more than just an ARES® group: There is, I am led to believe, more to ham radio than emergency stuff. We've licensed lots of HamCram folks and it is a fair complaint that we don't teach them enough radio. So, I've developed events that combine emergency training with other ham activities, like antennas, DXing, and contesting. Just did the first one.

Stay in touch: I use a variety of tools to keep in touch with our members, would-be members, inactive members, area clubs and other groups. I have websites (sjham.com and n5fdl.com), multiple free Yahoo Groups and have recently begun using a mailing service to distribute newsletters. I am using madmimi.com, though mailchimp.com looks like a good option and offers small mailings for free and a discount for non-profits (including ARES groups). All handle subscriptions and unsubscriptions automatically.

Do Something: This seems obvious, but the more you do the more involved your members will be and the more people you will be exposed to. You will probably have to invest in some small events before attendance picks up. Accept that it may only be you and three friends to begin with, but consistency leads to growth. Take advantage of opportunities that present themselves to tie-in with other people's events and turn them into your own. Field trips to events in nearby cities are an opportunity to involve your members. Training offered by other groups, such as ICS classes, are another opportunity.

Watch for Inflection Points: This is when your program reaches "critical mass" that presents opportunities to do things that were not possible previously, such as adding served agencies or new programs. This deserves more discussion in a future post. Just be aware when the "next big thing" becomes possible. Think big.

This isn't a growth strategy per se, but it is often much easier to hold on to an existing member or re-energize an inactive one than to bring someone totally new into your group. Interest ebbs and flows. Accept this but always remain in touch so that when someone's interest returns you're ready to welcome him or her back. (Eventually this may happen to you - the topic for a future essay).

How have you grown your group? Let me hear from you! E-mail: n5fdl@arrl.net. Visit my blog at n5fdl.com. -- David Coursey, N5FDL, EC San Joaquin County (CA)