First off, this is not meant to ruffle feathers, it’s intended to be helpful and open discussion. So here goes…gulp.
I have been a paying member and active volunteer (former Media Coordinator) of the Nova Scotia Bird Society for 3 years. When I joined there was a promise of a members only discussion board on the website to which I would receive access after paying my dues. It has never worked, and I’ve now renewed my membership twice since.
As well, there have been no out of town meetings since I joined the society. Those were an almost 60-year tradition in the society. Held in a different town each year, they helped to connect members across the province.
Now what we have a very large Facebook discussion group that is open to non-members and members alike. Which is fine, but it’s all we have, and it doesn’t cut the mustard I’m afraid.
Many times, I have contacted the board to suggest this is not sufficient to unite our paying members together. This has been met with great resistance and the suggestion I am elitist.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
And after 2 years of this falling on deaf ears, I had an epiphany yesterday.
The important messages to our best members only hit about 1 in 10 members, and here is why.
The AGM is the one place and time where members are directly addressed about society business with any chance of discussion taking place. And out of our 500 or so members, I would guess roughly 50 attend the AGM.
So, with almost 10,000 on the FB discussion group where some (maybe half or two thirds at a guess) of those 500 members are involved in the end we are only getting the most important message out to about 50 committed birders/volunteers.
I say volunteers because most of the most committed members of the NSBS have volunteered for something at some point during their membership.
You must place a value on something for people to perceive it has value.
As well, the only way to have voting rights at the AGM or a special meeting is to purchase a paid membership.
So, it would stand to reason you would want this group of dedicated people to be active and involved in the society.
It occurred to me that I have heard 3 years in a row at the AGM that we need help with magazine editing and contributions. Data analysis and section editing is being done by a handful of people, and Dr. McLaren has had to do a good majority of himself.
That is not fair. But when you are only asking about 50 people to help from a pool of 500, and only once a year, what do you expect? I’ll tell you. One in 10.
You need to engage members in member only discussion. Because let’s face it, people who just like to feed the goldfinches in their backyard and look at pretty pictures are probably not going to have the birding skills required to analyze data about birds and write for our magazine.
And our quarterly publication, is in my opinion, the most important thing that the Nova Scotia Bird Society does.
Just setting up that simple discussion board on the website for members only, would provide the opportunity to communicate directly with all the dedicated paying members of the actual society.
And you could not only put the call out for volunteers on the boards, you could also have discussion and engagement about the magazine. And do this for any topic.
The society is directly accountable to the membership so state our bylaws. And for that to be effective, the membership need to be able to communicate with the board. And you cannot do that effectively in a FB group even if it’s members only because not all members are on FB. I can name many excellent members who are not on FB.
This really matters in my opinion. If the NSBS is to grow their paid membership I believe this would be a huge step. Because people want to believe they can effect change and contribute. They want a voice. They want to feel useful. They want to support their cause. They want to volunteer. But they need to be able to talk about it.
As for the out of town meetings, I really believe they should be reinstated because the society is far to Halifax centric currently. If there are barriers to this, put it out on the discussion boards for feedback and ideas from the membership. Don’t just scrap a 60-year-old tradition with no chance for the membership to have input.
On that note, another thing the discussion boards could do is have separate topics for regions. I know the Cape Breton birders have their own informal group so why not bring them into the fold under the discussion boards.
So many possibilities.
But to me the most important thing is getting some healthy discussion on the go about our quarterly publication, Nova Scotia Birds.
For you members that don’t attend meetings or the AGM, did you even know there was a need for section editing?
Maybe I don’t have all he answers but something needs to happen because paid membership is in decline, while membership in the FB group is exponential. I don’t think this is a coincidence personally. Social media is intended to be an addition, not a solution. And is widely known to breed apathy. It’s easy to like things. It’s a lot harder to do things.
Anyway, with all the wonderful people in our Nova Scotia birding community, we can fix this. Let’s do it together. Would love to hear other people’s ideas, but I’m really nobody, just a regular ole member. Engaging the board or long-time members would be far more useful I hope some of you reading this do just that.
Yours in birds,
Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not. – Dr. Suess