I’m at the national Civil War Congress, being held this week at the National Civil War Museum in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Here are some takeaways from the morning session:
Jay Jorgensen of the Robert E. Lee Civil War Roundtable of Central New Jersey offered a neat history of roundtables. He also outlined different organizational structures and different governance structure.
The Old Baldy CWRT has started bringing in speakers via Skype—something to consider for roundtables in geographic locations where it’s tough to attract speakers.
When a speaker doesn’t show up, have a back-up plan. Often, a member might have a ready program in a back pocket that he/she can use in case of emergency. Alternatively, generate a discussion among members around a topic like “What’s your favorite Civil War book?”
Several speakers lauded Matt Borowick’s The Civil War Roundtable Handbook, available at Amazon for $.99.
Thoughts from John Bamberl from the Scottsdale, Arizona, CWRT:
“Marketing is really fun if you’re passionate about what you’re selling. And we’re selling the American Civil War.”
Have a space that fits your needs. A turnout of forty people might seem great, but in an auditorium, the space looks empty with only 40 people.
“You have to be relevant to your community in order to get members.”
- Start a marketing committee, find a marketing director
- Seek professional marketing help
- Start a membership drive
- Provide a role model for the board to follow
Told his board: Every one of you is going to become the chairman of a committee or active on two committees. Three board members resigned. They told him they supported what he was up to, but being in their seventies, they thought he needed to get some younger people to do it. They weren’t angry, and they’re still members.
“You have to select board members for a specific reason, not just to fill an empty chair. Give them a job.”
“The secondary job of everyone on the board is marketing—and everybody knows that.”
Look at newsletters from other roundtables. Look at other roundtables’ websites. Get ideas. Keep things simple and easy to read.
Make sure your website has a “Contact Us” page.
Make sure your membership form has an extra line at the bottom: “If you’d like to make a donation above and beyond the membership dues, check here.” Virtually everyone makes an additional donation. Last year, the roundtable raised an extra $6,000 this way.
We used to mail a hard copy of our newsletter to everyone at a cost of $945 each time. We save that money by now posting the newsletter to our website.
Network with local museums. “We have a Western museum that we’ve turned into a Civil War museum,”
“Can we write an article about your museum and put it in our newsletter? No one has ever said ‘No’ yet.”
Rack cards that can be distributed around town. They cost us $98 for a thousand (at gotprint.com). “I put them everywhere I can think of.”
Contact VFW Halls and American Legion Posts. Do a monthly hand-out about each speaker, which you can hang on the bulletin boards at each Post.
Contact local schools, sponsor an essay contest or some other program, start a Civil War Club. Scottdale’s essay contest inspired a separate art contest.
Establish a history discussion group. If your monthly speaker talks about Shiloh, for instance, your history discussion group would meet two weeks later and have a discussion about Shiloh. “It’s great fun.”
Follow up on expired memberships. Make phone calls. Make the contact personal.
Create an “Inactive list” for people who want to still be members but can’t attend meetings for health or other reasons. “We still send them the newsletter. We still keep them in the loop.” It’s a way to pay respect to the people who helped grow your roundtable for years.