Perspectives from Cincinnati – Takeaways from the Civil War Congress

National Civil War Museum (photograph from museum website)

Darryl R. Smith from the Cincinnati Civil War Round Table shares his thoughts from the recent Civil War Round Table Congress, adding another perspective and voice to event discussions.

Convinced by a fellow board member to attend the recent Civil War Round Table Congress, held in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania at the wonderful National Civil War Museum, and having some extra time on my vacation calendar, I decided that attending the congress might be beneficial for both our round table, as well as the Cynthiana Battlefields Foundation, as I serve on the boards of both organizations. Taking a couple of extra days off from work would also allow me to get some battlefield walks on the iconic Gettysburg battlefield, so a trip east would be a complete immersion into the Civil War. Okay, count me in!

In reviewing the agenda and the topics to be discussed, I realized that many of the ideas that would be shared by the speakers have been tried and/or discussed within the Cincinnati group, and being an idea guy myself, perhaps I was not the person from our board who needed to attend. You see, we have had folks on our board and serving as trustees who are part of the “that is the way we have always done it” crowd, the ones resistant to change, the ones who seem to be happy with the same pitiful membership numbers, even though we are located in one of the larger cities in the United States and have a rich Civil War history. The same ones who could never tell me why we charge a $25.00 initiation fee to new members (which has finally been removed).  The “that is the way we have always done it” crowd should be the ones attending this congress, not I. But, again as this trip provided me with the opportunity to go battlefield tramping, network with other round tables, as well as restoke my passion to grow and promote our round table, how could I say no?

Friday night events included a social gathering, a behind the scenes tour of the Museum, hosted by the exuberant Wayne Motts, and concluded with an excellent talk presented by Chris Mackowski about Chancellorsville. (we HAVE get this guy to present to our round table) I arrived at the museum early to take in the displays as I had not made the visit prior to the congress. It is a rather impressive building, I believe 65,000 square feet in size, set in an idyllic hilltop location within a Harrisburg park. The views are impressive as are the displays which cover nearly every aspect of the war (although I saw no mention of the two battles of Cynthiana – how could this be?).

Saturday was the day – filled with speakers who gave short but powerful messages regarding what they are doing to make their respective round tables successful. I was especially looking forward to Wally Rueckel’s talk after reading his article that appeared on Emerging Civil War. You see, Wally’s group has only been in existence for eight years yet has 1,200 members and 400 attendees at each meeting, and they do not do a dinner. You must be thinking this round table must be in a huge city, right? Nope, located in Brunswick, North Carolina, Wally’s group is breaking the mold on how to organize and execute a round table. I took away two impactful thoughts from Wally’s presentation, VOL-UNT-EERS (said as a cheer) and advisors. More on that in a moment.

The topics ranged from organization to social media to activities to fund-raising to low cost marketing, with many others touched upon. After the four speakers completed their presentations there was also a Q&A session, and one topic seemed to be on every group’s mind – how do we recruit younger members? While the panel seemed to feel that people “age into” the round table experience as they have more time and more disposable income, and that recruiting younger members just doesn’t happen, this was one area that I do disagree a bit with the consensus. When we have held events beyond our normal meeting schedule, we have had new faces, young and old, attend. But I will also get to that in a moment.

Back to the Brunswick group. The Cincinnati Round Table board is made up of the typical officer positions, which we beg members to fill each year. After reading the series of articles on Emerging Civil War about the Brunswick group, I have been talking to some of my fellow members about “breaking the mold” on the leadership team structure. Instead of forcing successful and passionate officers from their roles due to the ending of their term, we should re-write our by-laws to allow a board member (mostly our president and vice-president positions) to serve in whatever capacity if they are effective and willing to continue to serve. Currently we “groom” the vice-president (who is saddled with taking care of dinner reservations) to become president after serving for one term. This limits our potential pool of folks who might serve as president, but like I, do not have the time nor inclination to deal with dinner reservations. Conversely, it may keep a person from serving as vice-president knowing that they have to serve as president, and maybe they like handling dinner reservations, but have no interest in leading the board or presiding over our meetings.

We also have two trustees, which would be compared in some respects to the Brunswick advisors. The trustees do not vote but do provide insight to topics. This is another area of great opportunity that may allow us to obtain more folks willing to serve on the board in the future. We could ask our members if they are willing to serve as an advisor, attending board meetings, providing their thoughts. They would also see how each board position functions, and hence gain perspective and experience then to know that they could later serve in a board position. Less intimidation of the unknown.

Also, VOL-UNT-EERS – we have very few volunteers in our group. By limiting what we offer as a board, we also limit our members’ passion. Maybe we have a member who enjoys Civil War music and would like to have music playing during our social time and is willing to take that on. Perhaps we have members who are willing to serve as greeters, guiding visitors and new members through the check-in process and can answer questions. Maybe we have members who want to be a part of organizing activities. We might have members who want to provide appetizers during social time. We could have a member or two who is willing to help our social media outlets. In every case, we’ve simply never asked. It is time to ask.

Last topic, obtaining younger members. We have younger adults who are interested in the Civil War. Facebook tells me so. Within the Cincinnati region we have thousands of Facebook users who have listed American Civil War as an interest on their profiles, and thousands of them who are under the age of forty. While these folks cannot make our-third-Thursday-of-the-month-eight-times-a-year meetings, some of them have attended our other events, so the interest is evident. As they cannot make our regular meetings due to children’s activities and other life commitments, they feel no need to join. But if we were to offer additional events, such as more tours or round table discussion gatherings, they may be able to attend those events more regularly and hence feel inclined to become a part of our round table. We can have them “age into” the round table meeting as their commitments change, but we can recruit them now by offering more opportunities to become engaged.

In summary, I highly suggest that any round table across the country make plans to attend a future congress. The networking, sharing of best practices, and general camaraderie make this event a must-do affair from which any round table could greatly benefit.

2 Responses to Perspectives from Cincinnati – Takeaways from the Civil War Congress

  1. Thanks for this article. I am planning on attending next year’s conference as a rep from the N.E. Ohio Roundtable. Great to read your feedback!

Please leave a comment and join the discussion!

%d bloggers like this: