Question of the Month: How can we get more members more involved with the club?

This question ranks in the top 10 of the most frequently asked questions of the Flying Clubs staff – and probably applies equally to other social clubs. Although it’s a simple question, it has a multifaceted answer, which we’ll tackle in two parts-  this month and next.

To begin, we’ll briefly address general principles to keep in mind when encouraging participation, and then look at the opportunities for club members to serve in a formal capacity, such as leadership positions or on the board. Next month, we’ll focus on events and activities that may help increase involvement.

Why is it important to increase involvement?

An active membership helps build camaraderie and increases participation. In a flying club, increased participation generally means lower costs – and that is something that benefits everyone. As with any organization, it’s important to look toward the future and develop tomorrow’s leaders today. The best way to do that is by getting people involved, even if it’s only in a small capacity.

Understand your membership

Let’s be honest, in today’s society people are busier than ever and have competing interests pulling them in many directions – family, work, other activities. To ensure your club is a priority for your members, there are five simple principles to keep in mind:

Understand what motivates your members

Ask your members what they want to get out of being in the club. Some members may be looking to socialize with other pilots, while others may enjoy flying to breakfast. Knowing what your members are interested in will allow you to suggest activities or leadership positions that match their motivations.

Be clear on the club’s needs and expectations

Often times members are concerned about the level of commitment required when they volunteer to get more involved. It’s important to outline what the club needs, why it’s important, and what the expectations are for someone who is serving in a position. This way, members know what is needed and expected from them.

Make it fun

If people enjoy what they are doing, they will likely continue to do it and might even encourage others to join them. One of the best things about flying clubs is the camaraderie and fellowship that can be developed.

Make it convenient

Remembering that most people have busy schedules, find ways to make it easy for your members to participate. Take into consideration the type of activity, people’s availability, and what is actually needed to get the job done. If members are spread out over a wide geographic area, conference calls might be more convenient than face-to-face meetings at the airport.

Show your appreciation

Everyone likes to know they are making a difference and they are appreciated. Say thank you, publicly recognize members who have stepped up either at your monthly board meeting or perhaps at a holiday or annual dinner. Certificates of appreciation or other ways to recognize people for their service serves two purposes – the recipient appreciates being acknowledged, and others may see the certificate or award and be inspired to serve as well.

Club mission or purpose

Understanding your members, why they joined the club, and what they’re interested in doing can often be answered by the club’s mission statement. Are your members looking for affordable opportunities to fly? Does your club offer access to aircraft they otherwise couldn’t find elsewhere? What type of flying are your members doing – local $100 hamburger flights or cross country travel?

More than anything else, your mission statement establishes the reason for being of the club, and so sets the tone of member involvement. Even a simple four-word mission statement carries weight.  For example, “Maximum Fun, Minimum Cost” (the title of the AOPA Flying Clubs Seminars) suggests that the club should have a fun social program, as well as working to lower expenses to achieve minimum costs – and neither of these will happen without member involvement. 

Another mission might be “Provide a safe means of flying at the most affordable rate”.  Again these few words point to safety, which is the joint responsibility of all members and requires training and interaction, as well as controlling costs through frugal management using, for example, the individual skills of the membership. 

The point is that a well-worded mission statement can be used to reinforce the social aspect of the club as well as defining the jobs and tasks that must take place to meet the objective.

Serving in leadership roles

In addition to having a clearly defined mission, knowing what skills your members bring to the club or want to develop will help ensure people are serving in ways that benefit the club, as well as providing value to the volunteering members.

Most clubs’ bylaws spell out required positions, and it is good to rotate the positions on a regular basis, say every two years or so. Members should know, but may need to be reminded, that they are part of “a group of people who come together to share in the assets, liabilities, pleasures and responsibilities of aircraft ownership and flying.”    Changing of the guard on a regular basis does two things – it gets different groups working together, and it allows more people to understand the workings of the club, who can then better contribute and participate at meetings and events. It’s helpful to have the previous officer mentor the new person for a suitable period of time, to maintain continuity and promote member interaction.

Most clubs are structured with the following board positions:

  • President
  • Vice President
  • Secretary
  • Treasurer (Often Sec/Treas are combined as they are tightly overlapping responsibilities)
  • Safety officer
  • Maintenance officer (some clubs have one per aircraft)
  • Social officer

With this structure, there are already 7 or 8 members who are deeply involved with the club, and some positions are really leaders of teams.  For example, it is a wise social officer who establishes a small team of 3 to 5 people who help with the organization of events, fly-outs, etc. 

The maintenance officer may have a responsibility to get members over to the hangar to do preventative maintenance, and perhaps do deeper dives such as owner-assisted annuals.  Even if the maintenance officer is an A&P, it’s helpful to get other members involved – not only does it increase member’s engagement with the club, but provides an opportunity for the members to use their skills or perhaps learn more about how various systems work, which results in safer pilots. 

What about the safety officer?  This position comes with responsibility.  But help is at hand.  Your local FSDO is always looking for good candidates to become FAASTeam Representatives who present seminars on behalf of the FAA, and it allows club members to be active in the WINGS program.  Also, the AOPA’s Air Safety Institute has a vast selection of courses, quizzes, videos, flash cards, etc. that can be used during club safety sessions. 

If you are looking for something specific, give AOPA Flying Club Director, Steve Bateman, a call at 301-695-2356. The Flying Club team is working closely with the ASI to create very targeted material to help with club safety.

Involvement results in cost savings

Member involvement also translates into cost savings, which translates into cheaper flying – a key objective of flying clubs.   For example, at an assisted annual, you may save 2-3 hours of charged labor, just by removing and refitting access panels, and you can save 2-3 hours more by doing the oil change, cleaning the plugs, repacking the wheel bearings, etc. 

If the club has an active safety program, not only can members get WINGS credit, but it provides documentation of an active safety culture that may result in lower insurance premiums. This type of involvement translates into tangible cost savings that directly lower the fixed costs of the club – and therefore the annual or monthly dues.

Next month, we’ll look at unofficial club positions and various events and activities that a club may undertake to help keep members engaged and active.

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