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A flying club that aggressively promotes itself and its activities has a better chance of surviving than one that doesn't. Since there is a natural turnover in most clubs' membership, an aggressive club should develop a good membership recruitment and retention program. But effort should also be directed at flying activity, since aircraft utilization is the key to low operating costs. That's why a wise club will devote some of its time, effort and money to promote maximum use of its aircraft.
The most common source of new members is word of mouth. That means most new members will be brought in by current members who actively promote the club by talking about it. Not only should current members recommend their club to other pilots, they should also recommend good flight training prospects for possible future membership to the club. This helps the club recruit new members and create a pool of potential members who are compatible with current members, goals, and policies.
Once a prospect expresses interest in joining the club, his or her name should be put on a waiting list. By maintaining a waiting list, a club can expand rapidly without an extensive, time-consuming membership drive. Interest can be maintained by occasional "guest night" meeting invitations which keep prospects informed about club activities.
Why should a club be interested in gaining new members? First, every club will have its share of comings and goings based on the personal lives of members. To maintain membership levels, a club will need new members from time to time to fill the vacancies this creates.
Second, adding new members can be a way of financing the expansion of a club and can help bolster the club's capitalization. The additional money brought in by initiation fees, dues, and increased utilization of the aircraft can spread the fixed costs over more members and reduce everyone's flying costs.
Third, changing interests among members can lead to the purchase of more sophisticated aircraft. In this case, new members can be recruited to help keep the utilization of the less sophisticated aircraft high.
Fourth, when a club decides to expand its fleet or upgrade its equipment, it is probably facing substantially increased expenditures. Increasing the size of the membership can help provide funding for such upgrades.
A club has to be careful when it decides to increase membership. It's great to have the extra money that new members bring in, but the club should be careful not to grow so large that it has too many members per aircraft. This could lead to discontent or frustration because members might not be able to use the aircraft when or as often as they might like.
Periodically placing classified ads in the local newspaper or in aviation publications can help a club gather names of potential members. The membership chairman should always follow up the leads so that potential members do not become disenchanted because they have not been contacted by the club. Failure to contact pilots responding to the classified ads could lead to a reputation for being unresponsive to a pilot's interest.
Another method of recruiting new members is through a direct mail campaign to all the pilots in the local area. A letter introducing the club and a brochure or other piece of literature explaining the club's policies and practices is a simple beginning.
The idea behind promoting membership recruitment is to keep the club's name in front of local pilots. Word of mouth, classified ads, and direct mail campaigns are obvious ways of doing this. Other easy methods include posting notices on airport bulletin boards in the area, listing the club in the yellow pages, or holding an "open house" on a regular basis so that prospective members can visit club facilities, and inspect aircraft and equipment. Making club aircraft available for mercy missions, CAP patrols, or newsworthy events may also generate some free publicity.
Obviously, a club shouldn't need to take away FBO customers. Clubs, though, can point out to the local FBO that if the FBO can get enough pilots to join the club, it can sell the club another airplane. Such an approach may result in having the FBO become one of the club's supporters. Also, very infrequent fliers will find a club more expensive than renting aircraft from an FBO. And some club members will eventually become prospects for an aircraft purchased through an alert FBO.
Social programs and meetings provide excellent opportunities for a club to recruit and retain members. Current members should be encouraged to bring prospective members to at least one social function each year and the club could even host an annual get-acquainted party where potential members can learn about club activities.
Clubs should strive to create exciting and interesting programs so members enjoy club activities and individuals feel they are part of a larger whole. It's not too difficult to get interesting speakers, and a club need not confine its programs to airplane-related subjects.
Examples of places to get good speakers are the FAA's Flight Standards District Office (FSDO), Airports District Office (ADO), Air Route Traffic Control Center (ARTCC), or Flight Service Stations (FSS). Other possibilities include the National Weather Service (NWS), military bases, county commissioners, airport managers and personnel, Aircraft Owners & Pilots Association (AOPA), aircraft and avionics manufacturers, and any other group that fits in with the club members' interests. Videos and DVDs on the topic being discussed will add a professional touch to the program and break the monotony of listening to a single speaker.
Sample topics might include the local airspace environment, aircraft equipment systems, airport development, safety, planning for future club activities or fly-ins, seasonal weather briefings, or anything that suits the club's purposes. Of course clubs should not hesitate to get together just for fun. An annual barbecue at the home base, a dance in the hangar, or even a quarterly gathering to wash and wax the aircraft help to promote membership retention as effectively as a safety meeting.
The program chairman is in charge of planning and developing activities for a club, but he or she need not be the only one to get involved. Let the program chairman direct the overall planning but have him or her delegate the responsibility for each individual activity to one or two club members. It will help keep all the members involved and bring some freshness and creativity to the programs as subcommittees try to outdo one another.
It is important for a club to have printed material readily available for prospective members. This gives the club a more professional appearance and helps its image as a credible and stable organization. The literature should include explanations of club fees, requirements, what is expected of members, dues structure, how equity in the aircraft is handled, meeting arrangements, social and program schedules, and any other pertinent information. Another beneficial piece of printed material is a brochure that gives a general overview of how a flying club works. It doesn't have to give details about a specific club, but it should explain the basics of a flying club, how a pilot can save money, and the other benefits offered by club flying.
Promoting flying activity is just as important as promoting membership recruitment and retention. A club with a full membership roll faces financial instability if its aircraft sit idly on the ground. Again, aircraft utilization is the best way to cut costs.
Flying activities that keep the club's name in front of the public will help a club build community support and keep its aircraft active. For example, flying blood plasma or providing free transportation for visiting dignitaries are good public relations efforts. A club should be careful to stick to strictly charitable projects so as not to run afoul of regulations covering commercial operations, or to fall into competition with the local commercial aviation interests. Club officers should take the initiative in organizing flying activities that are public service oriented.
The following suggestions can help promote flying activity, but imaginative active club members will come up with even more new suggestions and ideas—just ask what they think.
Weekend fly-outs: Clubs can fly from their home base to a predetermined destination for a day or an entire weekend. By using most, if not all of the club's aircraft, all the members who go should have the opportunity to fly.
Fly-ins: All clubs can hold fly-ins to help sharpen their skills and have a little fun. Neighboring clubs can be invited and a series of competitive events can be organized to keep the fly-in exciting. Events such as accuracy landings, target drops and ribbon cutting followed by a barbecue or picnic lunch can turn a nominal flying day into a day to remember.
Promotion is an important part of any flying club's activity and should receive a lot of attention from club officers. Members and officers alike should always spread the word about their club and let other pilots know it's an exciting organization. Once a solid membership has been established, a club needs to maintain a list of prospects to fill the vacancies created by normal turnover. Steady promotional activity designed to generate a waiting list of potential members is the best way to do this quickly, efficiently and economically. The sooner a club fills vacancies, the better able it is to maintain its financial stability. A key element in maintaining a club's financial viability is keeping the aircraft in the air. There are many flying activities that clubs can organize to help keep their members and their aircraft active. A smart club will take the initiative to do it. Both member satisfaction and club survival are assured for the club that can "keep 'em flying."
Updated October, 2011
AOPA thanks our members for their continued support in protecting the freedom to fly.