This Question of the Month came from several sources – including questions raised at the Flying Club Roadshow mentioned in the News from HQ article, and is something most clubs ask about: How can we grow the club membership? Some key objectives of the Flying Clubs Initiative are to form, grow and sustain clubs – so we are delighted to address the “grow” part of the equation in this month’s Club Connector.
First, two things to consider:
- Go back to your club’s core mission statement – the few words that define the purpose of the club. This is important as you’ll want to tackle growth so that it aligns with your mission – or you may decide to change the mission to accommodate a different life-phase of the club. For example, if you originally started the club with cross country flying in mind but now intend to add a training aircraft, then your mission might well change to include primary training. The point here is to be clear about what type of growth you are looking for. Also, watch your ratios – many clubs are built on the idea of a certain ratio of people-to-aircraft, so simply growing membership without growing resources may not sit well with existing members.
- Involve your airport manager and/or airport authority board on all plans that involve the airport - it is only courteous and will go a long way in maintaining good working relationships.
Let’s assume that you are looking to grow membership – or perhaps to top-up numbers if people have recently left. Bear in mind that the non-flying public may not know that the club exists, so you must get the word out. A good way of reaching flying and non-flying people is to hold some sort of event - a few suggestions follow:
- Arrange an “Introduction to the XZY Flying Club” event at the airport. This is aimed towards the aviation community - pilots, airport businesses, aviation enthusiasts, etc. This doesn’t have to be elaborate – advertise locally on bulletin-boards, both at the airport and the wider community, and provide some finger food and drinks. Keep the presentations visual and short – don’t turn it into a ground school! The idea is to get pilots and non-pilots alike to realize that a club exists, and that flying with a club is affordable and achievable - oh, and including some fun places to fly wouldn't hurt the case, either.
- Host an Open Hangar Day. This is geared towards a broader audience - including the aviation community as well as the general public. Create a professional looking poster (computer editing tools have templates for this) and post them around town. Most public buildings and local stores allow the posting of in-town events. If you do this, be kind and courteous - take the time to remove them after the event and you’ll be welcomed back the next time. Invite people to your hangar to look, touch and sit in your club airplane – and perhaps have a few members on standby to take interested people flying. Remember though that as a Flying Club, you cannot “advertise” rides, sightseeing trips, etc., and must not charge for services to the public. Don’t forget to use your club website and social media accounts – but to be honest, these rarely reach new leads. Leave some fliers on the coffee table at work with a contact name/number. It is amazing to learn that even as we are so involved in our aviation lives, some co-workers just don’t know that we fly, and would love to know more.
- Organize a Fly-In. Work hand-in hand with your airport authority, airport businesses and tenants to really showcase the airport. This takes effort, organizing skills and tenacity, but is well worth it. You’ll develop awareness in the local community (which will quickly become support of “their” airport) and this will lead to lots of questions and opportunities. After a 2015 fly-in in rural Nebraska, the local CFI picked-up 5 new students, 3 of whom became members of the local club. Moreover, there was a marked change in attitude towards the airport, with people realizing its value as a local asset and contributor to the local economy. On this note, involve your town or county economic development official in the planning, to put numbers on the contribution of the airport – this will help people see the business side of the airport, and of GA.
- Host a Safety Seminar. A great way to get existing (active, rusty, etc.) pilots into your club room is to put on a safety seminar with a few slides upfront to introduce the club, its mission, and resources. These are truly win-win-win events. Existing pilots may want to move away from renting and into a club; Some airplane owners may be thinking about leasing their pride-and-joy to help share costs; Or a newly minted pilot may be looking for an opportunity to move-up in equipment and capability. Either way, these events get the club recognized, provide for potential new leads, and give-back in the form of safety training to the wider pilot community. One way to go about this is to contact your local FSDO and ask for the FAASTeam Program Manager (and/or look on the FAASTeam website). Then work with designated FAASTeam Safety Representatives, who are volunteers passionate about aviation safety. The representative will take care of the presentation material, will post the event in the FAA system, and will use the FAA email list to get the word out within a certain distance of the location. By the way, offering WINGS credit tends to pull pilots from a decent radius and presents them with documented proof of training and proficiency – both of which can have a positive impact on individual and club insurance rates, as well as to satisfy club rules on recurrent safety training.
- Talk to local aircraft owners. This was hinted at earlier. Take a walk around the hangars on a fine day and chat with airplane owners. Pilots who own planes often get tunnel vision on flying them – for example, must fly for x-hours a year in order to justify it. There are two opportunities here:
- An owner may not have thought through the true cost of ownership and how that can be shared by forming a club around the plane, and by leasing the plane to a new or existing club. It doesn’t take much to work-up a simple spreadsheet showing fixed and variable costs – and to illustrate the benefit of affordable access that clubs provide.
- It is not unheard of for an owner to get a bit bored flying the same plane. A club provides an affordable way for an owner to have access to a different plane – perhaps a more capable cross country machine, or maybe to have some fun in a taildragger.
- Boy Scouts and Young Eagles. Final idea for consideration. Boy Scout troops often struggle to find suitably qualified people to help with the Aviation Merit badge. Who better to do this than pilots with a plane and a hangar? This gets the scouts interested in aviation, and has the pull-through of having parents, siblings and perhaps grandparents come along for interest. Make sure you work this through the troop and ensure that qualified troop leaders are in attendance at all times. Now, couple this event with Young Eagles and you could really get some activity going! (Contrary to popular belief, individuals can conduct Young Eagle flights outside of the more formal Young Eagle rallies – but make sure you register the event with the EAA to get official blessing and insurance cover).
So, here is a collection of ideas that can help you grow your club – its membership, recognition, stature, and as a community organization. All require some work and diligence – but, hey, we’re pilots and know all about that. Don’t expect instant results – but awareness is the first stage in the process.
Please do let us know if you adopt any of these, and if you have other examples. We’d love to feature your event in a future edition of Club Connector.