by Bruce Frohman
A general consensus in the coin collecting community is that the hobby is in decline.Attendance is down at many clubs.
The perception of hobby health may be inaccurate. If one looks at the robust sale of coins on the internet, by telemarketers, at coin shows, at major auctions, at flea markets, and in coin shops around the country, the hobby has substantial public interest.
Outside of the shrinking clubs, robust coin clubs flourish, with growing membership and boisterous meetings.In fact, some clubs have greater attendance now than they have ever had! How can this be?
In thriving clubs, the leadership is smart and works hard. The dynamic is similar in any club, regardless of purpose.
In my home town of Modesto, California, we have some clubs with hundreds of people while other clubs go defunct. The successful large clubs are run by hard-working, smart people while the dying clubs are run by smart people unwilling to do the work necessary to keep members interested.
Years ago, the Modesto Coin Club split into two separate clubs after a big argument about how the original club should be run. The leaders of the two new clubs were so determined to prove that theirs was the better club that both clubs made an all-out effort to increase membership. They were so competitive that they held their meetings at the same time in different places so that members could not attend both! Within a short time, each club had as many members as the original club before the split! To accomplish this, the leaders made their respective meetings fun and encouraged members to recruit their friends. Soon, entire families were coming to meetings! Total club attendance in Modesto area doubled within two years!
A coin club that is not doing well may have meetings that are so boring that attendees would be happier watching a moth die on a lamp! (Thank you, Don Rickles).The Club President conducts the meeting in a monotone, drones on about unimportant subjects, acts bureaucratic, allows talkative members to monopolize the conversation, establishes priorities requiring members to do tasks that no one wants to do and guilts people into doing those tasks. Poor leadership discourages all change and innovation.
In unsuccessful clubs, the business meeting is long and the fun part of the meeting is short. Clubs that don’t have
any fun at their meetings should not wonder why fewer people show up.
If a guest appears at a meeting but never returns, the club leaders should realize something is wrong! If attendance is dropping, something is wrong.
The worst thing a club can do is discuss what is wrong with the club at a club meeting. This causes members to focus on the fact that something is wrong with the club and to start thinking that maybe quitting the club is a good idea. Once negativity gets started, going downhill gains inertia.
What does smart leadership do to increase attendance and build membership?Work hard. Look at every aspect of club operations and constantly strive to improve. If no one is willing to work hard for a club, the club will inevitably fail.
One person can make a huge difference in the success of a club. If that one person has two, three, or four people to help who are equally committed, a club can quickly turn toward success. The caveat is that the leadership work together, not at cross purposes. Decisions in a successful club are made by consensus, not by fiat.
Successful clubs do not need a lot of promotion. They gain membership by word of mouth. When folks hear about an enjoyable club, they gravitate towards it. Coin club meetings can be very enjoyable. If one cannot say that the last club meeting was fun, then the leaders can do better.
No single formula for a successful club exists.But, trying something new often has a positive outcome. Here are some ideas to try.
Don’t conduct business at a general club meeting. Clubs have set rules and bylaws. Revisiting the bylaws is boring and often results in trivial arguments.
Discussion of the treasury balance is boring. If a member wants to know how much money the club has, he can ask the Treasurer. Don’t constantly remind people to pay dues. If the Treasury is flush with cash, consider a dues holiday. Less affluent members will be very grateful.
Elect officers at one general meeting. Some clubs draw out the process over a period of months, first with a nominating committee that painfully asks each member to serve. Then, at the next meeting, the nominees are listed. Then, at the third meeting, the nominees are finally elected. The whole process is boring, bureaucratic and a task most members dislike. If no one wants to fill a seat, leave it vacant until someone volunteers. But don’t guilt people into serving.
A coin club runs on the service of volunteers. No one should do anything he does not want to do. Laying on guilt takes the enjoyment out of the club service when service becomes involuntary work. If no one wants to do a chore, maybe that task should be abandoned. For example, if no one wants to organize a picnic, don’t have a picnic. Members will volunteer when the activity is something members enjoy.
Members enjoy coin shows. This is why many clubs put on shows. But if no one wants to help put on a show, it is okay to skip having a show one year. Because coin shows have the potential of bringing in new members, smart leadership will find a way to make the show happen, even if having the show is more work for the leaders.The more members a club has, the easier to find volunteers for every task.
Making meetings more fun takes careful thought. Individual members prefer different activities. For example, some members enjoy coin auctions. Many successful coin clubs hold auctions during meetings. Each club has different auction rules to suit the preference of club members.
At the Livermore Valley Coin Club of Livermore, California, we only allow members to bid at auction.Guests may not bid because it is not a public auction. We allow each member to submit 20 auction lots, with minimum bids shown on a bid sheet. However, only coins with an “x” marked next to the auction lot to show interest by another member are auctioned off. Thus, the auction is lively because every lot auctioned receives at least one bid.
The Fremont, California Coin Club allows only 5 auction lots per consignor. They have a nice auction, too. Some prefer Fremont’s model better. The best way to conduct an auction is the way the members like it. Smart leaders can tell what members like by audience participation.
Clubs have other options for encouraging enjoyment. Some examples include excellent talks of no longer than 20-25 minutes by a Numismatist, contests such as “predict the closing price of silver (with prize to best prediction) as of a certain date”, world’s ugliest coin contest, or whatever clever game one can devise.
Some clubs have raffles.The manner in which a raffle is conducted greatly affects meeting satisfaction. If members suspect dishonesty, dissatisfaction appears quickly via lower ticket sales.Raffles with nice prizes have much greater member satisfaction than ones with junk prizes.
Everything done right at a club meeting is important for success. No appearance of impropriety or favoritism should exist. Smart leadership pays attention and observes. Surveys are generally unproductive because they tend to be written with a bias. Asking for opinions one-on-one after a meeting can yield better data in deciding improvements that can be made to club meetings.
Lila Anderson, former California State Numismatic Association officer and wife of coin dealer Joel Anderson of Grover Beach California was once President of the Gateway Coin Club of Merced. At the beginning of her term of office, she announced that she would build the membership to 100. At the time, the club had fewer than 30 members. Within a year, her goal was met because of her hard work. During her years as President, the Merced club enjoyed its highest membership levels and best years as a club.Imagine how great the hobby would be if every club had at least one Lila Anderson.