Promoting A Club
Information of possible interest to those of us actively involved in hobby clubs. We will add any article or web site that you feel would make interesting reading for clubs. Drop us a line when you have found something worth publishing.
The Ontario Trillium Foundation
- Consider applying for a community grant for your club.
- The Ontario Trillium Foundation, an agency of the Ministry of Culture, receives annually $100 million of government funding generated through Ontario's charity casino initiative. Ontario Trillium Foundation grants are awarded to fund capital, operating and/or specific project costs in support of: Arts & Culture, Environment, Human & Social Services, and Sports & Recreation. The Foundation makes grants that have province-wide impact as well as grants in local communities across Ontario.
- Grants are used by eligible charitable and not-for-profit organizations to assist initiatives that increase the capacity and effectiveness of community organizations, encourage the continued growth of volunteerism, promote partnerships, support access and meet the diverse needs of Ontarians.
- Online: The Ontario Trillium Foundation
Geology or Oblivion - a self-help guide by Claus Hedegaard
permission to reprint this personal opinion piece has been granted to CCFMS
Collecting minerals and fossils is the World's best hobby, but it is getting be an increasingly unusual hobby. There are fewer collectors, show attendance declines, dealers close shop, periodicals reduce circulation, etc. This is a strong contrast to the dynamic community of the 1980s and 90s where clubs, shows and dealers expanded. I've been around since the 1970s when collecting minerals was eccentric, through the 90s when every second housewife had a Quartz crystal to ward off evil eyes, to now when it is easy to maneuver a baby carriage through any mineral show. We can only blame ourselves for the problems; we have not been good enough at recruiting new collectors and maintain their interest, established collectors get older, and ... well, Nature takes care of those who didn't quit.
We all need recruitment:
Collectors want buddies and ideally there should be buyers when you have to sell the collection; researchers and museums need political backing, naturally generated by the collecting community; dealers need clients. We have very different approaches, but a common interest. Note, the 'collecting community' is above all built by the multiple approaches. Collaborate with somebody with different background, and you will benefit the community.
It is easy to involve kids and teenagers, though they often 'drop out'. It is something to do with education, hormones, lack of money, etc., but if they develop an interest, they often come back some years later. People with steady jobs and children aged 8-12 have more staying power; the kids don't need as much attention, they have an acceptable economy, and they have time for their own interests, though a possible interest in collecting will be competing against swimming, church bazaar, lacrosse, baking cookies, ... If the stimuli (collecting trips, talks, shows, club meetings, etc.) are to far apart, we may loose them again. To retain new collectors, it is essential they can participate in the hobby often without taking out a second mortgage. We appeal to all sorts of people, the 'nerd' expert on Eocene foraminifers, the 'outdoorsy' finding everything themselves, the 'aesthete' who MUST have every attractive specimen, the 'sportsman' dashing up a mountain to check an outcrop, etc. Our hobby represents a unique combination of outdoors activities, intellectual challenge and aesthetic pleasure, that you will be hard pressed to find anywhere else.
There are too few of us, we are going extinct, and particularly we need to do something. That can be through clubs, at shows, or individually, but the key issue is to recruit and retain new collectors. If you have collected for 10-15 years, you will probably continue, but if you just started because 'rocks are cool' you need regular contact to kindred spirits to support your interest. To stimulate beginners you need not do more than invite them home to see your collection or to join you on a field trip. Beginners are enthusiastic and enjoy talking to somebody more skilled. A box of duplicate specimens to give away is a good asset - beginners often enjoy the diversity of even very common material. Take them on field trips. It is always fun to find your own stuff, but it is also very educational that the good stuff doesn't just line up to jump into your car. You readjust your perception of value after running around for three hours and finding nothing. Experienced collectors often give good talks - they know and have seen a lot. Always bring a camera on your trips. You can obviously give talks to the local club to support the interest - that is fine - but do consider venues where you can actually recruit potential collectors like the local school, church, Rotary, library, sports club, etc. And do bring information about the local club. At best you can hand out a piece of paper with your own address, addresses of local clubs, dealers, magazines and shows for the next year.
I have always enjoyed making educational displays.
You tell a story, creating a context for the specimens, rather than just fill a show case with rocks with weird names. Something about the use of minerals (ore, pigment, fertilizer, ...), formation and occurrence (Quartz from hydrothermal vein, pegmatite, sediment, granite, ...) or life during certain periods (Cretaceous and Cambrian are obvious candidates) is usually popular. Note that displays do not have to be restricted to mineral & fossil shows; you will probably get contact to far more potential future collectors in a supermarket, library, or school. Don't be disheartened by short duration (e.g., a weekend) - most malls or supermarkets have more visitors in one weekend than a major museum gets in a month.
If you are timid or prefer to reflect on your work, writing articles is an option.
General interest articles describing the joy of collecting, a field trip is excellent, particularly if you publish in a non-mineral-fossil periodical (we are still talking recruitment!). Small local papers and free-of-charge papers are obvious victims - they generally have to pay for material and often have trouble getting good, unusual, local material. Many corporations have in-house publications and libraries, credit card companies, the railways, insurance companies, the city, sports clubs, ... often publish magazines for customers and members and are delighted to carry interesting and unusual articles. And do mention the local club!
Geology research receives considerably less public attention compared to for example biology and physics, leaving it more susceptible to cuts of funding, unless somebody speaks up. That somebody must have an interest in the profession, and collectors do. Ultimately it may be a matter of life and death for the institution to be known and appreciated by the general public. Every researcher has a tremendous possibility to recruit and encourage collectors from the general public by offering talks on their specialty whether to mineral & fossil clubs, schools, or other associations and groups. And do bring information about the local club. At best you can hand out a piece of paper with your own address, addresses of local clubs, dealers, magazines and shows for the next year. Many neophytes will be thrilled to attend study groups under the guidance of professionals. I have some rather pointed views on researchers' duty to communicate to the general public, who actually pays for the research, but that is an ethical question and hence irrelevant. However, a positive relationship to the collecting community and an effort to recruit new collectors may be a matter of survival. When funding is sparse, you see cuts in areas with the least public support. So you believe your field 'is far to important to be cut away'? Well, that's what they believed about Egyptology down the street ... now they do not believe anything at all!
Museums need friends too. A few years ago the mineralogy section of Natural History Museum in London (probably the World's finest mineral collection) was on the verge of being packed and sent off to a warehouse in Nottingham. Not unlike shipping the Smithsonian off to Coaldale Junction [that's in Nevada]. It took about three years' protests and objections from the community, professionals and collectors alike, to avert the move ... but these days there would be far fewer people to object and write letters. Collectors support museums, donate specimens and are frequent visitors. No collectors, no museums. Museums can offer activities similar to clubs such as field trips, special exhibits and talks, but they generally address a much wider audience. Museums have a unique ability to recruit collectors, whereas clubs are better at retaining the. Special exhibits are important - they cost money to make, but can often be moved to other museums, and are thus relatively inexpensive per visitor. 'Open house' days with special activities and the possibility to have specimens identified are crowd pleasers. Every museum should have a shop - a large shop! - with geological and natural history objects. Regrettably many museums have the same relationship to business as a nun has to a young sailor on leave, bigoted and above all theoretical. A good museum shop supports the general interest, and it is far more inspiring to have a genuine Quartz crystal than a rubber spider. Museum shops (should) have qualified staff, so the clients learn about their purchases - you buy a testimony of natural processes, not just a gizmo.
The keywords for clubs are 'frequent' and 'welcome'. A club only survives by having frequent activities and by retaining new members. 'Frequent' means more than once a month. To new members it is less relevant what happens, as long as something happens and it is at least a bit interesting. New collectors rarely have a clear profile of their interest and thereby go on any field trip, come for talks on fossils as well as minerals, visits with other clubs, etc. If something relevant happens a few times a month, they will be there. The best a club can do is to be assertive and direct, encourage the new members to go on a field trip, they do not necessarily sign up uninvited; offer a study group for beginners, where more experienced members tell about their interest, show photos from trips, and help establish contacts in the club; and give them a 'buddy' in the club, somebody who will introduce them to others, encourage them to go on field trips, actively helps them to start collecting, etc. Sure, this is a rather firm approach, and you obviously need to respect individual desires, but if we loose them the first year, they are gone.
Mineral- and fossil-dealers are the most important sources of specimens. Even if you only field collect and trade, some of your specimens are bound to go or have gone through a dealer. Dealers are always there, every day and often even on weekends, and even manage to attend shows. They have many contacts and great experience. They need to make money, and basically can only do that by offering material you want to buy at a price you will pay. Like museums, dealers approach a much wider audience. The average customer in a rock shop buys something because it is interesting or beautiful, not because they collect ... but the first piece can be the start of a collection. Collectors are better customers, because they tend to buy more expensive material and any dealer should try to recruit average customers as collectors - hey buddy, it's your retirement! Dealers can apply the same tools as others, talks, exhibits, field trips, etc., but may find study groups particularly rewarding and efficient. You gather a group of clients and discuss and explain a subject, and encourage them to pursue more knowledge. The main difference between a pile of rocks and a collection is knowledge, customers who know more buy more. This is not a rival of club activities, but a supplement. Oh yes, there is the money thing. Neophytes are often appalled by prices and seemingly you can not get anything within a normal family budget. That is a pity and very dangerous to the trade. I am well aware of the cost of operating a shop and participating in shows, and know these costs often exceed the purchase price of the merchandise. However, I also know that numerous interesting minerals and fossils are available at very low cost. The profit is very small, but by offering a selection of merchandise priced at USD 1 or less, you will develop your customer base. Even if the cheap specimens do not cover the formal cost of staff, rent, etc., they often give an added sale and many of the buyers will return and eventually buy higher priced merchandise. I made an experiment at a recent major mineral show. At the end of the last day, I put a box of 1-2 cm Azurite specimens on a vacant table with no lights and asked the equivalent of approximately 50 US cents each, and managed to sell around 350 pieces in three hours. That means saying 'bitte schšn,' 'danke sehr,' wrapping and adding a label about every 30 seconds! The buyers were chiefly children, newcomers to the hobby or somebody with a peripheral interest in minerals, but there was hardly anything else at the show, they could spend their money on. I doubt I recruited any new collectors, but imagine if every dealer brought a few really inexpensive specimens? This is not trash (it was in fact quite nice Azurite!), but just the kind of material that will not bring $150. In their early phase of collecting, most people like to get as much as possible, even if it is not premium grade - every piece is a source of knowledge and inspiration. Organisers, have your exhibitors bring some really cheap stuff!
Good journals are important to new and experienced collectors alike. They widen your horizon by telling of tourmalines from Hindukush, Azurite from Altenmittlau and ostracodes from Gotland. They tell us about what we can not experience personally, and are efficient at giving newcomers insight and experience. A journal coming 4-12 times a year can be among the stimuli mentioned in the introduction. Few journals carry how-do-I-do-that articles for new members of the hobby, and when, they are rare. Editors don't particularly like them, as they focus on a small section of the readership, and frankly how often can you repeat an article on how to organise a collection? Fortunately, modern techniques have come to our rescue - not every article needs to be printed, the Internet works very well. A journal's home page may contain articles, that have never been printed, aiming at novices - where do you get literature, how do you store a fossil collection, what is needed for a field trip? New collectors will certainly benefit from being able to read them now, rather than having to track down an eight year old issue of a journal. To set the record straight: I find it very important that clubs and museums subscribe to a number of journals and make them available to members and visitors. No, they should not be available to take home, but always be available for study in the library. This would be a major asset for new and experienced collectors alike.
Now I will get in trouble again. I believe most mineral shows are poorly organized, promoted with an ever declining group of established clients rather than potential clients, the dismal effort is rewarded by fewer visitors, and next year's show will be organized in a phone booth. I know it is crass, but is it really too far off? Good shows present our hobby at its finest, but the chance to promote the hobby is usually wasted. Many people with a peripheral interest in geology come to the shows, and I would like to recruit them as collectors, but we only have 3-4 hours to do the job. Organizers can promote the interest by offering educational exhibits - tell a story, don't just stack rocks with funny names in a show case - and lectures. It is important, even people who were compelled to go have a positive experience, and realize there are many different approaches to the hobby. One or more local clubs have to be represented at the show - they have to maintain the interest until the next show. Shows generally take place once a year and are to rare to sustain interest, but you can generate a beautiful symbiosis between show and clubs: The clubs attract new members at the show and then encourage members to go to the show next year. The organizer should actively encourage the participating dealers to bring some really cheap merchandise - and please, not any more tumble polished stones! The emerging interest is rarely accompanied by the will to pawn the soul of your first-born.
Now I would like to tease you a bit:
Dear show organizer, how would you like to double or triple the number of visitors to your show? Possibly recruit a few hundred members for local clubs? And that is practically for free? It is really quite simple, but takes a couple of pages to explain, so for the editor's sake please send me an e-mail (see below). Yes, I know, I know ... 'this wise guy is just shooting off his mouth' ... 'what does he now about shows anyway' ... What will a thousand paying visitors do for your show? How much will sending an e-mail cost you? Yours truly Standing on a soap-box is easy, but what do I do myself? The past few years I have written about 40 articles and books on minerals, fossils, and shows, organized around 20 special exhibits and have around 15 talks for auspicious events. I have also 'deaccessioned' a few thousand minerals and fossils to newcomers. No, I don't cover the whole territory, but I use the abilities I have to increase, stimulate, and retain the interest in geology. The whole point is, there are many of us, we are very different, and if we all do a little, there will soon be more of us.
This article is meant as an inspiration for debate and action. You can freely use it in another context (club journal, hand-out for discussion), provided you credit the source. Claus passed away in 2009.