Lose your ham radio club members in one easy step


For the first time in a long time, I went to a ham radio club meeting. It was not a pleasant experience. In fact, I left after the half hour business meeting; I didn’t even wait to see the program for the night. It’s not that I was angry or frustrated or whatever; no, it came across that this club wasn’t serious about being a ham radio club.

Here’s three mini-events that came up during the business meeting:

No participation? Not a good club to be in.

After holding a fox hunt once a month for several months, there hasn’t been much participation. So in the business meeting, the person who is usually the fox stood up and noted the lack of participation and said that if there wasn’t going to be any participation, then the event should be cancelled. There was further discussion about publicizing the event–which showed there was lots of publicity in the club for the event–but no one came despite the publicity.

To me sitting in the audience, it screamed that the club members were not interested in the club activities. To top that off, no decision was made either on whether or not the event would continue. Hey, at least make a decision and move on; it shows leadership in the club. Nope.

Paid dues for NEXT year? Comment that the ham radio club will at least survive.

During the treasurer’s report, it was noted that some members paid dues for the following year as well as this one. The club president, perhaps with gallows humor, noted that the club will at least survive into next year. Now, no one laughed, so maybe he was being serious. I took the whole thing as survival was in question. Who would want to be a member of a dying club?

Bonus item: an e-mail to the last two years members who had not paid dues for this year brought in five or six additional dues payments. No participation, just money.

Need help for Field Day? No organization.

Field Day, for most ham radio clubs, is 70% in the bag. Location done, band captains named, equipment is getting organized and who is doing the cooking is all getting settled. Most won’t feel confident in the outcome just yet, but the organization of ham radio’s premier operating event is moving right along.

Not here. Nothing is done. Nothing looks like, from the discussion, that anything will get done anytime soon. You wonder if anyone learned anything from last year’s event.

One easy step to lose ham radio club members

You want a fast way to lose your ham radio club members? Start disrespecting the club and its activities. Dis the events. Don’t manage towards the event outcomes. Make misplaced remarks about the survival of the club.

It was my first visit back to a ham radio club since I moved. And in the audience, was someone who came to discover ham radio and found the meeting through the incredibly poor club web site.

You think he will be back?

  • Joining my local club is probably one of most import things I did after getting my tech license just under 3 years ago.

    Our club has a growing membership, even since I've joined. There's a large number of activities. One thing that came to mind when the club you attended mentioned a monthly foxhunt that maybe participation is an issue because they are just doing too much of the same thing too often? We have a spring and fall foxhunt and it is well attended, even if the weather isn't great.

    We have weekly nets on Mon, Weds & Thurs and often they have a bunch of folks on each week. They have different purposes and different folks participate in the various nets depending on their interests.

    We have a weekly “kit night” which is very well attended. Some folks use it as social time, though radio is often the topic, and others bring in various projects to work on.

    I think the key to success in an organization like a ham radio club is to provide enough varied activities to have at least something of interest to everyone, but not overwhelm folks so much that they need to pick and choose the activities very carefully which causes none of the activities to be well attended. It's a balance that needs to be adjusted over time, but when you have that right balance, it sure makes for a tremendous resource and source of enjoyment. I hope other clubs are like the one I attend and that folks get as much satisfaction and benefit from their club as I get from mine.

  • David — all good points here. In fact, I'm going to do a series on how to make a club more usable and useful to its members. Many of the items are part of what you have going here.

    I'm just surprised that for as long as we've tried to promote membership in ham radio clubs, and, for that matter, ham radio, that these kinds of comments would be made in a meeting. It's just not the way to go to have a successful club.

    Thanks for taking the time for such a long comment and really good ideas shared from your ham radio club experience. Well worth it.

  • Scott,

    Welcome back to town! Glad you could attend a meeting.

    Now that you are done trashing the club you used to be president of, why not rejoin and try to improve things? It is pretty easy to complain, but a lot more work to actually be constructive and try to help…

    Field day is coming up and there are plenty of operating positions available, as you point out. Come on out and have some fun!

  • Ted,

    There are hundreds of thousands of posts out there on “what not to do” for hundreds of subjects. In fact, I got an e-mail on this post thanking me for pointing these three things out because what the right thing to do is only half the story. Plus, I've written plenty on this site about how clubs can be successful, including a whole series on club program possibilities.

    I also never mentioned the club and there are multiple ones here in this town that I could be pointing out the wrong things to do. I can assure you from my travels that these practices are not limited to one particular club in one particular city.

    The deal is, ham radio operators looking for a club to join don't sit in the audience and think, “Man, if I joined this club, look how much better I could make it!” They are not looking to walk into a club and think about how much they can contribute.

    Instead, they are trying to figure out if the organization is one worth their limited time to join. “What's in it for me” is still the driving factor. Not a dichotomy between “complaining” and “contributing. Clubs get one shot to interest a person to join the club, perhaps two. After that, it's not worth their time. Only after they join do they figure out where and what they can contribute to a particular club. Even then, most contribute their money and not even their time through attending a meeting or club events.

    And the deal is…the ham radio operators still complain about a poorly run club. It is done face to face with other hams they know, done in e-mail, talked about after they leave the club and are asked why, and at other clubs where they attend. You just don't hear about it unlike when it shows up on the Internet.

    Ham radio clubs need to be inclusive, welcoming and well organized with a laser focus on what it takes to help their members learn and enjoy the hobby. Those good practices give the club the best opportunity when they get that chance or two at adding another member attending their meeting for the first time.

  • Scot,

    I have been reading your posts for quite a while and you make a lot of sense.

    I do want to renew my suggestion that you re-join and do what you can to make your old club work better. You have articulated your criticisms well and you have ideas on what to do to make the club work more smoothly and more inclusively. That is all good!

    The final test of any hypothesis about improvement, however, is the experiment to prove it right or wrong. I will personally, and without strings, pay your dues if you will bring your energy to the club and help us make it better. Your criticisms are only useful if they lead to positive change, and you are just the catalyst to make that happen.

    How can you lose?


  • A club needs to have a common understanding of which areas of ham radio out of the many it wants to concentrate on. Trying to be a DX club and a social club and an experimenter club and a satellite club and repeater-based club and an emergency communications group all at once dilutes interest and creates undesired tension between subgroups. Being all things to all hams doesn't really work well. Narrow your focus if it's appropriate.

  • All good points, John. Really, you can choose between being a specialty club (DX or contesting, or VHF, or Digital or whatever) or a general purpose club. Specialty and general purpose clubs are managed differently out of necessity. The great advantage of general purpose clubs is the diversity; it is also the greatest weakness. Specialized clubs have strength of a single purpose; it is also their greatest weakness as the sands of change shift through their single purpose.

    The key, as you note, is to first know which of these types of clubs you are and then ensure that you are managing to that type of club.

  • ive belonged to an ametur radio club for many years as a swl(i never qualified for a license by choice) I volunteered for many functions, attended as many functions as my navy career would permit but in most cases other members sat back and let the same people take the brunt of the volunteer functions time after time. This is wrong and very frustrating and shows no respect for your fellow members Out of respect volunteer for something no mater how small you will feel good .

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